Sunshine Task Force

About the Beverly Hills Sunshine Task Force

Mayor John Mirisch formed the Sunshine Task Force upon election to “ensure greater transparency and public involvement in local government operations” in City of Beverly Hills. The committee includes former officials and politically-active stakeholders who share an interest in making the processes and products of local governance accessible to the public. We at Better Bike expressed our interest in the task force because we don’t always find City Hall particularly open to sharing information as advocate for mobility options.

We’ve created this page as a temporary repository for material related to the committee’s work until such a time as city staff organize and post it. (We also post Task Force meeting recaps on the main page.) Here we host reference material discussed at the Task Force meetings, highlight relevant organizations and potential contacts, and make available good governance reports and academic publications. We’ll add to the page as we come across new material.  Feel free to make suggestions in the comments pane and/or suggest material to post.

Advocacy Organizations

Sunshine Review is an organization that grades local governments on transparency. Their motto, “Bringing state and local government to light,” summarizes the mission and their goal – “a customer service hot-line for government transparency and accountability” –  suggests the utility. They publish a ‘transparency Report Card‘ which grades cities (for example) according to a 10-item checklist. Their checklist focuses exclusively on what it calls “proactively disclosing government data” via the local government website. By their measure, Beverly Hills receives a grade of only ‘C’ in 2013.

American Society of News Editors is the organization behind Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of good and open government funded by the Knight Foundation that supports legislative action to make the products of government accessible to the media and the public.

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press may sound like a members-only industry alliance, but in fact it can be helpful to the non-pro would-be journalist too. To the trade it  provides legal advice and advocates on First Amendment issues. To the local digger, the organization’s legal guide helps to protect your right to access public records and push back when you

The Knight Foundation is an outgrowth of the newspaper media empire of the same name and is a major backer of programs that nurture innovation in the media (e.g., the annual News Challenge). It works with selected communities on “transformative” communities program initiatives to to inform and engage the public. (Long Beach is the nearest Knight Communities non-resident partner.) Read the foundation’s national strategy for an overview.

The Open Government Foundation (helmed by California Congressman Darrel Issa) is a tech-tools maker with a mission to pry open the darker corners of the state and federal government. Making it’s mark early with opposition to the ill-conceived federal Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation, the organization embraces an aggressive approach (“We bring the sledgehammers”) to an ostensibly non-partisan tech-libertarian agenda of using public information as a “disruptive” means to force change upon against hidebound bureaucracies.

The Sunlight Foundation is another tech-centric organization that leverages the power of the Internet to “catalyze greater government transparency.” They’ve developed some very handy user applications to encourage informed participation as well as a suite of cyber tech tools (e.g., APIs) to empower organizations and web developers to access and repurpose government data. The motto: “improving access to government information by making it available online.”

Best Practices

Website Content for Local Agencies: A Checklist from ILG from the Institute for Local Government is a brief, bullet-list inventory of what a satisfactory local government website should contain. A starter for a report card, perhaps?


How the Public Perceives Community Information Systems (2011) from the Pew Internet Project. If you’ve come away frustrated with the Beverly Hills website because you couldn’t find the information you need, you’ll find comfort in the report’s findings from three American Cities. The emphasis is on communications between local government and citizens. The takeaway: “Those who believe they can impact their community are more likely to be engaged in civic activities and are more likely to be satisfied with their towns.”

Understanding the Basics of Transparency Laws (2009) in the Public Service Ethics series from the Institute for Local Government provides an overview (for stakeholder and official) of the public’s right to access information. Note the handy section on public meetings access – a framework for understanding California’s Brown Act.

Academic papers

(coming soon)

Legislation, Policy Guidance & Misc Resources

California’s Brown Act and brief Brown Act Summary from the Attorney General and unofficial descriptive PowerPoint explaining the fine points.

President Obama’s Executive Order: Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information. “Government information shall be managed as an asset throughout its life cycle to promote interoperability and openness, and, wherever possible and legally permissible, to ensure that data are released to the public in ways that make the data easy to find, accessible, and usable.” The emphasis here is on eliminating barriers by developing and implementing best practices through the federal government.

