RT’s $10 Million Streetcar Design Contract

MEDIA RELEASE

Date/Time: April 25, 2016, 4:00 a.m.
Contacts: Erik J. Smitt, Policy Director,
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 215-2275
E-mail: erik@eyeonsacramento.org

REGIONAL TRANSIT’s $10.2 MILLION CONTRACT

DOWNTOWN RIVERFRONT STREETCAR DESIGN SERVICES

Tonight, Sacramento Regional Transit District’s Board of Directors will consider approving a $10.2 million contract with HDR, Inc. for design services of the Downtown Riverfront Streetcar Project. These design services will cover complete track-routing and all other facets of the proposed 4.2 mile system. The $10.2 million will come from federal Congestion Management Air Quality funds.
But there is more to the story.

The community does not want this useless streetcar. Last June, city of Sacramento registered voters in a proposed assessment district voted a resounding “NO!” to a $38 million bond measure to fund the city’s share of the $195 million streetcar project. This “NO!” vote created a significant hole in the streetcar construction funding. As yet, after ten months, the city has not found a funding source for their commitment to the project. Also, the State of California has not firmly guaranteed their $10 million share of construction.

Now, with significant funding still in limbo, the RT Board is asked to roll-the-dice on this $10.2 million financial commitment, which could be used on more important projects.

Another consideration: As pointed out in our recent report, “EOS’s Recommendations on RT’s Fiscal Crisis,” Appendix 1 (www.eyeonsacramento.org), based upon research by transit authority Dr. Gregory Thompson, annual operational expenses will likely range from $6.3 to $8.8 million. The streetcar project’s operational cost projections are woefully below this range, adding another significant project risk.

We want and need smart, long-range decisions for transit problems. Not needed are decisions, such as the one before the RT Board tonight, that may not only cause chronic operational red ink, but also become a waste of taxpayer funds if anticipated local monies fail to materialize.

Unless construction funding by all governmental agencies committed to this project are firmly identified, Eye on Sacramento urges a “No” vote on this Downtown Riverfront Streetcar design services contract.

(The design contract is #13 on RT’s Agenda. The board meeting begins at 6:00 pm and the meeting chambers are located at RT’s headquarters, 1400 29th St.)

###

Eye on Sacramento Urges City Council: Give Back the Tax!

MEDIA RELEASE

Date/Time: March 21, 2016, 4:00 p.m.
Contacts: Craig Powell, President,
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Sacramento City Council Poised to Increase Utility Taxes By

$10 Million/Year as Part of its Major City Utilities Rate Hikes;

Eye on Sacramento Urges Council: Give Back the Tax!

Tomorrow evening, the Sacramento City Council is poised to approve double-digit, four-year hikes in city water and sewer rates. In 2018, the council is expected to seek voter approval of 16% annual hikes – for four straight years – in the city’s storm drainage rate. Collectively, the water, sewer and storm drainage rate hikes, if approved, would draw an estimated $88 million more each year from the pockets of Sacramento residents and businesses once fully implemented.

But there is more to the story.

Because of an imbedded 11% city “utility tax” that is unknown to most city residents, close to $10 million of the $88 million will be siphoned each year from utility customer payments and diverted into the city’s general fund to pay for the general costs of government. The diversions will reduce resources available to keep city water safe and clean, and to keep our sewer and storm drainage systems operating effectively. The diversions also drive up the need for future city utility rate hikes.

“The Council has a clear conflict of interest in deciding whether and how much to increase city utility rates,” said Eye on Sacramento President Craig Powell. “They know full well that for every dollar they increase city utility rates, they automatically divert 11 cents of that dollar into the city’s general fund due to the utility tax. This creates an almost perverse incentive for tax-hungry politicians to raise utilities rates as high as possible so as to inject more dollars into the general fund which councilmembers can spend any way they please,” Powell added.

“The Council can eliminate its conflict of interest and ease the burden on hard-pressed Sacramento residents and businesses quite easily: by returning to the Department of Utilities the $10 million in higher utility taxes that the utility rate hikes would generate each year, preferably with instructions to rebate 100% of the funds to utility customers,” Powell said.

“Several councilmembers have made public statements that major utility rate hikes are needed to upgrade and maintain our water, sewer and storm drainage systems. If that is, in fact, their sole and honest motivation for supporting major rate hikes, they can prove it quite easily by returning the nearly $10 million in higher utility taxes that the rate hikes will generate each year back to the Department of Utilities, instead of snatching it from the pockets of hard-pressed ratepayers for purposes entirely unrelated to utilities service,” Powell concluded.

Just how hard-pressed are Sacramento residents? Based on the most recently available data from the U.S. Census, EOS has computed that the mean household income in Sacramento has declined a stunning 12% from 2007 thru 2013.

