By Beth Miller
SACRAMENTO, CA – Does the public have the right to know about the “sausage making” in negotiations between public or even pseudo-public agencies? That the was essence of a hearing here last Friday in Sacramento County Superior Court.
Although details—the “sausage making”—were unavailable, plaintiff’s counsel, Thomas D. Roth, and respondent’s counsel, Elizabeth St. John, argued whether or not confidential discovery for the case Friends of Oceano Dunes, Inc., a California not-for-profit corporation, v. California Department of Parks And Recreation is really confidentiality protected.
Specifically, the discovery being argued over was regarding confidential negotiation communications between Friends of Oceano Dunes, Inc. and the California Department of Parks And Recreation.
Attorney Roth fought for the records to be disclosed by arguing that disclosure of the documents would not harm either the Coastal Commission or the Department of Parks and Recreation because the settlement was already completed.
On a more philosophical note, Roth also argued that this case was regarding two public agencies and therefore the public should be able to observe and understand how the decisions were made.
“This is just closed door meetings where the agencies are determining the fate of the public facility without public input,” said Roth.
St. John’s response expressed concern for the overall harm such a disclosure would offer.
She said if any parties become aware their settlement communications were disclosed that they will not feel they can communicate openly and freely during such communications, which will negatively impact the process.
She added, “This is not a situation… where the sausage making should be available to the public in essence.”
Additionally, an argument was made that there was an allegedly high possibility that Mark Gold, Deputy Secretary for Oceans and Coastal Policy and Director of the Ocean Protection Council under the California Natural Resources Agency, had already breached disclosure.
According to Roth, due to Gold’s adverse interest between the Coastal Commission and Parks, it is “hard to believe” that Gold did not discuss these confidential matters with the Coastal Commission.
He said, “He does sit on the Coastal Commission, he works with staff… it would be unnatural of him to have these discussions with Parks and not tell the Coastal Commission or say anything about them to the Coastal Commission.”
The judge took that matter under submission.