U.C. Regents Boot Documentary Filmmaker Ric Chavez From Meeting

No cameras, pal!
University of California police and U.C. officials barred an independent filmmaker from a Regents meeting in Mission Bay today after police said he was filming "security arrangements" of the campus cops. To turn the molehill into even more of a mountain, state Sen. Leland Yee, who has introduced numerous bills to demand more accountability from the U.C. system, has seized hold of the incident, claiming it's a violation of the state's open meetings laws.

The whole hullabaloo begins with Ric Chavez, a 35-year-old independent filmmaker working on a documentary about the lives of low-wage U.C. workers and hard-up students.

Chavez showed up to shoot footage of the Regents meeting at the UCSF Mission Bay campus today. He wanted to catch the Regents getting out of their "town cars and shuttle buses" as they went into the meeting, so he camped out with his hand-held camera in the parking lot outside a barrier where police were issuing people stickers required for entry.

Instead, he said, the campus police grilled him on his intentions -- though he assured them he wasn't filming them. "Even if I were, is that against the law?" he asked SF Weekly. Police Captain Jon Easterbook "assumed I was recording the officers standing right there. I said 'I'm not recording them, you can see for yourself. He said '...You can't be recording these officers.'"

While the U.C. Police and Easterbrook couldn't be reached for comment, U.C. spokesman Pete King said Chavez contacted U.C. staffers yesterday to give them a heads-up he was coming to film. King says they'd told him it would help if he brought some sort of credential or letter in order to gain entry into the roped-off media section. Chavez did not do so, the spokesman says, and he wouldn't give them a straight story regarding who he is or who he was representing. (Chavez counters that cops asked if he had an ID but no one requested he bring one.)

"If he had just come in as an audience member he could of sat in the audience and filmed," King says. "He could say 'I'm Joe Public Citizen' and film away. But he wanted to do the media thing. We were still going to let him in, but we heard from the campus police they had a problem. They thought he was filming some of their security and getting people going in and out of elevators." Chavez says he was filming regents as they walked by him and into the building -- where there were elevators indoors.

Chavez says he asked U.C. Office of the President spokeswoman Lynn Tierney whether he could just sit in the audience and film. He says she said no. Just audio? No. "It was crazy," Chavez says. "All I was trying to do was get some B-roll footage for this film I'm working on on and they made it seem like a complete private skull-and-bones society," he says.   

The filmmaker was accompanied by a representative from the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) -- the union that represents the laborers on U.C. campuses. The union rep called up Yee's chief of staff, Adam Keigwin, who then called up university officials  demanding answers.

Keigwin says Tierney told him only "credentialed media" could get into the meetings. Keigwin then looked up the government code section 11124.1, stating that any member of the public has the right to record a public meeting, and that no state body can prohibit the broadcasting of its meetings -- unless the recording poses a "persistent disruption of the proceedings." Yee's office then issued a press release: "UC Regents Break Open Meetings Law," complete with fighting words from the California Newspaper Publishers Association legal counsel and the AFSCME president.

U.C. officials are defending their move, claiming turning away Chavez was not their call. "We were going to accommodate him and he was in until the police raised questions, and they control the room of who gets in and out," claims King.

Chavez, meanwhile, is befuddled by the entire mess. "There's going to have to be some changes because this is a public meeting and access is nowhere near where it should be."

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