The most recent dust up between Kevin P. Rice, an ardent advocate for off-roading at the Ocean Dunes, and the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District (APCD), which regulates air quality in the area, is settled. Rice lost again.
He filed a complaint in 2013 asserting a few things, including that the APCD violated both the Brown Act’s open meeting laws and the California Public Records Act. In an April 30 ruling, SLO County Superior Court Judge Martin J. Tangeman ruled in favor of the defendant—the APCD—on two of the counts alleged in the the complaint. The other three counts alleged by Rice were dismissed before the ruling because the judge didn’t consider there to be enough evidence. The ruling marks the third time Rice attempted legal action against the agency, all three of which resulted in rulings favoring the APCD.
Of the two counts that the court ruled on, one argued that a July 2013 email sent by APCD board member Adam Hill to all other board members violated the Brown Act because it constituted as “deliberation not conducted at a public meeting.” Tangeman ruled however that the email was not specifically intended to form opinions, and therefore did not violate the Brown Act.
Rice also alleged that the APCD violated the Public Records Act because they didn’t respond in full to a 2013 request he filed asking for the exact addresses of the locations where monitoring stations were set up to monitor air quality around the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. Because those stations are located on private property with the owners’ permissions under the agreement that names and addresses wouldn’t be disclosed, the APCD couldn’t give Rice what he asked for. Instead, Rice received maps that marked the general locations of the monitoring stations.
The court ruled that specific addresses didn’t have to be released, because doing so would be a violation of privacy.
Jeff Minnery, who represented the APCD in the lawsuit, told New Times that the court’s ruling underscores the point that the APCD operates within the confines of the law.
“The APCD really does work hard and diligently, and they’re conscious about the Brown Act, and it’s their intent and their practice to always comply with the Brown Act and open meeting laws,” Minnery said. “There are many people out there—Kevin P. Rice being one of them—that think they know the Brown Act better than these agencies.”
Rice told New Times that even though the court sided against him, all isn’t lost.
“It’s possible that my interpretation of the Brown Act is more conservative than the courts. I firmly believe that the government should have transparency,” Rice said. “On either case, I’m happy to hold their feet to the fire a little bit, and even a losing case puts a damper on behind-the-scenes maneuvering, and it has an effect on public policy.”
But, Minnery questioned whether Rice’s methods were the best way to keep government honest.
“It costs money for the APCD to fight these types of frivolous cases, it’s a waste of resources,” Minnery said.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay