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Sen. Ben Hueso’s bill to amend the Public Records Act, sponsored by San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott, caused quite a stir this week.

The bill would require that members of the public jump through certain hoops before filing a lawsuit against a public agency that withholds public documents, and would set a higher bar for when an agency must pay a requestor’s attorney’s fees if a court determines the agency improperly withheld documents.

Attorneys I spoke to said the requirement that a person suing for records prove an agency “knowingly, willfully, and without substantial justification failed to respond to a request for records” would be virtually impossible to meet.

“We see that as a provision that encourages agencies to delay responding to requests,” said James Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which opposes the bill.

Robert Fellner, executive director of Transparent California, wrote in an op-ed that the bill “would allow governments to freely hide records from public view, secure in the knowledge that ordinary citizens could never bear the enormous financial burden of filing a lawsuit, at their own expense.”

Both Hueso’s office and the city attorney’s office have declined to answer questions about the need for the bill, but a fact sheet released by Hueso’s office Thursday cites a surge in public records requests to public agencies – including to the city of San Diego, school districts and public universities.

“Public entities recognize that they must function under the PRA but budget constraints, limited resources and the ever-increasing amount of requests can hamper the effectiveness of government and unnecessarily exhaust taxpayer dollars,” Hueso’s office writes in the memo.

The fact sheet cites the case of UC Davis School of Law professor Dennis Ventry, who was targeted by tax preparation industry groups that submitted a lengthy public records request to the university “seeking everything Mr. Ventry had written or said about the companies this year, including emails, text messages, voice mail messages and hand-jotted notes,” as the New York Times reported in 2017. The university estimated it spent up to 100 hours responding to the request.

Ventry told me Friday he hadn’t heard about Hueso’s bill until I flagged it, and wasn’t sure whether the remedies it proposes are appropriate – but said he does hope it kicks off a robust discussion about abuses of the Public Records Act that siphon resources from public agencies, and potential reforms.

Another reform on the table would apply more directly to cases like Ventry’s: A bill by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman would “exempt from disclosure the personal telephone numbers of public postsecondary educational institution faculty members and records relating to the physical location of faculty members, including calendars, appointment logs, and home addresses.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists, citing Ventry’s case and others, wrote that the Legislature “should quickly pass this legislation if it expects to continue to foster a world-class university system and the strong economy that comes with a fully-independent research enterprise.”

‘Bikini Protest’ Over AB 5 Went Exactly How You Might Expect

Strippers have emerged as perhaps the most outspoken opponents of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s workplace classification legislation, AB 5, and the two sides took their war of words to the street outside Gonzalez’s downtown San Diego office Thursday afternoon. Unsurprisingly, signs with colorful language were aplenty and things got heated pretty quickly.

Gonzalez thanked the roughly two dozen women for attending what had been billed as a “Bikini Protest,” but then proceeded to outline that her bill codifying the California Supreme Court’s Dynamex decision into law was not what would force them to become employees instead of independent contractors. Instead, she said prior court rulings and current law mean they should have employee status.

A stripper who goes by the name Jewels and was holding up a “make stripping great again” sign interjected to disagree. When Gonzalez told Jewels a statement she made was incorrect, Jewels was displeased.

“It is not wrong,” she said. “I work at a club that pays me money, honey.”

“Who are you?” Jewels asked Gonzalez, before being informed by one of her colleagues that Gonzalez was the lawmaker whose bill they were protesting.

Later in the dialogue, some dancers admitted their bosses had encouraged them to come to Thursday’s event (without pay).

Gonzalez tried to seize on that fact in making her case the dancers should be classified as employees due to employer control. She said the strippers’ bosses were having them turn out because they want to be able to keep breaking worker classification law.

The lawmaker was not breaking through the hostility. Alana Evans, a former adult film performer and exotic dancer accompanying Gonzalez, stepped in next. Evans, who is president of the Adult Performers Actors Guild, said that workers’ compensation is a benefit employees get that independent contractors don’t.

