All posts by victor

Policymaker Profile: Mary Jane Sanchez-Fulton – College of the Desert

Mary Jane Sanchez-Fulton has received numerous state and national award for her advocacy in higher education. Recently honored by NlWB women of Excellence -2017. Served as the first Latina Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Desert Community College District. She is the CA representatives for the American Association of Community College Trustees, Board member of Riverside County RDA Oversight committee for the city of Indio and Desert Hot springs. She has served for over 15 years as professor/educator for local universities and community colleges. Strong corporate background, principled thinking; a person who continues bring new vision to the future of College of the Desert.

Who was your political mentor – someone who guided and supported you – someone who prepared you for public service. What kind of advice did they give you that was the most important/useful to you?

Interesting question. At the time I began to run, there no other Latinas in office. I had no political mentor, because in the back of mind I didn’t want to owe anybody anything. However who truly inspired really was my mom who motivated me because she said I couldn’t win because I was too honest and nice and because I cared. So I ran to prove her that integrity still exists.

What was the one thing no one told you about being an elected official that you wish you’d known before you were elected?

The one thing nobody told me – How expensive it is to get elected and re-elected.

Describe a project you spearheaded or supported that you’re proud of. Why was it successful and what did you learn from it that helped you be a better policymaker?

As the youngest trustee member, and first Latina elected as chair, there are many projects I have spearheaded in my 1st term as elected. My top 4 that I am most proud are about access.

  1. Creating Community College Tuition free to Coachella valley residents.
  2. Creating a new and free bus line to the college, so students can go to work and school. 
  3. Creating A food pantry for my students.
  4. Building a new Campus for the underserved community and the city.

As an elected official you must balance your job, your duties as an elected official and family obligations, not to mention trying to find personal time for yourself. How do you balance all these duties and obligations?

You can’t really balance anything as an elected official. As an elected you automatically make personal and financial sacrifices. The secret is hard work. Secret to success is having family members that support your dreams, not sabotage them. And that you truly have a passion to serve.

What was the most memorable day of your life?

Most memorable day of my life: Getting married to a man that believed and supported me and not belittled my political aspirations and attending Women’s Conference in Beijing, China –  ” A woman’s right is a human right.”

Policymaker Profile: Denise Menchaca – San Gabriel City Council

Denise Menchaca was elected to the San Gabriel City Council in March, 2017. She was raised in Alhambra, California where she attended local public schools. She attended the University of Southern California, having earned a Bachelor degree in Accounting. She has over 30 years of working in both the public and private industries.

She was named the Congressional Woman of Distinction for San Gabriel by Congresswoman Judy Chu, the Golden Apple by the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) and Volunteer Rookie of the Year by the American Cancer Society. Menchaca has been married to John Menchaca for 30 years, raising their four children, Vanessa, Michelle, Roxanne and Michael Menchaca.

Who was your political mentor – someone who guided and supported you – someone who prepared you for public service.  What kind of advice did they give you that was the most important/useful to you?

My political mentor was Lee Freeman, 14 year School Boardmember and past President of the San Gabriel Unified School District. During his tenure, Lee was the quarterback in a Bond drive that took us from a dream to a reality….the reality of becoming a Unified School District with upgraded School facilities including the building of our very own 4 year High School. Lee provided me with sound advice: To be a person of action and not just words. He reminded me that there’s no substitute for the power of door knocking and hard work. Lastly, there was no amount of old guard endorsements or money that will help get you elected unless you personally got out there to meet the voters. These are lessons I still remember after years of being politically engaged.

From left: George Carney, Menchaca, Florencio Briones,and Erik Sanchez.

What was the one thing no one told you about being an elected official that you wish you’d known before you were elected?

Being able to serve one’s community in a very meaningful way is a fulfilling experience like no other.  If you think your elected officials should go in a different direction, this is your chance to discontinue sitting on the sidelines and make an impact. Too many times individuals get discouraged by those small groups who are disagreeable about contentious issues. Overall, I have learned that most people are open and willing to listen and work toward a mutually agreeable solution. Let’s not forget that this is our Community. We must all do our part to influence the course of action that will benefit, in some cases, generations of families.

Describe a project you spearheaded or supported that you’re proud of. Why was it successful and what did you learn from it that helped you be a better policymaker?

