How to Read a Riverside County or San Bernardino County Town or City Council Brown Act Agenda Closed Session List

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

The Ralph M. Brown Act codified at Government Code section 54950 et seq., California’s open meeting law gives the public the opportunity to know what their elected officials are doing, and requires their meetings to be open and public.  Certain items can be discussed in closed session only if they meet the criteria set by the Brown Act.  I will take an example from the recent agenda of two local agencies, one in Riverside County, and one in San Bernardino County and examine what they tell us.

From the City of Riverside’s April 12, 2011 City Council Meeting, from the City’s website, a portion of the closed session agenda.

“3 P.M.


. . .

CLOSED SESSIONS – Time listed is approximate. The City Council/Redevelopment Agency may adjourn to the below listed Closed Sessions at their convenience during this City Council/Redevelopment Agency meeting.

3. City Council – Pursuant to Government Code §54956.9(a) to confer with and/or receive advice from legal counsel concerning Paul Wilkerson, et al. v. City of Riverside, et al., Riverside Superior Court Case No. RIC 484376

4. City Council – Pursuant to Government Code §54956.9(c) to confer with and/or receive advice from legal counsel concerning one case of anticipated litigation”

From this agenda, we see that Closed Session will not start before 3 p.m.  That doesn’t mean it will start at 3 p.m.

The first item on the closed session agenda, is existing litigation.  We don’t know from the closed session agenda item what is being considered.  It could just be a status update, or Council could be approving a settlement offer.  We could go to the Riverside County Superior Court website and see what we can find out about the case.  We find from the Riverside Superior Court Public Access site that this is a personal injury, non-motor vehicle case.   A thirty day (!) jury trial is set for 9/23/2011.  The City is one of many defendants, including what appear to be businesses, including downtown bars.  The Riverside Police Department was erroneously sued.   A Motion for Summary Judgment is set for May 16, 2011.  Perhaps there has been a demand by plaintiff to settle in the shadow of the Motion for Summary Judgment hearing.  You could purchase the pleadings online or go to the courthouse to see the original records if you were curious about the case.

The second closed session agenda gives very little information.  The section of the Brown Act cited reads: “(c) Based on existing facts and circumstances, the legislative
body of the local agency has decided to initiate or is deciding whether to initiate litigation.”  Government Code section 54956.9(c).   This is in substantial compliance with the requirements of the Brown Act in listing this item:which requires ” Initiation of litigation pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 54956.9: (Specify number of potential cases).”  Government Code 54954.5(c).   The idea behind this limited information is that you don’t want to tip off the person or people that the agency wants to sue, just in case they don’t sue, and to keep the element of surprise.

Moving on to San Bernardino County, here is a recent agenda from the City of Chino Hills.  On the Council Agenda of the City of Chino Hills for the April 12, 2011 meeting, item 1:

“1. Conference with Real Property Negotiator, pursuant to Government Code Section 54956.8 – City of Chino Hills and Chino Valley Unified School District relating to the purchase or lease price/terms regarding property known as Assessor Parcel No. 1028-481-02 (Bird Farm Property).”   You can go to the San Bernardino County Tax Collector’s site  amd enter the APN (Assessor’s Parcel Number) and find out information about the property.  The San Bernardino Tax Collector’s site says that the property belongs to the Chino Valley Unified School District and has since 1988.  From the assessor’s parcel map, we see that it is along Bird Farm Road and Rincon Road and is a 17 acre property.  Putting those terms in Google  we find a map and we find that it is Chaparral Elementary School.  Whatever is going on with the City of Chino Hills, it is not apparent what is going on in this closed session (other than the City is trying to purchase or lease the property from Chino Valley Unified School District and the are only going to discuss the amount or the terms of the purchase or lease.   Did this description substantially comply with the Brown Act?  This is what the Brown Act requires:

Property: (Specify street address, or if no street address, the
parcel number or other unique reference, of the real property under
Agency negotiator: (Specify names of negotiators attending the
closed session) (If circumstances necessitate the absence of a
specified negotiator, an agent or designee may participate in place
of the absent negotiator so long as the name of the agent or designee
is announced at an open session held prior to the closed session.)
Negotiating parties: (Specify name of party (not agent))
Under negotiation: (Specify whether instruction to negotiator will
concern price, terms of payment, or both)”  Government Code section 54954.5(b).

I didn’t see the name of the agency negotiator on the agenda.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

Michael Reiter is a partner with Cole Huber LLP
2855 E. Guasti Road, Suite 402
Ontario, CA 91761