A dancer wearing a Cheetah’s strip club shirt responded that she broke her back on New Year’s Eve, but was happy to pay to put herself in a brace and for her hospital bills.

“Keep doing what you are doing,” she told Evans. “Stick to the porn. We are independent contractors.”

Gonzalez said in an interview she has no plans to give the dancers an exemption from AB 5.

Lyle Moran

This Time, Gover-Maienschein Will Be an Intraparty Affair

Sunday Gover, the Democrat who was about 600 votes away from upsetting Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, has opened a committee for a 2020 Assembly run.

This time, of course, things will be a little different: Maienschein is now a Democrat.

A few weeks ago, we had the new chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party, Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, on the VOSD Podcast. As president of the San Diego Democrats for Equality, Rodriguez-Kennedy worked to get Gover elected. We asked him about Maienschein’s conversion – I’m resurfacing his thoughts here, in light of Gover’s decision to initiate a rematch.

“I worked heavily on electing Sunday Gover and I, and we were just very close to electing her, the Democratic assemblywoman from the 77th District. But now we have another Democratic assemblyman from the 77th District. And it’s important that we embrace that type of conversion because that’s how we build into these communities. And then I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more defections in the future across the state. And that’s why it’s the other party is so angry about these defections. I mean, I was once a Republican and now I’m the chair of the Democratic Party, so I sort of understand this evolution. And I believe the evolution happens, and he’ll have to prove himself in our party.”

The race will get even more interesting, of course, if one or more Republicans jumps in to challenge Maienschein from the right.

Hueso, Weber Want $2M for Chula Vista University Campus

The dream of a four-year university in Chula Vista is still going strong.

Earlier this month, Sen. Ben Hueso and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber wrote a letter to the budget chairs of both houses of the Legislature, requesting $2 million to help recruit a four-year university to Chula Vista. They note that the budget already has $2 million set aside for similar efforts for a potential campus in Stockton.

“Today, the city of Chula Vista is committed to creating a university and innovation district on 375 acres of city-owned land in eastern Chula Vista,” Hueso and Weber write in the letter. “The city aims to recruit a four-year university that will integrate with commercial, retail and residential functions in an urban, mixed-use setting.”

Back in 2015, VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan chronicled Chula Vista’s long, slow struggle to attract a university. Four years later, the struggle is still long and slow.

County Supes Sign on to Measure Aimed at Their Own Slow Hep A Response

San Diego County supervisors this week unanimously voted to rally behind legislation meant to prevent a replay of the county’s own sluggish response to a deadly hepatitis A outbreak.

Meanwhile, county officials continue to tout their approach to the 2017 health crisis.

For more than a year, county officials have been frustrated by Assemblyman Todd Gloria’s successful push for a state audit that eventually panned the county’s lackluster response to the outbreak. The county has continued to defend its actions.

In the wake of the December audit, Gloria and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez introduced AB 262 to clarify the responsibilities of public health officers during outbreaks, including their ability to issue directives to other governments to take action during health scares. County officials took months to issue a directive to city officials as the outbreak escalated.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher on Tuesday successfully urged the board to formally back Gloria’s bill. The board newcomer and Gloria ally, who is married to Gonzalez, didn’t directly criticize or praise the county’s hepatitis A response.

Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, on the other hand, commended county health officials.

“We didn’t wait for Sacramento’s guidance to jump in and help,” Gaspar said Tuesday. “Instead, our health professionals went out and wrote a playbook – a playbook that I suspect other jurisdictions across the country will follow if they face a similar outbreak.”

Gaspar said she supported AB 262 but wondered aloud if it would go far enough to ensure agencies that receive directives act on them – perhaps an indirect jab at city officials who were also slow to act during the 2017 outbreak.

Gloria spokesman Nick Serrano said the state Assembly’s Committee on Health is set to review the bill on March 19.

On Tuesday, Serrano told supervisors that the county’s support of the bill would send a “strong signal of collaboration.”

Lisa Halverstadt

Golden State News

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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