The San Gabriel City Council is responsible for hiring two individuals: the City Manager and the City Attorney. As the newly elected City Council member, I learned at my second meeting that this Council will be hiring both a City Manager and City Attorney in less than 6 months. My priority now is to move ahead swiftly and effectively in the search process to fill these two key city positions. We will be retaining an executive-recruitment firm to help fill the vacancies. There will be additional meetings and much preparation including advertising, recruitment brochure and both community and staff surveys. This is just the beginning of the challenges and successes that lie ahead during my four year tenure.

As an elected official you must balance your job, your duties as an elected official and family obligations, not to mention trying to find personal time for yourself. How do you balance all these duties and obligations? 

I engage people I trust in achieving work-family life balance. I have regular discussions with my husband and children about their observations, opinions and complaints regarding my career commitments and civic involvement. I reach out to friends who give me sound advice and are encouraging. Most importantly, I realized that the perfect balance between work and family may not take place at all times—and that’s normal.

What was the most memorable day of your life?

Aside from the birth of my 4 children, one of the most memorable days of my life was getting elected to the San Gabriel Unified School Board in 2005. There were 3 incumbents seeking re-election and I was the lone challenger. On Election Day, I was the top vote-getter with the second being my political mentor Lee Freeman, who was so genuinely elated with the results. To-date, I have yet to witness a political leader demonstrate such a sincere and selfless reaction when their names have also been on the ballot.

From The Editor

The LA Riots – 25 Years Later

by Gary Leonard

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks talking a lot about the LA Riots as we commemorate the 25th anniversary. I remember them clearly and I can’t help seeing a connection between what happened then and what we’re experiencing now.

As a TV journalist working in Los Angeles back in 1992, I saw plenty of signs that trouble was ahead. But I don’t think anybody can honestly say that they predicted what would happen on the afternoon of April 29.

At first, I was a TV witness like everybody else. I watched as Reginald Denny was pulled from his car and beaten. I couldn’t move. I was angry, confused and scared. I kept asking out loud, “what’s happening? Isn’t anybody going to stop this?” – questions that still hang in the air for me.

Two hours later I was in an unmarked news van with a freelance news crew headed down La Brea Blvd. to cover the biggest story of my life for CBS News.

I had spent several months in El Salvador in 1986 covering the civil war as a freelance journalist so I thought I was prepared. But this wasn’t war. What I witnessed during the first 36 hours of what has been called The L.A. Riots, The Uprising or The Civil Unrest depending on who’s telling the story, has gnawed at me for 25 years.

I tried to cover it, teach it and during the next couple of years afterwards, I worked on two documentaries trying to explain it. But 25 years later, so many of the so-called lessons of those events that are filling the “news space” now continue to elude me.

I remember the face of the boy – he couldn’t have been older than 12 – who pointed a shotgun at my video crew and me, instructing us very calmly to put our camera down as we tried to videotape the looting of an electronics store on Western Ave.

I remember interviewing a Salvadoran woman who hid several terrified L.A. firefighters in her tiny apartment that crazy first night. A group of heavily armed men forced them to abandon their trucks and equipment at a shopping center fire. The gunmen made it clear that they wanted the entire center to burn to the ground. The next day, the woman’s apartment building was torched, leaving her and her nine-year-old daughter homeless.

I remember the choir of singers from a Central Ave. storefront church. I wish I could remember what song they were singing as we all stood on the sidewalk watching a group of buildings across the street burn out of control.

Our city was caught in the grip of a temporary insanity, although no one I talked to in the midst of the worse violence seemed confused by what fueled it. The “insanity” lasted about a day and a half until the National Guard and Marines from Camp Pendleton arrived and restored order with a show of force, but the curfew didn’t do much to calm anyone’s nerves.

I know L.A. is different now because of those three days. How could that kind of violence and destruction not affect us? We formed committees and organizations. We committed to change. As a city, we never wanted this to happen again.

It changed our police department – for the better I’m sure. I used to cover the LAPD under Chief Daryl Gates and that police department is not the LAPD you know now.

And it forced us to talk to each other – at least for a few months in the immediate aftermath. There were gatherings, some organized and some organic, that sprang up to bring us together –to grieve for those who died as well as to help us process the fear, apprehension and mistrust the violence triggered.

But someone once remarked that L.A. is a universe of orbiting galaxies that never intersect: The Westside, the Valley, Hollywood, the South Bay. We are little clusters that when taken in aggregate, make up a city. We spend hours every day on freeways that intersect all of these worlds, but how well do we know the communities that flash past our car windows?