The City Council will meet tomorrow evening, Tuesday, March 22nd, at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall, 915 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814. Make your voice heard by phoning, e-mailing or coming down to City Hall tomorrow evening to make your voice heard on these important issues. Join us in urging the City Council to “GIVE BACK THE TAX!”

###

 

City shares footage of encampment clean-up

MEDIA RELEASE

Date/Time: March 01, 2016
Contacts: Linda K. Tucker
City of Sacramento
E-mail: ltucker@cityofsacramento.org
Phone: (916) 808-7523

City shares footage of encampment clean-up

Hazardous waste, garbage must be hauled off bi-weekly to maintain public health and safety

See video of the clean-up from Thursday, Feb. 25

Note to news editors

  • Total running time of video (b-roll and sound on tape) 2:05
  • Spokesperson in video is Enrique Hernandez, Integrated Waste General Supervisor, Department of Public Works, Recycling & Solid Waste Division
  • High resolution footage is available upon request.

Background

Large truckloads of garbage and hazardous waste from an illegal campground were hauled away late last week from private property near Sutter’s Landing Regional Park and the American River in the City of Sacramento. It’s a recurring event.

Illegal camping of up to two dozen people has periodically occurred at this location for more than a decade. Taxpayers pay for a special police and social service team to offer the group services before clean-ups take place. Those that choose not to accept services simply move on and leave truckloads of hazardous materials behind. Needles, car parts, tires, feces, evidence of stolen items mixed with garbage, wet sleeping bags, and housewares are the norm. Clean ups like this are necessary throughout the City twice a month.

The City taxpayer cost of Public Works equipment and staff amounts to at least $80,000 a year for clean-up of encampments like this one. Also, Sacramento Police dedicate a team of two officers and a sergeant to serving homeless people and addressing encampments. At least 3,700 cubic yards of debris was picked up by the City last year. That’s about 300 large dump truck loads. See the monthly data.

Protestors at City Hall since December repeatedly ask the City Council to repeal the camping ordinance. The City believes repealing the camping ordinance to allow camping anywhere on public and private property is not safe, sanitary, or a means to ending homelessness. Alternatively, the City dedicates taxpayer dollars toward services. The City also works with Sacramento County and multiple partners on finding permanent solutions to housing homeless people.

Get the facts from City Hall.

###

 

Hikes Would Impose the Highest Bus Fare in the Country, Higher Than New York City

MEDIA RELEASE

For Immediate Release
Release Date/Time: January 25, 2016; 1:45 p.m.
Contact: Craig Powell, President, Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Survey Data Show that Regional Transit’s Proposed Fare

Hikes Would Impose the Highest Bus Fare in the Country, Higher Than New York City

R.T.’s Growing Financial Crisis Cries Out for Governance Reforms To Control Escalating Costs

Eye on Sacramento (EOS) announced today that its analysis of survey data of bus fares charged by transit systems throughout the U.S. and Canada shows that the 20 percent fare hike (from $2.50 to $3.00) being considered tonight by the Regional Transit board of directors (6:00 p.m.) would, if approved, impose a bus fare on Sacramento residents that would be the highest in both the U.S. and Canada, exceeding bus fares charged by all transit systems in both countries.

EOS researchers examined the database maintained by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), specifically its 2015 Public Transportation Fare Database of fares charged by transit agencies throughout the U.S. and Canada. EOS analyzed the APTA Fare Database to identify regular base fares, exclude fares for intercity commuter service and to convert Canadian fares to U.S. dollars at prevailing exchange rates.

EOS’s finding that RT’s proposed $3.00 bus fare would be the highest in the U.S. is confirmed by the World Atlas, which published a report on November 17, 2015, which tabulated the highest transit fares in the world and identified New York City as the city with the then highest U.S. fare at $2.80 per subway ride, a fare which would be eclipsed by RT’s proposed $3.00 fare.

RT’s Unprecedented Proposed Fare Hikes Are a Sign of Deepening Crisis at RT

RT is facing a major financial crisis that has been a long time in the making. In the past five years its operating costs have risen by 29% (according to RT’s staff report on the proposed fare hike), while inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, over that same period rose only 8.7%. RT experienced such a major escalation in expenses despite the fact that energy costs, which have a major impact on RT’s bottom line, have declined significantly in recent years.

Raising fares to the highest in the nation to deal with such a crisis is a desperate and potentially reckless move that would punish low-income, seniors and transit-dependent Sacramento residents for RT management’s failure to rein in RT’s escalating costs of operation. It would push the price of basic transportation beyond the reach of potentially tens of thousands of people, leading to further revenue declines and a pernicious cycle of rate hikes/ridership drops that could very well lead to the system’s bankruptcy. (We take note of RT’s recently adopted board policy which calls for fare hikes every two years.) And the fare hikes would do nothing to address the real source of RT’s financial problems: its failure to control rapidly increasing operating costs.

