By Tammy Murga
Signal Staff Writer
After the city of Santa Clarita filed a lawsuit last week against the owners of Canyon View Estates mobile home park for placing solar panels without proper permits, it wasn’t immediately clear how or when the lawsuit had been authorized.
Mystery solved: The City Council gave the city attorney’s office the go-ahead to pursue the litigation back in March during a closed-session meeting. However, the lawsuit wasn’t announced until two days after it was filed Sept. 10, and the clarification that the decision was made March 27 was provided Friday.
In its March 27 special meeting, the City Council met with legal counsel during closed session to discuss the initiation of litigation. When the council emerged from closed session, City Attorney Joe Montes said, “There’s no announcement out of closed session,” according to the city’s video of the meeting.
Under the Brown Act — California’s open meeting law — the city attorney is required to report any closed-session action taken by the council once the council reconvenes in public session.
“If the decision to file was made in closed session, the action is supposed to be announced at the public session, but they don’t have to say with who,” said David Snyder, executive director of the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition, a free speech and open government advocacy organization.
In other words, the city was not obligated to specify against whom the council had authorized litigation, but it was obligated to publicly acknowledge that such a decision was made.
The Brown Act reads, in part: “In the case of approval given to initiate or intervene in an action, the announcement need not identify the action, the defendants or other particulars, but shall specify that the direction to initiate or intervene in an action has been given and that the action, the defendants, and the other particulars shall, once formally commenced, be disclosed to any person upon inquiry.”
The Brown Act allows two possible exceptions: if disclosure would jeopardize the public agency’s ability to effectuate service to “unserved parties,” or if disclosure would jeopardize settlement negotiations.
Montes said Wednesday he should have disclosed the decision authorizing litigation at the March 27 meeting, but did not do so because, “I was focused on the uncertain issues on whether we should have filed or not, rather than the announcement.”