The riots pitted African-Americans against Koreans and while much has been done to heal those wounds, our leaders seem oblivious of the current tensions, particularly in South L.A. between African-Americans and Latinos.

I remember asking the mayor of L.A. in 1991, before the riots, about the tensions between cultures in our city and he denied they existed. Do our leaders today even acknowledge these conflicts?

I wonder where that 12 year-old boy is now and what he’s doing. I tried to find the Salvadoran woman and her daughter but learned they had returned to El Salvador. I want to ask them how they think our city changed and how what happened those three days 25 years ago changed them. I know it changed us.

Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.


Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an unprecedented cultural collaboration on Latin American and Latino art comes to Southern California, September 2017-January 2018

Fowler Museum at UCLA Axé Bahia: The Power of Art in an Afro-Brazilian Metropolis Ayrson Heráclito Bori – Oxum, 2008. Photograph, H: 100 cm; W: 100 cm © Ayrson Heráclito.

Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA (PST: LA/LA)is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, taking place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than 70 cultural institutions throughout Southern California.

PST: LA/LA, an initiative of the Getty, is presented by Bank of America.

The exhibitions will explore diverse topics, themes, movements and periods such as art and activism; Chicana/o and Latina/o art; identity; gender; design and architecture; film and video; photography; performance art and conceptualism; modernism and abstraction; globalism, borders, and diaspora; and Pre-Hispanic and Colonial eras.

PST: LA/LA will feature the works of more than 1,100 artists from 45 countries in Latin America, North America, and Europe, including Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, El Salvador, United Kingdom, and the United States.

LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes and California Historial Society ¡Murales Rebeldes!: L.A. Chicano/a Murals Under Siege Roberto Chavez at work on The Path to Knowledge and the False University, East Los Angeles

It will also expand beyond museum walls with concerts, performances and events that partner institutions will present at the Hollywood Bowl, The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and Walt Disney Concert Hall, Grand Park, and a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces throughout Los Angeles and the region.

You can find information at or follow on Instagram and Twitter: @PSTinLA or Facebook: @pacificstandardtime.

Ethics Advisor

Can Marijuana be Ethical?

By Ruben Duran

Cheech and Chong jokes aside, the reality in California today is that marijuana, also referred to as cannabis, is legal under state law for both medical and recreational uses. While federal law still classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 illegal substance, the landscape of laws and regulations at the state and local levels is evolving almost daily, and if the issue hasn’t hit your jurisdiction yet, odds are it will, and soon.

So what should a local elected official know about cannabis law in California, and what the heck does this have to do with ethics? From a broad public policy perspective, local leaders must be prepared to deal with the issues that their constituents know and care about, and the fact that marijuana is in the news regularly likely means that residents and stakeholders are interested to know what, if anything, their local leaders may do about it.

To that end, here is a brief summary of the California laws applicable to the use and regulation of marijuana.

First, understand the distinction between medicinal and recreational use of cannabis under the law. Medical marijuana has been legal in California since the adoption of Prop 215 (the Compassionate Use Act) in 1996. Under that law and the rules and regulations adopted pursuant to it, qualified patients can obtain marijuana for medicinal use with a prescription, often through purchases at dispensaries, which some jurisdictions allowed and others banned outright. Mobile medical marijuana delivery systems have also been established in various areas of the state.

In 2015, the State Legislature enacted the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), consisting of three bills (AB 243, AB 266, and SB 643). The MMRSA created more robust regulations of medical marijuana while also allowing for strong local control. It also created the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation within Department of Consumer Affairs, which is expected to begin issuing licenses by 2018. The MMRSA also allows local taxation and regulatory licensing fees.

In summary, the MMRSA allows local governments to regulate or to ban outright:

  • Medical marijuana dispensaries
  • Medical marijuana delivery services originating or terminating in jurisdiction
  • Medical marijuana cultivation
  • Medical marijuana manufacturing
  • Medical marijuana testing
  • Other medical marijuana uses


Prop 64 – Adult Recreational Use
California voters approved Prop 64 in November 2016 with 57% of the vote. Known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), Prop 64 legalized recreational use of marijuana by adults in California.

AUMA allows:

  • Personal use by those 21 years of age or older
  • Possession of up to 28.5 grams of cannabis plant material or 8 grams of concentrate
  • Indoor cultivation of up to 6 plants for personal use inside a private residence or accessory structure, and possession of any marijuana produced by those plants.

