San Francisco’s Historic Sunshine Ordinance, Part II

Originally published as part of the League of Women Voters newsletter

by Allyson Washburn

In an earlier article in the newsletter, I presented a brief history of San Francisco’s Sunshine Ordinance and the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force (TF), an eleven-member commission established to, among other duties, develop and update procedures to implement the Ordinance. Beginning at least 10 years ago, the Task Force drafted numerous amendments to the ordinance in an effort to clarify some of the language and to address various issues that had surfaced through complaints brought by members of the public through the TF hearing process.

Several examples of specific changes proposed to date:

  • To Article II: Public Access to Meetings Changes
    Documents subject to adoption during a meeting must be made available 48 hours before a meeting, or be continued to a subsequent meeting.
  • To Article III: Public Information and Public Records Changes
    Each City agency to designate a custodian of records, with identified departmental deputy(s) as backup. Individual custodians are still responsible for records they handle.
    Public information withheld must be described and provide specific justification for withholding.
  • To Article IV: Policy Implementation
    Sunshine Ordinance Task Force Renamed to the “Sunshine Commission” as an independent body not part of or subject to the oversight of any of other branch of the City government.

Since the first of the year, a small but growing group of former TF members, Sunshine advocates and activists and League members—Maxine Anderson, Heather Sterner (former TF member), Leuwam Tesfai (soon-to-be TF member), and me, Allyson Washburn (current TF chair)—have been meeting to develop a strategy for amending, and strengthening, the ordinance through a measure on the November ballot. To date, much of the discussion has been about the pros and cons of (1) a Charter amendment versus an ordinance and (2) a voter initiative, which would involve a petition drive, versus obtaining support from the requisite number of Supervisors who would then put the measure on the ballot. We have not yet settled on a path to the ballot. Opinions about the best course vary, so for now we are keeping our options open until time, money, and politics—internal and external—start to prune some of them off.

FYI: To qualify an initiative for a Charter amendment, we would need at least 43,280 valid signatures—10% of San Franciscans registered to vote on 2/25/15—compared to 9485—5% of the votes cast for the Mayor in the most recent mayoral election—for an ordinance.

In the meantime, earlier versions of the amended ordinance are being reviewed and additional amendments drafted for what could be put forth as either a Charter Amendment or an ordinance. Leuwam will be vetting these proposed changes to identify possible inconsistencies among various sections of the ordinance, as well as areas that may be legally problematic. I have scheduled hearings on the proposed amendments at meetings of the Compliance and Amendments Committee of the TF on Tuesday, Feb. 16th and of the full TF on Wednesday, March 2nd. The document will be part of the meeting packets, which will be available on the SFGov website at least 72 hours before the meetings (per Section 67.7(a) of the Sunshine Ordinance). If you are interested in attending one of these meetings but are unable to make it, the audio recordings are posted within 72 hours (per Section 67.14(c) of the Ordinance). These hearings are informational at this point.

Watch this space for updates on the 2016 push for more open and accountable government in San Francisco!

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