An official from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative today announced that he would finally allow the filming and audio recording of “work sessions” of the widely-contested process.
This victory for freedom of the press was made possible only because of the large outcry from David Gurney and other North Coast journalists, environmentalists, fishermen and civil liberties advocates about the MLPA’s violation of Bagley-Keene and the First Amendment.
A May 13 letter, sent by the editors of the Independent Coast Observer of Gualala to MLPA executive director Ken Wiseman to protest the MLPA Initiative policy that prohibited audio or video recording and photography at these sessions, prompted the rescinding of the policy.
“This policy banning such recordings is a violation of the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act,” stated J. Stephen McLaughlin, Editor and Publisher, and D. Glenn O’Hara, News Editor, in their letter to Ken Wiseman, MLPA executive director on May 13. “We hereby request the policy be rescinded.”
“According to California Newspaper Publishers Assn. General Counsel Jim Ewert, because of the Memorandum of Understanding, the MLPAI is performing functions which would otherwise be done by state agencies, which makes it subject to Bagley-Keene,” the letter stated. “Bagley-Keene applies to all meetings and workshops of the MLPAI.”
In his response, Wiseman continued to claim that the process, funded by the Resource Legacy Fund Foundation, is not covered by Bagley-Keene, but said he would allow recording of “work sessions” of the group in within the “spirit and language” of Bagley-Keene anyway.
“Although our legal counsel is in disagreement with yours as to whether or not our process is covered by Bagley-Keene, the MLPA Initiative has always sought to exceed the requirements of the law by having the most open and transparent process available,” said Wiseman. “Although we are certain that a non-quorum work session is clearly not covered by the law, we will allow recording and videotaping at the upcoming work sessions so that such a minor issue does not become a distraction to the important work at hand.”
“We will allow these activities within the spirit and language of Bagley-Keene, which states ‘unless to do so would constitute a persistent disruption’,” added Wiseman. “The public and the press have always been and will continue to be welcome at our meetings and work sessions.”
Gurney, who was arrested in an April 20 meeting of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force Meeting in Fort Bragg while filming a “work session” of the group, was turned down in his formal request to record the upcoming NCRSG public meeting/workshop this week. Gurney is a freelance journalist and community programmer with Mendocino Community Television MCTV, Fort Bragg, a community journalist with KMUD radio in Redway, and an independent journalist with Jugglestone Productions.
Wiseman’s latest letter represents a reversal of the previous policy of the MLPA that was outlined in a news release. “To help create a 'safe space' for NCRSG members to explore MPA ideas, the public will not be permitted to videotape, audiotape or take pictures of work group discussions during the work sessions,” the release stated. “Accredited media interested in covering an NCRSG work session must receive prior permission from the MLPA Initiative media relations team.”
The MLPAI staff have claimed that the initiative, funded by the shadowy Resource Legacy Fund Foundation in a memorandum of understanding with the state of California, is exempt from the state's open meeting laws. However, newspaper industry and civil liberties attorneys say the restrictions on speech and comment violate the Bagley-Keene Act and probably the California Constitution.
The Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act of 1967 implements a provision of the California Constitution which declares that “the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny” and explicitly mandates open meetings for California State agencies, boards, and commissions.
The act facilitates accountability and transparency of government activities and protects the rights of citizens to participate in State government deliberations. California's Brown Act of 1953 also protects citizen rights with regard to open meetings at the county and local government level.
“This is a definite victory for freedom of the press and first amendment rights,” said David Gurney. “This reversal of the MLPA Initiative's previous position allows journalists to record the meetings and work sessions to provide a public record of the proceedings. The public has a right to know what is going on in these meetings and work sessions.”
He also noted that Bagley-Keene mandates public input at public meetings. “The MLPA officials are providing a de facto public commentary period at the MLPA meetings in Crescent City on May 19 and 20, in contrast to the previous meeting on April 20-21 when public comment wasn’t allowed,” said Gurney.
“Bagley-Keene requires that when a public meeting is held, an opportunity for public input must be allowed. I was arrested by a DFG warden, in a gross violation of my first amendment rights, as I was asking a question on April 20,” said Gurney.
Dan Hamburg, the Green Party 5th District Supervisor Candidate for Mendocino County and former Congressman, and other local activists had pledged to go to the meeting this week with video cameras to challenge the MLPA Initiative's ban on recordings.
Hopefully, now Gurney, Hamburg and others will be able to record upcoming work sessions and meetings of the process without being threatened with arrest or expulsion from the meetings.
The MLPA Initiative will hold a North Coast Regional Stakeholders Group work session on May 19, 2010 at the Hampton Inn & Suites, 100 A Street, Crescent City, and a meeting on May 20, 2010 at the Elk Valley Rancheria Community Center, 2332 Howland Hill Road, Crescent City.
The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) was passed by the Legislature and signed into law in by Governor Gray Davis in 1991. Under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the MLPA process has become a grotesque parody of “marine protection.”
The Blue Ribbon Task Forces that designate a series of so-called “marine protected areas” off the California coast are filled with oil industry, real estate, marina development and other corporate interests. These “marine guardians” have completely taken water pollution, oil drilling, habitat destruction and other human activities other than fishing off the table in their twisted concept of “marine protection.”
The MLPA Initiative has outraged environmental justice and civil rights advocates by banning the Kashia Pomo Tribe from gathering seaweed and shellfish, as part of their religion, off Stewarts Point. To mark the final day before the unprecedented closure, tribal leaders held a historic ceremony on April 30 to bless an area where the Kashia Tribe of Pomo Indians has gathered seaweed, mussels, abalone, clams and fish for centuries.
Stewarts Point, called “Danaka” by the tribe, is sacred to the tribe since it is regarded in their creation story as the place where the tribe first stepped on land, according to Eric Wilder, former chair of the Kashia Pomo.