AUMA also established a state tax for both medical and recreational cannabis, including a state excise tax of 15% on medical and recreational marijuana and a state cultivation tax of $9.25 on flower/$2.75 on non-flower plant leaf for medical and recreational use. It also created a new Division 10 of the Business & Professions Code to license marijuana businesses.

Notwithstanding these taxation provisions, AUMA allows local governments to ban:

  • Recreational retailers
  • Medical dispensaries
  • Any delivery service originating from or terminating in jurisdiction
  • Outside cultivation
  • Any other state-licensed marijuana business licensed under Division 10

Finally, under AUMA, commercial licenses may be issued by the State beginning January 1, 2018, and as of April 2017, the Bureau of Marijuana Control has issued a notice of rulemaking with hearing dates starting June 1 and draft regulations for retailers, distributors, and labs. The California Department of Food and Agriculture has proposed regulations for cultivation, nurseries, and processing, and the Department of Public Health has proposed rules for manufacturing, including extraction, processing and infusion. Now is the time for local government leaders to act if they want to comment on any of these forthcoming rules.


Options for Local Government
Given the legal and regulatory framework discussed above, cities (primarily, as the local land use authorities) have the following options to consider:

  • A city MAY NOT ban personal use in a private residence
  • A city can ban use of marijuana in all other contexts, including use in public spaces, on-site use at dispensaries or retailers, or use in any public space within 1,000 feet of a school, park, or other public gathering space.

With respect to outdoor cultivation for personal use, a city may:

  • Ban outdoor cultivation outright
  • Allow outdoor cultivation if plants are in enclosed spaces or screened from view
  • Require property owner approval of cultivation on property
  • Limit the number of plants that can be cultivated outdoors.

For indoor cultivation, a city must allow cultivation of up to six plants, and can “reasonably regulate” indoor cultivation by:

  • Requiring a cultivation permit
  • Allowing cultivation for personal use only
  • Allowing cultivation for commercial use with a business license
  • Imposing an alternative set of public welfare regulations, but requiring no permit.

With respect to the regulation of commercial uses, a city may:

  • Ban all commercial marijuana activity, including commercial delivery, commercial cultivation, commercial manufacturing, commercial testing, and commercial dispensaries or recreational retailers
  • Allow commercial cultivation with a local tax imposed on growth
  • Allow retailers with zoning limitations on location or number, or a local tax on retail sales
  • Allowing delivery services to originate or terminate in the City.

Finally, some important points to remember about taxing authority, should your local agency decide to explore options that allow marijuana but seek to also raise revenue:

  • Any tax imposed must be passed by the voters, per Prop 218.
  • A special tax (which is set aside for specific uses, such as law enforcement) must be passed by a 66% vote
  • A general tax (which goes into the general fund for unrestricted use) must be passed by a 50% +1 vote
  • The earliest opportunity to place a measure on the ballot to tax marijuana is November 2018.

Whether these issues come to your jurisdiction at the behest of advocates on behalf of the cannabis industry (and, a large and diverse industry is indeed developing, organizing and acting at the state, local and national levels) or through individual constituents who feel strongly about these issues one way or another, you would be well-suited to prepare by learning about the law and the issues. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out if I may assist in any way.

Ruben Duran serves as general and special counsel to public agencies throughout Southern California, including cities, special districts, school districts and special-purpose entities in health care, job training and development and air quality management. He is a member of the Cannabis Working Group at Best Best & Krieger, which advises the firm’s clients on all aspects of marijuana laws and regulations.
(213) 787-2569


Pepperdine Offers Intensive Workshop on Public Engagement for Local Government

By:  Ashley Trim

In these times of endemic mistrust of government (and all institutions for that matter), local governments are finding that well planned and executed public engagement helps communities come together for civic improvement. Public engagement is not a fad, buzz phrase or government jargon. It is a movement that is gaining momentum from experiences throughout California and beyond.

But there is often a gap between how today’s local leaders were prepared in their undergraduate and graduate programs and what they actually need to lead in this “new normal.”

At a Pepperdine conference several years ago, a former Los Angeles-area planning director noted, “We (in the planning department) always put people up in front of the public who are the least prepared to be there.”

She was not suggesting that her planners had not been well trained in their policy or planning schools; rather, she was acknowledging that in some ways their very immersion in the field of planning had left them unprepared to explain technical issues in a nontechnical way or to collaborate with residents who may have priorities beyond that field of expertise.

That is why this summer the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership are teaming this summer to offer a first-of-its-kind Professional Certificate in Advanced Public Engagement for Local Government.

