MAIN STREET — What are Santa Monica officials saying to each other about the “Chain Reaction” sculpture in the Civic Center?
We don’t really know.
City officials partially denied a request by the Daily Press for e-mails sent to and from Building Officer Ron Takiguchi about the sculpture, which he has said may require $400,000 to repair.
Any e-mails that reflect City Hall’s “decision making and deliberative process” were redacted by city officials, who cited what is called the “catch all exemption” in the California Public Records Act.
“This exemption is designed to protect from disclosure material reflecting deliberative or policy making processes,” city officials said.
City Hall’s use of this exemption does not qualify in this case, said Jim Ewert, general counsel at the California Newspaper Publishers Association, who reviewed the request and responses.
In order for City Hall to use this exemption, he said, they must demonstrate that public interest in non-disclosure clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure, something called the balancing test.
“In your situation, the agency has completely failed to identify the public interests involved here,” he said. “And because they haven’t identified the public interests, they haven’t performed the balancing test that the statute requires.”
If public interests were identified, he said, it would likely be clear that the information is worth divulging.
“Public interest in disclosure here is very, very high because you’re talking about the expenditure of public funds, or at least the stated cost associated with this sculpture, and what it would cost to preserve or maintain it,” he said.
City Hall cited two cases, which they said sets the precedent for not releasing the requested information.
“Those two cases have only applied to a governor’s calendar and to a local official’s cell phone records,” Ewert said. “And the state Constitution requires that the city, in analyzing this statute, do so broadly when it favors public access, but narrowly when it limits the right of public access.”
The Daily Press forwarded this information to city officials, who stood by their initial redactions.
A group of proponents of the sculpture, who are trying to raise the funds to save it, have asked for more specific estimates, claiming that it would make fundraising easier. The funds need to be raised by February, and thus far they’ve raised about $37,000. City Hall has said they will match up to $50,000.
A consultant hired by the proponents of the statue claims he could make all repairs for, at most, $200,000 and, at lowest, $80,000.
Proponents have been trying to get the Landmarks Commission to ask the City Council to clarify potential costs before the February deadline, but city officials have not placed the issue on the commission’s or the council’s agenda.
City Manager Rod Gould said that they are following council’s direction, which was to bring the issue back in February. Council members see all the letters sent about “Chain Reaction,” he said, and have not yet decided that it’s necessary to hear the issue before then.
“That is the direction of the representatives of the people,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Of course, the council can always change its mind and give different direction. Until then, though, we carry out the collective will of the council as is our duty in local representative democracy.”