Potential Contacts

  • Long Beach Community Foundation Vice President Julie Heggeness: (562) 435-9033.(Affiliated with a Knight Community partner.)
  • Knight Foundation Vice President of Communications Marc Fest:
    (305) 908-2677 or

Proposal: Ombudsman

The public sector Ombudsman is a “guarantor of citizens’ rights” and a mechanism for “impartial and independent investigation of citizens’ complaints,” according to United States Ombudsman Association. The ombudsman is responsible only to the people and to the legislative body; success in the position is defined by autonomy and independence, the freedom “to investigate any act or failure to act by any agency,” and “discretionary power to determine what complaints to investigate and to determine what criticisms to make or to publicize,” according to criteria developed by the American Bar Association (which publishes “Organizational Ombudsman: Origins, Roles and Operations”).

Among Westside cities, only City of Los Angeles has considered creating a Public ombudsman position. In 2006, Councilman Zine proposed an ombudsman position that would “assist and direct constituents who visit Council Chambers and need assistance from the City.” As submitted, the motion stated: “To ensure that all constituents are heard, the City Council should direct the City Clerk, the Chief Legislative Analyst and the City’s Administrative Officer to coordinate with the Council President’s office to create an Ombudsman position to assist constituents with questions or problems and direct them to the appropriate City department.” [excerpt from file 05-0575-S1]. But the proposal expired in November of 2009 without council action.

City of Santa Monica has fielded the suggestion several times over the years. At a community meeting titled “Improving the Electoral Process” (2007) public support was expressed for staffing positions assigned to individual Councilmembers “or appointment of a City ombudsman” (according to city notes from the meeting). No general public ombudsman position was created, however.

But Santa Monica has created (in 2005) a Development Services Officer position to facilitate permitting and “act as an ombudsman in terms of public interaction” with the planning process. Subsequently in 2010, the City Manager assigned to that position the additional responsibility for assisting Santa Monica’s businesses with strategic issues – aka ‘Business ombudsperson.’ The city has fielded requests for other focused ombudsman positions, including a volunteer Section 8 ombudsman to assist tenants in resolving housing issues (recommended by a member of the Resident Advisory Board in 2002) and a “business start-ups” ombudsman, which was suggested by attendees to a city budget process in 2009. As recently as 2012, members of the public revived the idea during a community visioning process. Under the rubric of “Improve Communications with Local Residents and Community Members,” the public ombudsman would “interact with community members and address impact concerns.” No position has been created.

West Hollywood in 2009 created a temporary “one-stop ombuds/community relations office” to handle any permits and issues arising from the 25th Anniversary capital improvement projects (e.g., library) but otherwise has not created a general public ombudsman position. Culver City has evidently not discussed an ombudsman position at all.

Los Angeles County, on the other hand, has created an ‘Office of Ombudsman Community and Senior Services’ to provide a “professional, neutral, and independent, forum for people who seek answers and solutions to problems” – chiefly the focus seems to be on elder issues and long-term care.

It seems that scale is a consideration. City of Los Angeles population is four million and the County counts ten million. At the same time, discussing the position at all seems to align with overall principles of good government and stakeholder access, and from this scant evidence it appears that there is interest among at least some members of the public for another means of contacting local government.

Recent Posts

Complete Streets workshop #1 Recap

Complete streets workshop #1 flyerThe first Beverly Hills complete streets process community workshop was held on Monday, March 12th, to kick off the drafting of the city’s complete streets plan. This is the first step in the creation of a complete streets plan. More workshops and city meetings will follow, but this event suggested that Beverly Hills is ready for complete streets. Here’s my recap.

Complete Streets workshop #1 overviewJohn Lower, Associate Vice President of Iteris, the consultant to the city that secured the complete streets project, opened with an overview of complete streets principles: improved street accessibility regardless of age or ability; infrastructure upgrades to improve safety and efficiency for all users; and the opportunity to employ new technologies to improve mobility safety and efficiency. Technology is playing a key role in this process because mobility options like bikeshare and Bird scooters are becoming popular and City Hall is warming to autonomous vehicles (perhaps for a citywide taxi system as championed by Councilmember John Mirisch).