From July 28-30, mid-career professionals will be prepared to lead a publicly-engaged organization by gaining a deep understanding of the context, purpose, and best practices for engaging residents in the decisions that affect their lives and communities.

In workshops led by former city managers, thought leaders in civic engagement, and School of Public Policy faculty, this inaugural cohort will explore questions like:

  • How has public engagement been practiced in the past, and why is it so important in this moment in history?
  • What are the roles of local government, residents, community groups and the media in good engagement?
  • What are the state-of-the-art public engagement techniques and when where and how to use them?
  • How do leaders identify pitfalls, common errors and warning signs?
  • How can leaders reach out to traditionally disengaged members of the community?
  • What role does technology play in public engagement? Are there limits?

You can find out more here: engagement


Ashley Trim is the executive director for the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University. She overseas the Institute’s annual public engagement grant program, administers Davenport Institute trainings in civic engagement for local government officials, and writes and speaks on public engagement and transparency throughout California as well as at national conferences and convenings.

From the Editor

Where do you get your news from?

By:  Victor Abalos

Policymakers need to rely on accurate and timely information to make good policy. Whether or not that policy addresses the challenge, creates the opportunity or does whatever it is intended to do rests heavily on the quality of that information.

So where do you, as an elected official, get your news and information? Now that we know all about fake news, how carefully do you screen your news sources?

It’s challenging, but not impossible, to find out whether you can trust what you read online. We all know the NY & LA Times but what about CalMatters, EdSource or The Hechinger Report? Do you use Huff Post news articles to back up your policy decisions? These are all news sources that I read regularly but only after I screened them. I went on their websites and looked for their Board members, staff and funders. These are all nonprofit news sites that regularly cover important policy issues.

To be honest, I still read their articles and posts with a skeptical eye. As as former journalist I’m not a believer that news is unbiased or objective. Human beings write these articles and while they may try to be fair and balanced everyone has a perspective – a slant. These news sites claim they want to “explain how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.” Or to “uncover the real problems facing our education system.” But someone there decides not only what to cover, or uncover, and they also decide how they’re going to do it. And they choose what to ignore.

Who are they? When I look at their websites and read about their staff or their boards – I don’t often see the California I live in.  That matters to me and it should matter to you. Where did they grow up? Where did they go to school? Where do they live? I’m going to guess that not many of them live in the Southeast Cities or Boyle Heights or Pacoima or El Monte or any of your cities.

So as you do your Google research or read the article someone emailed you today – check out who wrote it, who they work for and who funds their effort. There can be something worse than fake news and that’s news that’s “legitimate” but still makes us and what we care about invisible.

Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.

Policymaker Profile: Belen Bernal – City of South Gate

Bernal participates in the 2015 Latino Policy Forum at Cal State-LA.

South Gate Council Member Maria Belen Bernal started her career as a representative for Assemblyman Marco A. Firebaugh, who represented South Gate in the state legislature. As she learned more about Southeast Los Angeles communities, her commitment and enthusiasm to be of service to others grew.
A graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Council Member Bernal also holds a Master of Business Administration from California State University, Long Beach.
Council Woman Bernal was born in East Los Angeles and has been a resident of South Gate for 29 years. She was raised on the West side of the City and attended Stanford and Montara Avenue Elementary schools, South Gate Middle and South Gate High School. She resides in South Gate with her husband Juan and their two children.

Who was your political mentor?

I decided to run for elected office in March of 2009 when a co-worker, and South Gate resident at the time asked me to consider running for City Treasurer. She stated that it would be great to have someone who was raised in our community, earned a degree, and had decided to stay local; run for office. After thinking about this for a few weeks I decided to meet with Council Members who I met during my time as a field representative for Assembly Member Marco A. Firebaugh years prior. I was fortunate to have the support of four, out of the five council members, and decided to pursue this opportunity to serve and learn more about my community and local government.

I soon reached out to an old work colleague, Edgar Aranda, who worked as a political consultant. During this early stage of my political involvement, Edgar provided a much needed introduction to what a campaign process entailed, and explained how voter history and patterns were important to consider. I sincerely appreciate his support, and honest guidance very early on.

After serving as Treasurer for six years, I was asked by an outgoing Council Member to consider running for a seat on the City Council. At the time, Mayor Henry Gonzalez extended his full support, and held various conversations about how the campaign process for this position would be much more extensive. Given Mr. Gonzalez’s 25+ years of service as a local City Council Member, I trusted his intentions as a public servant, and enjoyed listening to his stories about how the City of South Gate came to be what it is today. In retrospect, I see how my conversations with Mr. Gonzalez remind me of the annual visits I had with my grandparents, and where I learned that there is much wisdom in those who have lived much longer than us, and who speak from experience.

