Local Currents: Government in the Sunshine


“The public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly. The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”  –Introduction to the Brown Act.


You’d think that in a city of 24,000 people, we wouldn’t have much insider politics. Unfortunately, our local public agencies, boards and councils are working both privately and at odds with citizen interests.

The good news is that this behavior is illegal and actionable.

There appear to be regular and consistent Brown Act violations in the development, construction, meeting planning, first reading and first vote on the Social Host Ordinance (SHO), which is being considered locally.

All U.S. government was created by the citizens, by the people of this country. The ultimate power, the sovereignty, resides with us. It is a minimum requirement that government business be considered, created, discussed and voted on in public.

There is good reason why the process matters in a democracy; it’s how we get agreement to support an outcome, even when we don’t agree with the outcome itself. It’s how a community maintains unity in the face of disagreement.

If the people feel that their local and state officials are short-changing the process and making deals in backrooms, not incorporating divergent voices and, in fact, not serving the public interests but their own personal goals to create legislative trophies, then the people have tools to reprimand and overthrow their elected officials and remove state and local government agents.

The idea for the SHO was developed by the school board and socialized with the city. At the first meeting on the SHO language, council members Elizabeth Pearson and Verna Rollinger appeared to believe that they were “supposed to” pass it. The insiders at the school board came ill prepared to debate facts. They believed it was a done deal, already agreed to privately. The only facts presented were by high school students and parents who actually did research on the impact of SHO laws around the country.

Fortunately, councilmembers Toni Iseman and Jane Egly did respect the work and integrity of the discussion and did table the proposed language for further review and development.

Since that time, the process has been a sham.

Our high school students felt threatened if they protested the SHO at school. School officials publicly refuted those claims, but I saw the fear firsthand in my living room from student activists. More recently, students claim that assistant principal Robert Billinger called students into his office to ask them to speak in favor of the SHO.

The school board and administrators need to stop lobbying, harassing and bullying students, particularly when it comes to free political speech. A school is not a legislative body. Educators and administrators lose their academic credibility when they try to force student activism in a direction that serves their personal interests.

The Laguna Beach Unified School District needs an overhaul. High school should be about serving the students’ educational needs, not administrative agendas.

We don’t have a drug and alcohol problem at the high school. We have a problem with a school board and school administrators who are drunk on their own political power and are behaving inappropriately.

The city isn’t doing any better. When anti-SHO activists were told before last week’s vote that it was already decided, it was evident that the process is a charade.

SHO ordinances are beginning to be challenged in courts. Rhode Island is the first case and more will follow. Civil rights activists are organizing nationally and locally to fight the overreach of local government. If the state laws are problematic, then the goal should be to change laws in accordance with our respective constitutions, not simply expand police powers.

There are problems of abuse in Laguna, mostly of abuse of power.


David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected].

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