Turns Out City *Was* Officially Lobbying at State Level for More Government Secrecy -- Yes, Again

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Yesterday we reported that San Francisco was listed as a "supporter" of an Assembly bill that would, among other things, curtail public access to government data. At the time, we weren't sure exactly what being a "supporter" entailed, but now we are. Paid city lobbyist Steven Wallauch penned a letter on behalf of San Francisco to bill author Assemblyman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park).

This means that, once again, San Francisco has officially lobbied in Sacramento for a bill that would create more government secrecy -- which is arguably a direct violation of the city's Sunshine Ordinance. Here's the nitty-gritty:

If this charge sounds familiar to you, it should: Government transparency activists cried foul when it was revealed last month that San Francisco had officially lobbied in Sacramento for a law that entitles city Muni vehicles to be outfitted with cameras -- but disallows public access to whatever data those cameras may catch. Now it turns out that the city has lobbied for Eng's bill -- that, similarly, would place cameras on street-sweeper vehicles and also restrict public access to the images. Open government activists are mystified as to how the city can justify this, considering the following passage from San Francisco's Sunshine Ordinance: "Funds of the City and County of San Francisco ... shall not be used to support any lobbying efforts to restrict public access to records, information, or meetings ..."

Richard Knee, the chairman of the city's Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, said that San Francisco's lobbying for Eng's bill -- AB 1336 -- "violates both the spirit and the letter of the Sunshine Ordinance."

Knee said that his task force could block any local attempts to restrict public access to street-sweeper cameras -- or, for that matter, Muni bus cameras.

"If, for any reason, the city wanted to withhold a portion of that footage from public view, they'd have to say clearly why they were doing it," he says. "If someone were to request access to some footage shot from one of those cameras, was denied, and then filed a Sunshine complaint, we could find a violation. Unless there's a specific reason for withholding the footage, access should be given."

For those wondering what's the big deal over the government refusing to release footage from its bus- or sweeper-mounted cameras meant to bust discourteous drivers, here's a term that may resonate: "secret evidence."

"This is evidence which the public would never get to see. You can see any other kind of evidence introduced in a court proceeding," said Terry Francke, general counsel of the open government group CalAware. "This treats parking violations as some esoteric exception to the rule."

City Attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey said he is unsure whether the city attorney's office was ever consulted on whether lobbying for such bills is permissible under city law.

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