Our View: Keep public notices public


The California Legislature isn’t satisfied with spending your tax money on advice from Eric Holder or on studying the 3,476th route for the bullet train to nowhere.

Now legislators want your stuff, too.

The initial flurry of proposed new laws that introduces each legislative session is over, and 2,495 initial bills are in. Among them are two proposals that would allow public notices of unclaimed property to be posted in vague or obscure locations rather than in newspapers that serve areas where the property went unclaimed.

Take Aunt Millie, for example, who stashed $100,000 in a bank before she passed on – a bank whose name she couldn’t remember.

Current law requires the state, after collecting those unclaimed funds from the bank, would be required to file a public notice in Aunt Millie’s community newspaper under her name so family could claim it.

But lawmakers want to change that. Under Assembly Bill 772, the law would “authorize the controller to cause notice to be published in a manner he or she determines to be reasonable.”

Now how are Aunt Millie’s descendants supposed to know what the controller considers reasonable?

As introduced, AB772 also restricts the controller’s options in searching for rightful owners. It would prohibit use of money appropriated for audit programs, prohibit posting or publishing a photo with the search notice, and prohibit citing an elected official’s name as part of the search.

Sure sounds like the controller’s office wants to keep that $100,000.

Notice, too, that the agency being restricted in its search for rightful owners is the very agency that benefits from not finding them – the controller’s office. Seems like a conflict of interest to us.

In the interest of full disclosure, we’ve got to say we have a dog in this fight, too. Public notice publications provide a revenue stream for The Signal and for other newspapers up and down the state.

But we can, with full confidence, assure you that while newspapers will earn a little a month out of publishing the search for rightful owners of seized property, under no circumstance would we ever wind up with the money ourselves.

Such cannot be said about the state controller.

We have to say we’re disappointed to see Sen. Scott Wilk’s name on AB772 as principal coauthor. But we’re encouraged by information from the California Newspaper Publishers Association that it is negotiating with the controller’s office for changes that could keep public notices for unclaimed property where they belong – in local newspapers – not on some unspecified website somewhere.

Such cannot be said of Assembly Bill 1108, which specifically targets notices about auctioning content of abandoned self-storage units and is being carried by Assemblyman Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, on behalf of the self-storage industry.

Currently, those public auction notices appear in local newspapers, and some folks make a living of sorts bidding on storage unit-content – sold sight unseen – and then re-selling the stuff, always dreaming of finding a pristine copy of Action Comics No. 1.

AB1108 would allow auction notification through a “commercially reasonable manner to include, but not be limited to, an in-person auction or on a prescribed internet web site.”

According to CNPA attorney Jim Ewert, that “prescribed internet web site” might include the self-storage business’s own website – hardly a location likely to be widely searched by local residents.

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