Mr. Lower’s PowerPoint presentation was somewhat dry; it was also light on vision. Which is unfortunate because a complete streets planning process encourages people to imagine what urban mobility could look like: high-visibility and/or protected bicycle lanes, world-class crosswalks, road diets to calm traffic, and policies to encourage active modes of mobility over auto use. Complete streets principles are best illustrated with before and after imagery, but Mr. Lower’s presentation was heavy on schematics and tables that are difficult to read in a large room. It was a presentation shackled to today when what we want stakeholders to do is to image tomorrow.

Still, Mr. Lower only had to set the stage for the main event: the roundtable breakout groups. (For more information on complete streets see the consultants December PowerPoint.)

Complete Streets workshop #1 postersLydia Kenselaar, a planner with an Iteris subcontractor, Alta Planning, then took the mic to suggest participants identify values and goals that should guide the planning process. She then suggested strategies to inform the draft complete streets plan. But she was asking us to imagine tomorrow’s ways of moving about the city without visual cues. And if one doesn’t know about the variety of measures that contribute to a complete street, one can only recall places like Europe (and Santa Monica!) to inform some recommendations. My table did draw on examples elsewhere and no one referenced the content of Mr. Lower’s PowerPoint presentation.


Each roundtable included 6-8 participants and was facilitated by a consultant’s staffer. Around the tables hovered city staffers, Traffic and Parking commissioners and, notably, public safety representatives. Also attending were councilmembers Bob Wunderlich and John Mirisch (both multimodal mobility supporters). My table was fairly representative of the entire room of about forty stakeholders: aged about fifty, on average.

Complete Streets workshop #1 breakout tableThe breakout tables were charged with identifying guiding values and goals in about 45 minutes. The exercise would feel familiar to those who have perhaps participated in the drafting of local plans: the urge to participate; round table with a poster to mark-up; some spirited conversation and a group member ultimately chosen to present the table’s ideas to the room. Then other tables follow suit, followed by a wrap-up statement. Everyone goes home and feels good about the process.

My table showed some collective interest to move beyond auto-era problems and into a future where mobility is safe, efficient and (for lack of a better term) ‘modern.’ As one of my tablemates said, “We want people to feel good about how they pass through the city.” That seemed to sum up the spirit at the table.Complete Streets workshop #1 my table

Breakout Tables

I’m not sure if my table was representative, but over the next 45 minutes my tablemates Melody, Kathy, Tom, Giada, Susan and (Traffic commissioner Pam Hendry) talked only briefly about goals. Issued included:

  • Crosswalks are dangerous (“I need to wear a reflective vest to feel safe”);
  • Few areas feel safe to ride a bicycle so we can’t reduce our car use;
  • Motorized bicycles present a safety issue to pedestrians;
  • Inaccurate maps and Waze-like apps prompt drivers to make unlawful turns; and,
  • Hotel black cars and limos hog meters south of Wilshire and disabled residents can’t park.

Complete Streets workshop #1 tabletopWe then moved quickly on to fixes. Recommendations made at my table included:

  • Busy commercial streets need a bicycle lane and better to place it between the curb and parked cars;
  • Create pedestrian-only streets or areas safe and enjoyable to walk;
  • Schools should be connected by bike routes to encourage bike-to-school;
  • Relocate 720 Metro bus service from North to South Santa Monica Blvd;
  • “De-prioritize vehicular traffic” on Beverly Drive and and add a bicycle lane;
  • Protect bicycle paths: paint is not sufficient (“in Europe they are raised to a different level from the street”);
  • Designate priority bike routes for a citywide bicycle network (like Berkeley) perhaps Charleville, Gregory and Carmelita;
  • Create a ‘flyover’ to allow riders and pedestrians to rise above busy, problem intersections like Wilshire-Santa Monica.

