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Coonerty Uses New Consent Agenda Gag Rule
by Robert Norse
Wednesday Mar 26th, 2008 8:08 PM
At the 3-25 Santa Cruz City Council meeting, Mayor Ryan Coonerty refused to allow members of the public to pull items off the 16-item Consent Agenda for public comment and individual vote. Instead he implemented a "public comment limit" of two minutes for the entire 16-items (or a little over 6 seconds for each item if one wanted to talk on each one). This is the first time Coonerty has so clearly activated this new power of the Council to deny the public the right to speak on nearly half the agenda items. I filed a Brown Act complaint, demanding that the items he refused to have removed be reheard with public comment permitted, as is required by state law.

Vehicle dweller Donna Deiss is an elderly disabled woman, who used to head TRUSC (Tenant's Rights Union of Santa Cruz) before she lost her housing. She now lives in a vehicle and is trying to organize RV-dwellers with the organization LIVE (Living In Vehicles Excellently). (Donna can be contacted at spiritdancerocean [at] )

She and her citizen advocate Jhond Golder asked to speak on item #3. This was a Council vote on Deiss's claim against the city for $30, the price of the ticket that Chief Ranger John Wallace gave her last August for having her RV in Parking Lot A out near Lighthouse Field (see: "Coastal Access Denied to Motorhomes and Trailers in Santa Cruz" at )

Golder, who has himself been hassled by Wallace in the past and is helping Deiss pursue a lawsuit, also asked to have the item removed from the Consent Agenda for public comment. (Removing the item, means giving it individual time for public hearing rather than being passed with a simple yes vote with the rest of the Consent agenda). City Council refused to allow this under Coonerty's new rule.


I also tried to speak on the issue as well as on agenda item #7--the City's $400,000 Soquel Garage Upgrade benefitting business tenants there--now boosted another $110,000 on a "cost overrun". The 500 grand will go to fund "commercial space for incubator size tenants, a police substation, and additional space for Oswald Restaurant." Nothing for new bathrooms. No clear indication of why the heavy boost in cost. I was also interested in asking some questions about the police substation. I was not allowed to do so.

Councilmember Rotkin confided in the public afterwards that if any members of the public had any questions about the "false claims" raised by us as we asked to be allowed to speak on this items, they should contact him privately.

Government in private by conference with Councilmember (Shadow Mayor?) Rotkin seems to be the new sleek solution to dealing with unwanted public comment.

The Afternoon Agenda, as usual, was packed with items, and only two items were on the evening agenda--where in the past most important business was done (at a time actually accessible to working members of the public).


Coonerty's new rule banning the public from requiring public comment on Consent Agenda items is nearly unique to City Councils throughout California. This is because the Brown Act requires a period of comment on each agenda item. Two weeks ago Coonerty and Rotkin backpedaled on the rule. They allowed everyone who wanted to pull an item from the agenda to speak on it separately. This time all requests were denied. Not one Council member objected to this procedure.


Golder himself may be posting a story on the bizarre saga of Deiss's recent day in Judge Tom Kelly's court. The bottom line is that Ranger Wallace gave Deiss citations for violating a "no RVs" sign he had just posted, that has since been found to be unjustified and so painted over by the park rangers.

Superintendent Steve Hammack of City Parks and Rec was asked to provide the specific law under which the sign was posted. He and Rec Boss Dannettee Shoemaker responded that there were no public records on the matter ("Superintendant Hammack Stonewalls on RV Ban in Coastal Parking Lots" at ). When Deiss attempted to have the ticket reviewed, the reviewer was none other than John Wallace himself.

In the 2006 "review" of the unconstitutional undercover political surveillance of DIY Last Night for New Years 2006, the same police official who authorized the investigation (Deputy-Chief Kevin Vogel) investigated himself and, found himself not guilty of any misconduct. This was upheld by Police Chief Howard Skerry, then-Mayor Cynthia Mathews, and City manager-for-Life Dick Wilson. ("Investigation Reveals More SCPD Spying" at ) It's comforting to see the same gang is still in charge using the same self-ratifying procedures (officials investigating their own misconduct).

Try and bring it up at City Council; Mayor Coonerty loyally censors you and moves on.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Robert Norse
Wednesday Mar 26th, 2008 8:13 PM
Tomorrow I will be sending the following letter to Mayor Coonerty, demanding that he reopen discussion items ##3 and 7.