RT’s Governing Board Needs Major Reform

RT’s governing board is comprised of 11 elected officials from the County of Sacramento and the cities that RT serves. “Historically and by natural inclination, politicians prefer to spend money to keep constituents happy rather than cut spending which makes constituents unhappy. Politicians are too often beholden to well-heeled special interests with agendas that differ from the broad public interest. Finally, local officials serve on an excessive number of boards, commissions and committees in addition to their primary duties as elected officials on their own jurisdictions’ governing board,” said EOS President Craig Powell.

“Sacramento city councilmembers, for example, serve on more than a dozen different governing boards, commissions, joint power authorities and committees (in addition to the city council), which stretches their ability to provide meaningful, informed, engaged and responsible oversight of RT and its staff beyond the capacity of even a superhuman,” said Powell.

“It is time for our local elected officials to recognize their human limitations and do the right thing by appointing experienced, independent and highly qualified individuals to serve on the RT board who will be better able to oversee RT management, as well as represent their jurisdiction’s interests in their place and stead. We support the Sacramento business community’s recent policy initiative which includes a recommendation that the Sacramento city council appoint experienced business men and women to represent Sacramento on the RT board. We encourage the leaders of all local jurisdictions to do the same, balanced with appointees who can represent the interests of all RT stakeholders, such as riders, seniors, the disabled and last, but by no means least, taxpayer,” Powell added.

“We recognize that such governance reforms may require charter and even legislative amendments. Given RT’s dire financial condition, there is no time to waste in enacting them,” Powell concluded.

####

Eye on Sacramento Releases Package of Proposed City Reforms

MEDIA RELEASE

For Immediate Release
Release Date/Time: September 2, 2015; 10:15 a.m.
Contact: Craig Powell, President, Eye on Sacramento
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org
Phone: (916) 718-3030

Erik Smitt, EOS Policy Director
E-mail: erik@eyeonsacramento.org
Phone: (916) 215-2275

Restoring Accountability:

Eye on Sacramento Releases Package of Proposed

City Ethics, Transparency and Redistricting Reforms

At a press conference this morning, local government watchdog group Eye on Sacramento (EOS) presented a package of ethics, transparency and redistricting reforms proposals for the City of Sacramento.

“The reform proposals we are releasing today are the culmination of ten very well-attended public forums held in every part of Sacramento earlier this year, followed by three months of extensive research and careful deliberation by our numerous volunteers and study groups, “said EOS president Craig Powell.  “These reforms are designed to make Sacramento the most open, transparent and ethically accountable municipal government in California and to help restore citizens’ trust in their city government.  It’s a package in which we, as citizens and residents of Sacramento, can take real pride,” Powell added.

The package includes summaries of each of the “Four Pillars of Reform:”

(1) A cutting edge Sunshine Ordinance that will make it easier for residents to participate, and have a more effective role, in City decision-making and will open up City government records and data to public review and media scrutiny to the greatest extent practicable;

(2) An Ethics Code that will set minimal standards of ethical conduct expected of our city officials;

(3) An independent and empowered Ethics Commission that will have the means and authority to hold public officials accountable for misconduct and to exonerate them whenever they’re subjected to unsubstantiated claims, through the application of rules that will provide strong due process protections; and

(4) An independent citizens Redistricting Commission that will, at long last, bring an end to the unhealthy and undemocratic practice of councilmembers drawing their own council district lines (aka picking their own voters) and shift that power to a panel of citizens who will have final authority to draw council district boundaries.

Also presented was a 12-page “Summary of Public Comment” (copy attached), that recaps the numerous comments received from the public at our Kick-Off Forum in February, our seven District Forums and our final Work Shop Forum at the Clunie Clubhouse on May 17th.  The forums were jointly sponsored by EOS and the League of Women Voters, as well as 23 co-sponsoring community organizations.

Public Disclosure of Proposals Before Closed-Door Negotiations With City Officials

“Representatives of our reform effort are expecting to meet within the next few days with city officials in closed door meetings to discuss our reform proposals in detail, to explore common ground and to, hopefully, reach agreement on the adoption/endorsement of a set of reforms that are mutually acceptable to all parties,” Powell said.

“Before our representatives go behind closed doors to negotiate these proposals, however, we feel we have an obligation to first release our reform proposals to our forum attendees, our supporters, the media and the public at large,” Powell added.  “The public deserves to know exactly where we stand at the beginning of these negotiations so that they can assess where we end up at the end of them,” Powell concluded.