When breakout tables convened for the summation the top recommendations by table were

Table 1: Improve the quality-of-life, implement measures with a positive environmental impact, and reduce auto traffic though transit use.
Table 2: Reduce pass-through traffic & neighborhood spillover, improve pedestrian safety, and address driver aggression.
Table 3: Improve safety, improve the quality-of-life, and install bike lanes & facilities to make mobility more efficient.
Table 4: Improve safety & reduce collisions, improve quality-of-life (restore a ‘village’ atmosphere), and make on-street mobility improvements.
Table 5: Improve safety, better the environment by reducing auto traffic (via ‘active mobility amenities’), invest in ‘smart’ technology lighting & signals.
Table 6: Improve safety via protected bicycle lanes, calm traffic, and create more pedestrian areas incl. South Beverly. (Note: I was not a very active participant at my table #6 and these recommendations were suggested solely by my tablemates.)

Other suggestions included: make the business triangle pedestrian-only (which recalls one City Council candidate’s call to close Rodeo Drive to vehicles); separate pedestrians from traffic at the busiest intersections using flyovers; make city data public (which I suggested along with table #4); and implement a ‘vision zero’ program to reduce traffic crashes by improving the design of streets. There was something for everyone unless you are an Auto Club booster!

Wrapping Up

City Transportation deputy director Aaron Kunz brought the proceedings to a close quickly by commenting on the “great turnout” and noting the timeline for the complete streets plan process. It should conclude with a draft plan by early fall and be in the hands of City Council for a final vote by October. Of course it’s a long way from this workshop to a final plan. In the meantime there will be more workshops, online survey responses, monthly Traffic and Parking Commission meetings for additional public comments (first Thursdays), and one or more City Council meetings.

Was it worth attending? This kind of pro-forma community input event (‘workshop’) suffers from familiar shortcomings: an informational presentation that is not so informative; too little time to really talk in depth about the issues; table facilitators who may not be very experienced; and a volume of public input can seem overwhelming unless a wrap-up facilitator can properly organize it into a coherent framework. Without an experienced facilitator the tables produce a laundry list of proposals that may or may not survive the event. But in the end we have no choice to attend – and to press our electeds and officials through other channels too so that our streets become safe and more accessible (i.e., ‘complete’).

My Take-Away

There were a few things I took away from this workshop that I didn’t expect that suggest Beverly Hills may have turned the corner on mobility.

Most astonishing was the sense that Beverly Hills has collectively turned the chapter on auto-era mobility. Nobody suggested the city should expand a road or otherwise seek to make driving more convenient. Nobody spoke up for drivers period. No bike advocate needed to lead the discussion to focus on measures that support active mobility because the room was already there.

Safety was the prevailing value. Of the six tables presenting, five cited safety as a top value or put safety at the center of the short-list of recommendations. That is truly remarkable considering that city officials never mention the increasing toll of crashes or suggest the need for a policy to address what residents have long complained about: feeling unsafe on city streets.

No business owner showed up to defend curbside parking or call for an expansion of curb parking. Yet that is what’s on City Council’s April 10th agenda: a plea from South Santa Monica businesses to expand curbside parking on the street once Santa Monica Boulevard construction is complete. No champion spoke up tonight for a proposal that would short-circuit the complete streets process by changing the function of that street in advance of a plan (which is supported by city staff).

NIMBYs stayed home. The not-in-my-backyard crowd has long exerted undue influence over city policymaking. That was evidenced in caricature fashion when northside residents turned out two years ago to try to tank SM Blvd bicycle lanes. Though recommended by the federal and state DOTs for improved safety for riders, and though championed by 100+ pro-lane speakers at City Council, those naysayers nearly carried the day. None showed up tonight.

Perhaps most significantly, there was no sense that complete streets is a zero-sum endeavor. New mobility measures need not come at the cost of any particular road user (for example motorists). Instead there seemed to be acknowledgement that mobility could be both safer and more efficient.

Complete Streets workshop #1 empty bike racksThe zero-sum argument (drivers vs. everyone else) has been trotted out again and again across the Southland to stymie efforts to improve street safety but tonight it carried no weight in this first complete streets community workshop.

The the next workshop I’m hoping that we’ll have more bike-minded attendees. Not too many showed up (notwithstanding the number of recommendations for pro-bike infrastructure). Witness the City Hall bike parking area. We need to see a few more bikes here next time!

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