After lengthy and passionate debate, the Santa Barbara City Council voted narrowly to support changes to the state’s open government law — the Brown Act — making it permissible for a majority of councilmembers to meet and discuss legislative matters privately without notifying the public in advance. Currently, the Brown Act limits behind-closed-doors discussions among councilmembers to no more than three.
Councilmember Dale Francisco, leader of the council’s conservative majority, argued the Brown Act hamstrings discussion among elected officials and limited the effectiveness of local government. He said City Hall should lobby the state legislature to relax the Brown Act, but stressed that all final votes still had to take place in agendized public meetings. Mayor Helene Schneider disagreed, arguing it was inherently undemocratic for five members to be to meet, confer, and hash out significant legislative matters away from the light of public review.
The vote fell along the council’s traditional divide, with Randy Rowse, Frank Hotchkiss and Michael Self joining Francisco and councilmembers Bendy White and Grant House joining Schneider. Francisco acknowledged afterward that the council’s vote would have little to no impact, and that it was exceptionally unlikely the state legislature would pay it any mind.