Plan B: A Ballot Initiative

“We’re pursuing these reforms on two different, but parallel, tracks.  Given the significant time and effort it takes to qualify an initiative for the November 2016 general election ballot, we’re entering into negotiations with city officials in pursuit of a mutual agreement while we’re concurrently taking the steps necessary to qualify our reform proposals for the November 2016 ballot,” said Powell.  “It is our great preference that we reach an acceptable agreement with city officials, but we’re doing the necessary ground work to bring our reform proposals before Sacramento voters in November 2016,” Powell added.

“Given the growing number of claims asserted against councilmembers, the city auditor’s recent finding of nepotism in the Department of Utilities, the city’s efforts this year to mass delete 85 million e-mails, the alleged use of city staff and resources for political purposes and the shrouding of city e-mails via the use of private e-mail accounts, the need to establish accountability in city government through effective ethics, transparency and redistricting reforms is acute,” Powell concluded.

####

To view/download a copy of the Media Release click here
To view/download a copy of the Sunshine Ordinance Summary click here
To view/download a copy of the Ethics Code Summary click here
To view/download a copy of the Ethics Commission Summary click here
To view/download a copy of the Redistricting Commission Summary click here
To view/download a copy of the 12-page “Summary of Public Comment” click here

Press Conference On Suit to Halt City of Sacramento’s Mass Deletion of City E-mails

MEDIA RELEASE

Date/Time: July 23, 2015; 11:00 a.m.
Contacts: Erik Smitt, Policy Director,
Eye on Sacramento
E-mail: erik@eyeonsacramento.org
Phone: (916) 215-2275

Paul Nicholas Boylan, Attorney,
E-mail: PNBoylan@gmail.com
Phone: (530) 297-7184

Eye on Sacramento Holds Press Conference at County Courthouse

On Suit to Halt City of Sacramento’s Mass Deletion of City E-mails

At a press conference today, Eye On Sacramento, a member of the growing community coalition advocating for robust ethics, transparency and redistricting reform of City government, provided  updates on the lawsuit against the City of Sacramento to enforce the California Public Records Act (CPRA) to prevent the City from deleting over 50 million emails that form an irreplaceable part of the public record.

A Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was granted by the Honorable Judge Shelleyanne W. L. Chang on July 7, which restrained the City from destroying these emails on Wednesday, July 8, as the City had planned.

The hearing for the Permanent Injunction will take place at the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse, 720 9th Street, Sacramento, tomorrow, Friday, July 24, 2:30 pm, Department 24, the Honorable Judge Shelleyanne W. L. Chang presiding.

The Petitioners are asking Judge Chang to issue a Permanent Injunction preventing the City from erasing the public record and destroying the emails the petitioners want to access.  If the City destroys these emails, the public’s constitutional right to access these emails will be irrevocably injured and the City will be in violation of the California Public Records Act.

The Petitioners in the lawsuit are Richard Stevenson, a member of Eye on Sacramento, and Katy Grimes, Journalist.  Both Petitioners have filed formal requests to access emails the City intends on destroying and are suing the City under the CPRA to enforce their rights to gain access to these records.  The Petitioners, through attorney Paul Boylan, have made tireless efforts to reach an agreement with the City Attorney; those efforts have failed.

Since the TRO, Eye on Sacramento has contacted several City Council-members to resolve the issues through the enactment of new City policies that would mandate that City officials preserve City e-mails. Councilmembers will not speak with EOS on the advice of the City Attorney.

“It is clear that the City’s issues with e-mail storage space are a mere front for the objective of erasing history and covering up the past.” Erik Smitt, Policy Director.

“Eye on Sacramento is focused on transparency and citizen access to all mechanisms of government.  Deletion of public records is contrary to the principles of open government and the public’s right to know.” Erik Smitt, Policy Director.

Concurrently with the press conference, Paul Boylan, attorney for the petitioners in the case, issued the following statement: “The discussions I have had with the City have been productive, but only up to a point that is far short of resolving this conflict.  I am left with the impression that the City’s only goal is to destroy as many emails as possible and is gaming the system to achieve that goal.  The City’s goal should be preservation of public records. Thus far, the City has demonstrated no pressing need to destroy anything.”

Open Government … transparent, responsive, accountable!

###

Lawsuit to Enforce the California Public Records Act (CPRA)

MEDIA RELEASE

July 6, 2015

Contact:

Erik Smitt, Policy Director, 916-215-2275, Erik@ eyeonsacramento.org

Paul Nicholas Boylan, Attorney, 530-297-7184, PNBoylan@gmail.com

In a press release today Eye On Sacramento, a member of the community coalition advocating for robust ethics, transparency and redistricting reform of City government, notifies the press that a lawsuit has been filed with the Sacramento County Superior Court seeking to enforce the California Public Records Act (CPRA), and an application has been made for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to prevent the City of Sacramento from deleting emails that form a critical, irreplaceable part of the public record.

