The feuding sides in the drama-filled saga at San Luis Obispo County Public Access have at least temporarily laid down their accusations in an initial step toward mutual understanding.
The first City Council-appointed mediation meeting between current and banned SLOCOPA members took place on July 30. Though what went on during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting is deemed confidential, Ron Bearce, a banned producer who attended the meeting, said, "It was exhausting but worthwhile. It was the first time producers like Jason [Reed] and I were able to sit down with these board members without being interrupted."
Past fighting between two groups mostly supporters of Bearce and his family on one side and the current SLOCOPA board and various participants on the other prompted the SLO City Council to step in. The council ordered mandatory mediation sessions and a rewrite of the board's bylaws, withholding a chunk of funding until the changes are made.
Those who support the Bearces allege unfair treatment and bylaws and say that the channel is airing too many religious and political-based shows. Members of the board have said that they were trying to break an alleged Bearce-controlled monopoly of the station's time slots.
Both sides fought for months. Bearce and several of his supporters received 90-day suspensions from the channel from the new board.
A joint statement from those who attended the mediation Bearce, Todd Leal, Monique Matta, and Jason Reed said that both parties have agreed to move forward with the process, and future discussions will address policies and procedures, bylaws, and concerns over limiting of program content.
Matta said she felt the meeting was productive, mostly because all parties were discussing issues in a reasonable matter.
"We haven't done that in a while," Matta said, referring to prior hostile meetings. "There's been a great deal of sniping in the press rather than face-to-face discussions."
Though the purpose of the meeting was to identify issues that needed to be discussed, the actual negotiations have yet to occur.
"I hope that we can resolve our issues to everyone's satisfaction and move forward as an organization to benefit the community," Matta said. "But the hard part is still to come."
Leal couldn't be reached for comment by deadline.
The next mediation meeting is scheduled for Aug. 6.