Sunshine Week 2013 Wrap-Up

sunshine-week-logoWrapping up Sunshine Week, we are already looking ahead to 2014 with the hope that our municipalities will take a more proactive approach to making the people’s information public. Transparency is key: as pro-bike advocates, we know that data is crucial in making  an argument for more sensible transportation policy. Here in Beverly Hills, we’d like to know more about bike-involved collisions, and how traffic enforcement policy affects cyclists. We don’t have that data today. Sunshine Week is an opportunity to remind officials what needs fixing, and we have some ideas. And we be you do too.

How would greater transparency help those who ride a bike in Beverly Hills? Recently we received right-of-way citation early in the morning on Martin Luther Kind Day, a federal holiday. Traffic was extremely light but traffic enforcement was not: in our neighborhood (near Charleville, which parallels Wilshire) we saw plenty of patrols. Indeed, traversing the 17 stop signs between home and Century City we saw the party lights light up. That was an opportunity to talk with one of Beverly Hills’s finest as we received a ticket.

Aside from the question of innocence, we wondered why enforcement was heavy on a holiday. And why patrols on Charleville seemed aggressive when every day, at every light change, two or three cars run the full-on red signal on Wilshire at so many intersections. From a safety standpoint, it’s a no-brainer; from a ticket-writing standpoint it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Yet we’ve never seen a single enforcement action at the intersections where offending is so frequent as to be silly.

Of course, our officer doesn’t make policy and likely doesn’t draft the patrol schedule either. But when asked, he did mention that budgets are tight. Maybe there’s not resources available for Wilshire patrols? And he said that enforcement is a priority around schools. But what if no school is in session on a holiday? And why enforce so doggedly on a federal holiday when traffic is lightest? We saw several patrol cars out. There exists is a significant pay boost to officers on holidays, of course; perhaps holiday enforcement duty is perk? That’s all speculation, though, because we don’t have the data.

Where’s the Data?

chart of BH traffic data for 2012

Injury collisions hold steady while enforcement takes a nosedive.

When we looked at the citation data that we do have – data released to a city commission – we saw an interesting annual trend. In 2012, enforcement began with a bang (pun intended): more tickets were issued in January that any other month. Then citation frequency declines though the end of the year. There exist pronounced lulls in summertime and in December, but the trend is downward. Note that accidents hold pretty steady until December, when less traffic probably means fewer collisions.

Now, those figures don’t break out the right-of-way citations issued to those riding a bicycle. That is information that we would like to have because it can tell us about whether enforcement focuses disproportionately on those who ride. We would like to know more about the causes of bike-involved collisions, too, but again, the commission data don’t tell that story; it is hardly fine-grained enough to inform transportation advocacy. We’re told we will have to file a public records request to get any additional data.

We wonder about how the traffic division enforces the rules of the road because the officer who issued our citation noted how important it is to enforce the law against both motorists and cyclists. Fewer that one in one hundred travel by bicycle here. Do they receive more than one in one hundred right-of-way citations? Inquiring minds want to know. In any event, be warned: rolling the stops in Beverly Hills could land you in court… even as a scores of drivers every light change roll the red on Wilshire at speed. Please let us know if you’ve been cited.

Back to Sunshine Week

Sunshine Week is our opportunity to press local governments to make public information available without resorting to a public records request. We hope that it jumpstarts an open government initiative here in Beverly Hills to make the people’s business more available to the people.

Here in Beverly Hills, we suggested reforms in two key areas: the city should provide better online tools for public participation (like a refreshed city website) in order to encourage greater public engagement. Attendance at city meetings and election turnout these days is dismal, after all. Let’s not discourage participation.

And the other recommendation concerns a cultural change: we hope that our City Manager will provide direction to make public information more available to the people by default. That change should come from our new City Council; it would be crafted by the City Manager; and then carried through by the change-averse folks in City Hall.

The website is a modest challenge. The summer 2012 refresh was too long in the coming, too expensive in implementation, and too insufficient to meet the bar for open government. (We complained about it then.) Even with the new gloss on, it is put to shame by the new Los Angeles city website that just went live. (We love it.) We can do better and, we hope, will do better by the time that Sunshine Week 2014 rolls around.

Lastly, greater transparency means revising our 30-day-and-destroy official email retention policy. Destroying email is not in keeping with the spirit of our sunshine laws, and trashing it by default after only 30 days is simply not satisfactory as a policy in this era of open government. Yet our outgoing Council affirmed it as recently as last Fall. That too should change.

Beverly Hills 2013 official elections results thumbnailLast but not least, the Beverly Hills City Clerk can do a lot better where transparency and open government is concerned. This week it released official election results in the form of an image-based PDF document, not as tabular data or downloadable as a spreadsheet. Have a look at i (right): it seems scanned from a color paper printout. While we’ve learned to expect nothing more from the Clerk’s office, this doesn’t say much for current efforts to make the people’s business available to the people in a form that usable, does it?

From our sorry state of affairs, no gesture in the direction of open government is too small. That’s why we’ve created a  draft proclamation for Beverly Hills based on a template provided for Sunshine Week advocates. Tell us how you would improve upon it for adoption by City of Beverly Hills by the time that Sunshine Week 2014 rolls around next March. So mark your calendar. Be prepared to press your elected officials to make the people’s business more available to the people. We will….

Greenwald: Government Secrecy and the Political Fix

sunshine-week-logoSpeaking out during Sunshine Week, attorney and civil rights advocate Glenn Greenwald drills down to the political nature of our current government secrecy problem. “There is a tendency to dismiss these issues,” he says, speaking broadly about our national bipartisan failure to engage the critical ethical and legal implications of a decade of opaque policy-making. Continue reading

Sunshine Week

Aside

Have you paid attention to Sunshine Week? It recognizes a movement inaugurated by the American Society of News Editors and co-coordinated by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to make the people’s business more accessible to the people. “Open government is good government,” goes the slogan, and we agree. But the forecast for greater transparency is cloudy, is the consensus. Read the White House statement about Sunshine Week and then compare the Washington Post’s more critical view. Listen to Glen Greenwald talk about high-level non-accountability and the EFF comments on drone program secrecy. Locally, the League of Women Voters chimes in and the LA Times provides handy links to the key organizations. Here’s hoping that Beverly Hills City Hall takes this occasion to make our people’s business as open and accessible as it should be.