If the application for a TRO is denied, the City will destroy these emails on Wednesday, July 8.

The hearing for the TRO will take place at the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse, 720 9th Street, Sacramento, on July 7, 2:30 pm, Department 24, the Honorable Judge Shelleyanne W. L. Chang presiding.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Richard Stevenson, member of Eye On Sacramento and Katy Grimes, Journalist.  Both Plaintiffs have made formal requests to access to emails the City intends on destroying on July 8 and are suing the City under the CPRA to enforce their rights to gain access to these records.

Plaintiffs are asking Judge Chang to issue a TRO preventing the City from destroying the emails Plaintiffs want to access because, if the City destroys these emails, the lawsuit will be rendered moot and Plaintiffs’ – and the public’s – constitutional right to access these emails will be irrevocably injured.

“My clients understand the City’s desire to manage the City’s email archive,” said Paul Nicholas Boylan, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the CPRA enforcement lawsuit. “But the City’s interest can’t violate the public’s fundamental right to access public records. The City’s plan to destroy these emails after my clients have asked to see them is like a librarian burning down an entire library because a member of the public has asked to check out  and read one book,” Boylan said. “It is unthinkable that this might actually happen.”

As noted in news reports of an ongoing trial in Sacramento Superior Court, public officials have deleted records even after legal notifications to preserve those same records.  Eye On Sacramento supports Richard Stevenson and Katy Grimes in their lawsuit to enforce the California Public Records Act and their application for a restraining order to prevent the City of Sacramento from destroying public records.

“Eye On Sacramento is focused on transparency and citizen access to all mechanisms of government.  Deletion of public records is contrary to the principles of Open Government and the public’s right to know.” Erik Smitt, Policy Director.

Open Government … transparent, responsive, accountable!

 

###

Eye on Sacramento Statement on the Use of City’s Cell Tower/Electronic Billboard Revenues

MEDIA RELEASE
For Immediate Release

Time/Date: 1:30 p.m., June 5, 2013
Contact: Craig Powell, EOS President
Contact Info: Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org


Eye on Sacramento Statement on the Use of City’s Cell Tower/Electronic Billboard Revenues

Council Members Should Not Pump Up Their Own “Slush Funds”


Two years ago, Eye on Sacramento asked the Sacramento city council to shift revenues the city receives from cell phone towers and electronic billboards from council members’ discretionary spending accounts to the city’s general fund and the council, to its great credit, unanimously agreed to do so.

Some members of the city council are now considering reversing that policy by putting cell tower/billboard revenues back into their individual discretionary spending accounts. We strongly oppose such a move and continue to support the current practice of appropriating cell tower/billboard revenues through the city’s normal budget process for the benefit of all city taxpayers and residents.

Each council member already has the discretionary authority to spend almost $50,000 annually any way they choose. The proposed reallocation of cell tower/billboard revenues would almost double their current discretionary account spending, at a time when the general fund faces an $8.9 million general fund deficit, with even greater deficits anticipated in future years: $12 million next year, $14 million the year after that and $15 million the year after that and so on. The city manager has also warned the council that the city faces a “fiscal cliff” in a few years as annual pension costs explode and Measure U revenues expire.

We originally asked the council to shift such revenues to the general fund for the following reasons, all of which continue to fully apply:

1.  To partially offset deep cuts in basic city services funded by the general fund, particularly parks and recreation spending;

2.  To assure that the spending of such revenues be subject to the city’s regular expenditure process which gives the public the opportunity to weigh in on spending priorities in an open process observable by all, as compared to unaccountable and opaque spending by individual council members which provides zero opportunity for public input;

3.  To reduce the “slush fund” spending of public money by council members. Far too often such spending is used to curry political favor with influential community groups and to advance the personal political ambitions of politicians – at the expense of city taxpayers and open government;

4.  We acknowledge that many council members have used such funds responsibly and in a manner that provides tangible benefits to the community. But in too many cases they have not. The problem with unaccountable spending by council members is that the “bad” spending by some members undermines public trust in the council as a whole. Trust is easily lost and, once lost, is very difficult to regain.

The $400,000 to $450,000 in cell tower/billboard revenues that some council members want to put back into their discretionary accounts could: (1) put four additional police officers on the street or (2) four new firefighters on the job or (3) add eight additional park maintenance workers. Each such option would help restore core city services that have been severely reduced in recent years.

We encourage the city council to act responsibly and continue to appropriate cell tower/billboard revenues through the city’s normal budget process.

###

Editor’s note: The EOS blog is a regular analysis and commentary on local government. To receive new blogs click sign me up.

