Editor’s Note: If you have a suggestion for a Public Records Act Request, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, readers
Recent letters to the editor gave me good advice, helpful ideas for the future, and possibly helped me get some answers to questions I had for City Hall. Keep your letters coming. In fact, any time you send a letter to the City Council, please feel free to share it with your fellow Seal Beach residents by CCing the letters to the Sun at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to publish those letters.
Answers to Public Records portal questions
On March 10, I sent a message to City Manager Jill Ingram that included some observations and questions about the city’s Public Records request portal. I re-sent the questions to Jill Ingram and requested an answer by close of business Friday, March 31.
In the March 23 and March 30 issues of the Sun, I published that message.
On Thursday, March 30, City Manager Jill Ingram wrote: “Charles, the Clerk’s Office will provide a response to your email request below by early next week.”
On Friday, April 7, Assistant City Manager Patrick Gallegos answered three of the four questions.
I’m going to put his answers next to the questions because that will be easier for readers to follow.
Sun: “I recently visited the Seal Beach records request portal.
“I logged in and clicked on ‘All Requests’. I found only my requests.
“Why aren’t all records requests visible to the public on the site?
Gallegos: “The City’s NextRequest system is an internal organizational tool that assists City staff with efficiently responding to the numerous records requests received by the City each year. In the event that a member of the public wishes to view any records requests, such requests are generally public records and may be disclosed upon request.”
I was out of the office when the assistant city manager sent his replies to my questions on April 7, so on April 10, I emailed Gallegos to request further clarification of that answer.
Sun: “I checked my recorded requests and found they were all ‘unpublished’.
“How does one get their public records “published”?
Gallegos: “This was an inadvertent error by the NextRequest system. Public records requests are neither published nor unpublished as a matter of course. The City intends to respond to all records requests in accordance with the Public Records Act.”
Sun: “Let’s say three or four different people request a copy of XYZ permit. Does the city release the document only to each of the three or four requesters? Or does the city post the document on the city website where the public may find it without making a formal records request?
Gallegos: “The City strives to post important and timely information on its website so that the public has easy access to the material. The Public Records Act permits the City to refer requestors to the City’s website in response to a public records request. In cases where it is not appropriate or feasible to post a record to the City’s website, and the record is not exempt from disclosure or confidential, then it will make the record available to anyone who requests it.”
Sun: “How many records request were filed in 2022?”
This question wasn’t answered. On April 10, I re-sent the question to Assistant City Manager Gallegos along with a request for clarification of his answer to my first question.
Answers about in lieu parking fees
On April 5, I emailed Finance Director Treasurer Barbara Aenado the following questions:
“How much revenue does the in lieu parking fee program generate annually?
“Where does the in lieu parking fee money go?”
On April 6, she wrote:
“The City collects approximately $7,200 a year in In-lieu parking fees. These funds are collected in a special fund and are set aside for capital projects related to parking.
“Please let me know if you would like additional information.”
I emailed another question:
“What parking-related capital improvement projects are currently taking place in Seal Beach?”
A reasonable request from City Hall
I recently submitted a Public Records Act request about drinking water. (Researching drinking water is—please forgive my word choice—a mighty dry subject. ) Staff emailed me a request asking me to narrow the scope of my request.
A key problem in any research project is that if you make your search too broad, it becomes impossible for officials to find the information you are seeking. If you make your request to narrow, you may need to make multiple requests—and you may miss something important.
Related: On April 3, I emailed Public Works Director Iris Lee a request for information about water infrastructure.
That same day, alas, around our closing time, she emailed a reply pointing out that the subject was broad and asked me to narrow the request. So I asked her on April 5 what is the next non-emergency drinking water infrastructure project in the pipeline.
On April 6, I received an email from the Records Act portal that said:
“The City of Seal Beach has determined that additional time is required to properly review and respond to your request for public records. Government Code Section 6253(c) permits this extended period, however the City endeavors to provide all requests promptly. New due date is April 20, 2023.”
Staffing an issue in Seal Beach city government
I want to look into this in more detail at a later date, but a handout at the April 4 City Council Strategic Planning Workshop contained some useful statistics:
• Seal Beach has 110 full-time employees
• 54 full-time employees in the Police Department
• 34 employees in operations
• Seven vacancies.
“Leaving just 14 staffing positions @ 5% capacity each= only 1,440 total staff hours,” according to the handout.
City attorney says Seal Beach ‘Choose Civility’ program is ‘aspirational’
On Thursday, March 30, I asked Seal Beach City Attorney Nick Ghirelli:
“If a member of city staff believed a citizen was not being “civil,” could the city take legal action against that individual?
“Conversely, if a member of the public believed a member of city staff was being uncivil, could that person take legal action against Seal Beach? Say, for the sake of discussion, file a small claims case against the city?”
On Monday, April 3, Ghirelli wrote:
“The Choose Civility program is itself a set of aspirational values that the City of Seal Beach promotes for its public meetings. As part of the City Council’s adoption of the Choose Civility Program in 2018, the City Council also adopted Council Policy 100-14, which sets forth the City’s policy for dealing with disruptive persons at public meetings and facilities. The policy identifies the enforcement protocol and Penal Code sections associated with disrupting public proceedings. In my experience, public agencies only pursue legal action against an individual if the individual is acting violently or is making threats of violence.
“I hope this information is helpful.”
Actually, the mayor only gets one vote
During the recent City Council Strategic Planning Workshop, District One Councilman Joe Kalmick, a recent past Seal Beach mayor, said it was difficult to get people to understand that the mayor in our city does not get a second vote and does not get to overturn the decisions of the City Council.
I was not shocked to hear that.
I once got a call from someone who wanted to know when the city manager was going to run for re-election.
Actually, the council hires the city manager. The city manager doesn’t run for election. She stays as long as at least three council members support her continued employment.
I’ve had people ask me if people from out of town can run for City Council.
No, they can’t.
I’ve had people ask me if the right to vote is limited to property owners.
Answer: Not in California and not at this time. (There’s an exception for municipal mergers, but I think that will one day be challenged in court.)
Incidentally, that would disenfranchise most of the residents of Leisure World.
I cover three cities in two counties for three weekly newspapers. None of the mayors of any of those cities can veto their council’s decisions.
Then again, I’ve met people who don’t know Seal Beach is divided into five council districts—each with its own representative.
I’ve also met people who did not know which district they live in.
I respectfully suggest that if you’re not sure of your council district, email the City Clerk’s Office or the mayor.
When space permits, we’ll run the emails and phone numbers of your council representatives and city department heads. (This week, see page 6 for council member contact information.)