309 Cedar PMB #14B
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

March 27, 2008

Mayor Ryan Coonerty
809 Center St.
Santa Cruz, CA

Dear Mayor Coonerty,

I formally request that you correct Brown Act violations that occurred at the March 25, 2008 meeting during the Afternoon Session.

Specifically on Consent Agenda Items #3 and 7, you declined to have these items pulled from the agenda for discussion. Three members of the public--Donna Deiss, Jhond Golder, and I--requested to have item #3, Donna Deiss's claim against the city pulled for public comment. In addition, I requested to speak on item #7, but was denied the opportunity to do so.

Instead you instituted a peculiar procedure---very nearly unique to Santa Cruz and voted on neither by the City Council nor the community--apparently designed to truncate public testimony from people you didn't want to hear from on issues you didn't want to hear about.

Instead of allowing members of the public to pull an item from the agenda for public discussion--as is allowed in virtually every other city council I've researched in the state--you chose instead to allow a total of 2 minutes to speak broadly on any of 16 different items on the Consent Agenda and to "persuade" Council members to themselves pull the items for what would have been a standard 2 minute discussion per item.

You and the Council refused to allow any meaningful discussion on these two items.

This procedure contracting public comment differentially, depending on whether the Council looks favorably on a particular speaker or topic violates Section 54954(a) of the Ralph M. Brown Act of the Government Code which provides, "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 ordering the legislative body's consideration of the item."

A reasonable amount of time for public comment, at a very minimum would be at least a total of five minutes, for members of the community interested in addressing the item, to speak. Providing only 2 minutes for 16 items violates Section 54954(a).

The fact that you have unilaterally chosen a process that can expand the time allowed to favored speakers at the whim of a Council member and deny it to everyone else, is a violation of Section 54954(c) of the Ralph M. Brown Act in the Government Code. That section reads "The legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or the acts or omissions of the legislative body."

Last week you allowed every speaker who wished on a Consent Agenda item two minutes. This week, though fewer speakers requested to speak, you allowed none. This capricious process violates the public's right to have access to the City Council and the community's legislative process.

This kind of manipulation is neither in the public interest, nor necessary to maintain managable Council meetings.

Other methods of shortening the public meeting have been proposed to you--the most obvious of which would be shortening time when Council members can filibuster. You have already set a commendable 10 minute time limit on staff presentations. Other deliberating bodies such as Congress limit the amount of time a speaker has. City Council, rather than muzzling the public could do the same.

Another suggested procedure is to restore full evening Council sessions, which you have either eliminated entirely or shortened to one or two issues, cramming numerous Public Hearings onto afternoon sessions. This method gives you a pretext for cutting back public comment on all items on the afternoon agenda (which you regularly do). It also provides you cover for violating the Brown Act by denying any meaningful public comment at all to half of the agenda (the Consent Agenda) unless the Council likes the speakers and the subjects being proposed. After all, you are just "moving expeditiously" to get through a "packed agenda". You are really packing the afternoon agenda--artificially--and then using the inflated agenda to justify cutting off speakers.

Additionally, while I appreciated the chance to speak today at Oral Communications at the afternoon session--interrupting Michael Tomasi to silence him with the "rule" that he had spoken before is an illegitimate policy. Much preferable would have been to expand Oral Communications by 2 minutes--since I and Tomasi were the last two speakers, loath as you may have been to hear from us.

Not allowing speakers who have spoken at the previous meeting to speak until the end of the meeting violates the Brown Act by disadvantaging regular speakers, who are frequently dedicated activists or gadflies, whom the Council would rather not hear from. First come, first serve, according to the state's Brown Act watchdog group the California First Amendment Coalition, is the only procedure that comports with the law.

I demand you correct these Brown Act violations by (a) eliminating this illegal and repressive process, and (b) rehearing Consent Agenda items ##3 and 7 at the next regular meeting of the City Council, all decisions being taken on those two items in the absence of required public comment being null and void.

Please acknowledge receipt of this demand and indicate what course of action you intend to take ASAP, so the community can be spared the delay and expense of possible litigation here--as well as a repetition of these violations at a future meeting.

Robert Norse

cc: Santa Cruz Sentinel, Santa Cruz Metro, Santa Cruz Grand Jury, District Attorney Bob Lee, San Jose Mercury News, Peter Scheer, First Amendment Foundation, Good Times, Mid-County Post, City on a Hill Press