Eye on Sacramento Asks City Council to Restore 3-Minute Time Limit on Citizen Comments

MEDIA RELEASE

For Immediate Release
Contacts:
Craig Powell, President, Eye on Sacramento (EOS)
Phone: (916) 718-3030; E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org
Dennis Neufeld, EOS Board Member
Phone: (916) 539-1054; E-mail: d-neufeld@comcast.net
Website: www.eyeonsacramento.org
Date: March 5, 2013; 10:45 a.m.

Eye on Sacramento Asks City Council to Restore 3-Minute Time Limit on Citizen Comments;
Research Shows Change Would Lengthen Council Meetings By Just 21 Minutes

Eye on Sacramento (EOS) is asking the Sacramento city council to increase from two minutes to three minutes the time it allows citizens to speak at city council meetings, returning the council to a time limit that was in place for several decades before Mayor Kevin Johnson took office in 2009.

In a letter delivered to the mayor and city council yesterday, EOS president Craig Powell said, “We have observed that the quality of the public comments that you receive has demonstrably eroded since the adoption of the two-minute rule as it does not provide enough time for concerned speakers to coherently articulate their thoughts on matters of importance to them and the City.”

EOS is only seeking an increase in the time limit for citizens who are addressing the council on matters on the council’s meeting agendas. It is not seeking an increase in speaking time for speakers commenting on matters not on the council’s agendas.

EOS also released a report on its latest research on the subject. Findings include:

– Restoring the 3-minute time limit would likely increase the average length of city council meetings by 13% or just 21 minutes.

– The average length of city council meetings over the past four years has been 2 hrs., 41 min., down from 5 hrs., 24 min. during the final four years of Heather Fargo’s tenure as mayor, a remarkable 50% reduction.

– In the last six months of 2012, city council meetings averaged just 1 hr., 50 minutes, a 32% drop from the average meeting time over the past four years.

– Sacramento is the only government in the greater Sacramento region that has a speaker limit below 3 minutes.

– Of eight California cities of comparable size, only Sacramento and Oakland have speakers limits below 3 minutes.

The city council is expected to take up changes to its council rules in the next week or two. EOS’s letter to the mayor and city council is attached, as well as its research reports on the topic.

###

March 4, 2013

HAND-DELIVERED & VIA E-MAIL

Honorable Mayor Kevin Johnson and Honorable

Members of the Sacramento City Council

New City Hall, Fifth Floor

915 I Street

Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: Change of Time Limits on Comments at Council Meetings

At your February 12th meeting, you discussed possible changes to  your “Council Rules of Procedure” (Item #1; Report #2013-00098”).  As you may recall, Eye on Sacramento representatives provided you with testimony and research findings that found the Sacramento is the only city, county or governmental jurisdiction within the greater Sacramento region with a public comment time limit of less than three (3) minutes.   Sacramento is also the only one of eight cities of comparable size in California with a two-minute time limit other than Oakland.  All other comparative-sized California cities provide their citizens with a three-minute time limit on public comments.  A copy of our initial research findings (“Public Comment Time Limits by City”) is enclosed.

We have since completed additional research on the subject.  In particular, we’ve studied the impact a return of the three-minute time limit would likely have on the length of your Council meetings.  Our additional research is detailed on the enclosed “Analysis of Impact of Rule Change on Duration of Council Meetings.”

Our latest research has found that the 202 Council meetings held during the past four years  had an average length of 2-hrs 41-minutes.   For a one-year sample period (July 2011 thru June 2012; 49 meetings), we found that, on average, only 21 speakers commented on Consent Calendar and Public Discussion items at each meeting (1058 total comments).  If those speakers had been allowed three minutes to speak instead of two, your average meeting length would have increased by only 21 minutes, to an average length of 3-hours 2-minutes, a modest lengthening (13%) of your meetings’ duration.

We respectfully request that speaker comment time limits be returned to their long- established duration of three (3) minutes for comments on both the consent calendar and the discussion calendar.

We have observed that the quality of the public comments that you receive has demonstrably eroded since the adoption of the two-minute rule as it does not provide enough time for concerned speakers to coherently articulate their thoughts on matters of importance to them and the City.  When the Council again takes up the matter of your Council Rules, we ask that you include the following specific changes to your Rules:

Section B.2.b – “Consent Calendar speakers are . . . subject to the three (3) minute time limit for the entire Consent Calendar.”

Section B.2.c – “Discussion Calendar Items.  Three (3) minutes per speaker.”

Please note that we are not requesting an increase in speaker time for public comments on matters not on the council’s agenda.

Citizen comments to the City Council are a vital portal to citizen democracy, possibly the only route that still retains people’s confidence.  We feel it would be in the best interest of the City, its citizens and the City Council itself to champion and protect meaningful democratic accessibility for your constituents.  We believe Sacramentans would cheer your efforts.

