Prop. E seeks to foster participation

A Planning Commission meeting is streamed on SFGovTV. David Lee's Sunshine and Open Government Act calls for live-streaming on board and commission meetings. (Courtesy SFGovTV)

Public meetings are scarily ill-attended and now some argue technology is the answer to making a more civically engaged citizenry in San Francisco.

San Francisco State University professor David Lee said his students analyzed The City’s public meetings for a class project, and found them sparsely attended.

“They found there are many meetings scheduled in the middle of the day in the middle of the work week, with very few students that looked like them,” Lee told the San Francisco Examiner.

To foster more participation, Lee and his students authored the Sunshine and Open Government Act of 2015, Proposition E, which San Franciscans will be asked whether to approve Tuesday.

Prop. E would require public meetings, testimony and comments to be accessible through electronic and prerecorded means, according to its ballot language. This means all meetings would need to be broadcast online, perhaps also for mobile phones.

A local board, commission or 50 members of the public could also request certain agenda items be heard at a certain time. Prop. E would also allow citizens to submit prerecorded video testimony to be heard live in that meeting.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation supports it, as does Doug Chan, who serves on the Civil Service Commission.

In an Examiner endorsement meeting, Chan said local government “affects the everyday things that happen to you on the street, whether or not you get bus service, what the recycling contract is going to look like.”

“You don’t want government to be mysterious,” he said.

But opponents of Proposition E say it’s a solution in search of a problem.

“I have an issue with every single thing Proposition E does,” Cynthia Crews, a Local Agency Formation Commission member told the Examiner, though she was not speaking in her official capacity. “Either because it’s written clunkily or the legislation has unintended consequences.”

The proposition, as it is written, conflicts with the local Sunshine Ordinance numerous times, she
said, adding, “They would be breaking the law they hope to make more robust.”

The video-comment requirement may also open up public meetings to hearing from hundreds, if not thousands of commenters from outside San Francisco, she said, as there is no residency verification.

Angela Calvillo, clerk of the board for the Board of Supervisors, outlined impracticalities in the requirements to change times of agenda items in meetings, in a statement to the local Democratic Party.

Though she clarified she cannot take a stand for or against Proposition E, she said changing the time of some agenda items will not allow enough time for the clerks to contact individuals who were provided advance written notice of government meetings, potentially creating legal headaches.

While the list of proponents of Prop. E is small, it does contain big names like Assemblyman David Chiu.

The opposition list to Proposition E however, is much longer, and includes the organization SPUR, the local Democratic Party, members of the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force and supervisors from opposite ends of the political spectrum, such as Katy Tang and David Campos.

Lee shrugs off the long list of opponents, and told the Examiner that Prop. E “came from the bottom up, not from the political class. This came from the people.”

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