“Good Day, Sunshine!” Santa Ana’s Sunshine Ordinance Rises Early, Still Passes

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Santa Ana Old Courthouse in the Sunshine

Two weeks ago, Santa Ana’s proposed “Sunshine Ordinance” passed its first reading, with the Four Rebellious Barons prevailing over Prince Mayor Pulido and his two remaining supporters on City Council, Republican Carlos Bustamante and the charming and not-quite-Republican Claudia Alvarez.  The second reading was to come up at a special meeting next week, on Oct. 22.  Instead, it came up at the regular Oct. 15 meeting.  Advocates of the proposal had been ready for a week of activism, exhorting their flock to call and e-mail and send personal postcards thank the supporters on City Council for their previous votes and to ask them to vote in favor of Sunshine again on the 22nd.  Everything was packed and ready to go to Sunshine’s delivery room on schedule.  And then — premature labor; Sunshine was coming tonight, ready or not!

Yep, there it was on the Consent Calendar, item 11A, recommended for approval by the City Staff — but that didn’t mean that it was going to happen tonight.  Things get pulled off the Consent Calendar to be debated one by one, after all.  Then, boom — dilated, a big push, and a baby ordinance was there for the city to hold in its arms.

An e-mail from a member of SACReD (the Santa Ana Coalition for Responsible Development), which had sponsored the ordinance, went out around 9 p.m. to spread the news to supporters.  The vote was, once again, 4-3, with Benavides, Martinez, Sarmiento, and Tinajero in favor.  The ordinance goes into effect in 30 days.

Because I’m not entirely sure that the e-mail is public, I won’t quote from it.  It’s enough to know that Mayor Pulido sided with developers who were concerned that the requirement that they hold a public meeting for a neighborhood’s benefit might hurt business.  The majority held strong to the belief that the public should have more information about how the city does its business.  No less important, such meetings would expand the role of communities in determining how the city should grow.

Enactment of the Sunshine Ordinance is a setback for Pulido and a victory for his critics, especially Councilmember David Benavides, who faces Pulido in a Mayoral election in three weeks.  Benavides has argued in part that Santa Ana needs to stop being so secretive in its decision-making and exercise of power.  On this issue, the contrast between incumbent and challenger could now hardly be higher.  The question is: will those who have been on Benavides’s side now come to his aid in an electoral campaign where Pulido has a substantial advantage from donations from developers that will help him mount a strong field campaign.  Benavides has delivered for proponents of more open government; now it reminds to be seen whether those who say they prefer his philosophy of governance will deliver for him.

As for the ordinance itself, if your computer can handle a 310-page PDF, you’ll find it here on pages 37-45.  (I can’t cut and paste from it.)  If I’m informed of a more accessible copy, I’ll append it here.

The controversial portion of the ordinance is Article II.II (as in, 2.2), expressed in sections 4 through 6, which add Sections 2-151 through 2-153 to the Santa Ana Municipal Code.  These call for “community meetings prior to discretionary approval” by the Council of projects including those that are City-sponsored development projects, new residential projects containing 25 or more units (subject to waiver in certain conditions), new non-residential projects of 10,000 square feet or more, and development projects requiring a zone change, or Specific or General Plan amendment.

Other aspects of the statute address matters such as making Requests for Proposals, Mayor and Councilmember calendars, and access by lobbyists available.  It is not clear, however, the extent to which such new amendments are to be retroactive — and thus what existing records will, while they do still exist, be subject to the ordinance.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. A family member co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)