If you would like to discuss this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me on my direct line at (916) 718-3030 or via e-mail (craig@eyeonsacramento.org).  Thank you.

 

Very truly yours,

____________________________________

Craig Powell,  President

Enclosures

cc: City Manager John Shirey (w/encl.)

City Clerk Shirley Concolino (w/encl.)

City Attorney James C. Sanchez (w/encl.)

CKP/lm

###

Analysis of Impact of Rule Change on Duration of Council Meetings

Sacramento City Council History on Public Comment Policy

  • For decades, policy at council meetings allowed 3-minutes per speaker for public comments on both agenda, non-agenda, and discussion items.
  • On May 15, 2007 Council Rules, Chapter 8-Conduct of Meeting, (D.2. a.) read as follows: “Each speaker shall limit his/her remarks to three (3) minutes.”  (D.2.b.): “A three minute countdown display will be activated at the start of a speaker’s comments.”
  • On 1-13-09, Mayor Kevin Johnson, soon after assuming office, asked for a reduction of the speaker time limit to two minutes.
  • 1-13-09 draft amended Council Rules included the change to two minutes.  Final approved language modified from two minutes to: “specified time allotment.”  From this date forward, Mayor Johnson enforced a two-minute speaker time limit.
  • On 1-10-12, council significantly changed the Rules.  Speaker time limits were moved from Chapter 8 to Chapter 5, with more detailed speaker time limits.  A new Section B, “Addressing the City Council”, was added:
    • Section (B.2.a.), speaker time limits, reads: “Matters not on the Agenda. Two (2) minutes per speaker.”
    • Section (B.2.b.) reads: “Consent Calendar . . . speakers are . . . subject to the two (2) minute time limit for the entire Consent Calendar. . .”
    • Section (B.2.c.) reads: “Discussion Calendar Items. Two (2) minutes per speaker.”
    • Section (B.2.d.) was added: “In addition to the above time limits per item, the total amount of time any one individual may address the Council at any meeting is eight (8) minutes.

 

Comparing Sacramento’s Public Comment Time Limits to Other Cities

  • Sacramento is the only county city with 2-minute limits.  (See attached matrix)
  • Several cities in region have 5-minute time limits.
  • Of eight (8) other similar-sized cities in California, only one has less than three-minute time limits for public comment. (Oakland)
  • Comparing capital cities, Oregon’s city of Salem allows 3-minutes.

Comparisons of Council Meeting Durations, Mayors Fargo & Johnson

Eye on Sacramento (EOS) researched average city council meeting durations for Mayors Heather Fargo and Kevin Johnson.  Those findings:

  • With equal samples of 4-years, Ms. Fargo’s meetings averaged 5-hours, 24-minutes (January 2005 through December 2008; 195 Mtgs.)
  • Mr. Johnson’s meetings averaged 2-hours, 41-minutes (January 2009–December 2012; 202 Mtgs.)
  • Mr. Johnson’s meetings averaged 2-hours, 43-minutes shorter than Ms. Fargo’s. For last six-months of 2012, meetings averaged 1-hr, 50-minutes.

Public Speakers at Mr. Johnson’s Council Meetings, July 2011 through June 2012

  • For Matters Not on the Agenda, 645 people spoke, for an average of 13 speakers per meeting. (Total of 49 meetings)
  • For Consent Calendar and Public Hearings, 1,058 speakers addressed the council, averaging 21 per meeting.
  • One speaker addressed the council 135 times during this one-year period.
  • Adding 645 plus 1,058, total speakers = 1,703 for the most recent fiscal year.
  • If each speaker spoke 3-minutes rather than 2-minutes, 1,703 additional minutes would have been added to the 49 meetings, or 35-minutes per meeting.
  • However, if a 3-minute time limit were applied only to speakers commenting on agenda items, the average meeting length would be 3 hours, 2 minutes, an increase of only 21 minutes.
  • Mr. Johnson’s meetings would, even with a return to a 3-minute speaker time limit, increase, on average, to 3 hours, 2 minutes, still more than 2-hours shorter than the average length of Ms. Fargo’s meetings.

The Brown Act:

  • This Act provides no specific time limits for public comment.  Its applicable language: “Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body’s consideration of the item. . .” (Govt. Code, § 54954.3 (a))
  • The other important Brown Act paragraph: “The Legislative body of a local agency may adopt reasonable regulations to ensure that the intent of [this legislation] is carried out, including . . . regulations limiting the total amount of time.”
  • Research from the First Amendment Coalition states: “The Attorney General has concluded that five minutes per speaker may be reasonable, but many if not most agencies appear to keep the speaker limit to three minutes per agenda item.”

 

Sources: Sacramento city clerk’s council archives.  Various city websites and EOS phone calls to city clerks of some identified cities.  Personal visits to some city halls.

 

 

EOS Announces Effort to Increase Time for Citizen Comments at Council Meetings

MEDIA RELEASE

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Craig K. Powell, President, Eye on Sacramento

phone: (916) 718-3030; e-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Dennis Neufeld, Volunteer, Eye on Sacramento

phone: (916) 539-1054; e-mail: d-neufeld@comcast.net

Date: February 12, 2013, 4:30 p.m.

 

EOS Announces Effort to Increase Time for Citizen Comments at Council Meetings

Survey Results: Sacramento Has Among Tightest Time Limits in Region and State

 

At tonight’s meeting of the Sacramento city council (6:00 p.m.), Eye on Sacramento plans to launch a dialogue with the council and the broader community on increasing the amount of time in which citizens can speak to their elected officials at council meetings.

“In January 2009 the city council reduced the speaking time for citizens at council meetings from three minutes to just two minutes,” said EOS President Craig Powell. “We are concerned that this change in a decades-old rule, while well intentioned, has served to seriously degrade the quality of public comments at council meetings and diminished the ability of citizens to have a meaningful impact on their own government,” Powell added.

“The average citizen spends the first 30 seconds calming down, clearing his throat, politely introducing himself, thanking the council for the opportunity to address them and placing his speaking notes on the podium. That same speaker usually spends the final 30 seconds of his allotted two minutes watching a blinking red light (warning him that his time is about to expire) and scrambling to get his well-planned message across in a torrent of jumbled words before being told to sit down. That’s not meaningful democracy, nor is it a reasonable opportunity to petition one’s government for a redress of grievances, as mandated by the First Amendment. It is far too often ineffective chaos.” Powell concluded.

Powell also released an EOS study of public comment time limits in various cities in the region and California (study attached), demonstrating that Sacramento has among the tightest comment time limits in the county, the region, among similarly-sized California cities and among its largest cities (with the sole exception of Oakland). The study was prepared by EOS volunteers Dennis Neufeld and Sarah Foster.

“We will be releasing more research on this issue in the coming weeks, including an analysis of the impact an increase in comment time limits would likely have on the duration of council meetings. We’ll also be releasing a specific proposal for expanding the public’s opportunities to talk to their elected officials while not unduly lengthening council meetings,” Powell said.

###

Editor’s note: The EOS blog is a regular analysis and commentary on local government.  To receive new blogs click sign me up.

PUBLIC COMMENT TIME LIMITS

BY CITY 

CITY  ON NOT on CONSENT POPULATION COMMENTS
AGENDA AGENDA CALENDAR
SACRAMENTO COUNTY CITIES
Sacramento Two Two Two* 489,488 *Cumulative minutes for all Consent Items
Elk Grove Three Three Three 153,015
Citrus Heights Five* Five* Five* 89,000 *1-minute if many speakers.
Folsom Three Three Three 72,203
Rancho Cordova Three Three Three 65,606
Galt Three Three Three 25,000
NEARBY CITIES, COUNTIES, AGENCIES
Roseville Three Three Three 118,788
Fairfield Five* Five* Five* 108,321 *3-minutes if 25+speakers
Davis Three Three Three 65,622
Woodland Three** Three** Three* 55,806 *Rare; **Have no timer
W. Sacramento Three Three Three 49,045
Auburn No Limit* No Limit* No Limit* 13,330 *Whatever is “reasonable”
Placerville Three Three Three 10,383
Yolo County Three Three Three 201,709
Placer County Three Three Three 357,138
El Dorado Cnty Three Three Three 182,019
Sac County Three Five Three* 1,436,105 *First talk to involved Supvr.
SACOG Three Three Three
Reg Sanitn Dist Three Three Three
SIMILAR-SIZED CALIF CITIES
Fresno Three Three Three 510,365
Long Beach Three Three Three 462,257
Oakland Two* One** One 390,724 *1-minute if many speakers.
Bakersfield Three Three Three 347,483 **Max 15-minutes for all.
Anaheim Three* Three Three 336,265 *Legislative Issue, 5-minutes.
Santa Ana Three Three Three 324,528
Riverside Three Three Three 303,871
Stockton Three Three Three 291,707
OTHER CALIFORNIA CITIES
Los Angeles Two Two Two 3,792,621
San Diego Three Three Three 1,307,402
San Jose Two Two Two 945,942
San Francisco Three Three Three 805,235
OREGON CITIES
Portland Three Three* Three 583,776 *Max 1-time/month
Eugene Three* Three* Three* 156,185 *Preference to city residents.
Salem Three Three Three 154,637

 

Editor’s note: The EOS blog is a regular analysis and commentary on local government.  To receive new blogs click sign me up.