Lastly, my parents have been my strongest mentors, it is they who instilled the core values of integrity, and a strong and humble work ethic that have provided me with the will power to make tough, and even unpopular, decisions when needed.


What was the one thing no one told you about being an elected official that you wish you’d known before you were elected?

Believe it or not, because I didn’t run for a Council seat early on, I was shocked to learn about how much money goes to running a campaign. I come from a non-profit sector background and think, “Imagine what $20-30,000 can do to help provide additional services to our communities?”

I always knew that there would be times when the public or others would not agree on every issue, but I never thought that being elected/appointed official meant that you had to allow others to create stories about you, and sometimes deal with criticism from strangers. I have always been someone who opts to explain processes, and provide a context to better understand situations, yet as an official you are not always given the opportunity to respond to every criticism. I have found it crucial to rely on my values of integrity and ethics, and have my actions align with the hope that the community will become informed before making statements.

Describe a project you spearheaded or supported that you’re proud of. Why was it successful (what did it do for residents) and what did you learn from it that helped you be a better policymaker?

Maybe because I served as Treasurer prior to being on the Council, or because I like to understand the “numbers” that help measure an organization’s efficiency, I have asked staff to continue to present as much detail to my Council colleagues and I about our finances, and accounts on a regular basis. Reports on the status of our City’s General Fund are now provided on a Quarterly basis per my request.

In addition, I asked staff to present ways in which we can create a fiscal task force in order to involve residents in the budget, and contract review process. This is one goal that I would like to see come to fruition during my next two years on the City Council.

Lastly, our outgoing Mayor Bill DeWitt was kind enough to work on my request to invite our School District Superintendent Michelle King who will provide a “State of our Schools” address- specifically to learn more about the performance students and schools in South Gate, this Thursday. This is another project that I want to continue to host, and work closely on, with my colleagues and the school district in the next couple of years.

As an elected official you must balance your job, your duties as an elected official and family obligations, not to mention trying to find personal time for yourself. How do you balance all these duties and obligations?

I am blessed to share my life with my husband and our two children, and agree that balance is needed between these important priorities and obligations. During the last two years on Council, I had the opportunity to work as an operations management consultant which provided a flexible schedule, and the opportunity to become acquainted with my new role on Council.

Most recently I accepted a full-time position, and have definitely experience the difference, and make it a point to have my schedule reflect my priorities both with the City, my career, and my family.

Although there are residents who may want to see me at every-single event, I make it a point to do my due diligence and read Council agenda items first. I very much enjoy attending events that provide me with good feel for the pulse of the community, and will continue to attend outside of my regular full-time work hours, while keeping key family commitments as well.

What was the most memorable day of your life?

The days when my children were born. I began as an elected official, when still single, and no children. During my time in elected office, I got married, completed an MBA, and was blessed with two beautiful children. There have been many memorable days in my life, and now that I have my children, I honestly see how the parent perspective allows me to contribute in new ways on similar issues that stood before us in the past.

Ethics Advisor

It’s All About the Content – Communications on Private Devices May be Subject to Disclosure Under the Public Records Act

By: Ruben Duran

Open government and transparency have long been the standard in California. Laws like the Brown Act, the Political Reform Act and the Public Records Act grant the public rights to attend meetings, know about government officials’ financial interests and review and obtain copies of documents containing information relating to the business of the public, respectively, and help promote public trust and confidence in our local governments.

Last month, in the long-awaited case City of San Jose v. Superior Court (Smith), the California Supreme Court decided unequivocally and unanimously that electronic communications about public business on public employees’ and officials’ private devices and accounts are indeed public records subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act (PRA). The question had been unsettled under previous cases, and governmental officials and employees were unsure whether they would have to provide copies of communications like emails and text messages on their private devices like cell phones and private accounts like AOL, Hotmail and Gmail in response to records requests made to their public agencies.

Answering that question in the affirmative, the court laid out a four-part test to determine if any communication, even one on a private device, is a public record that must be disclosed in response to a records request:

(1) Is it a “writing?” The law has already established that emails and other electronic records are writings for PRA purposes.

(2) Does it contain content relating to the conduct of the public’s business? This is where the court spent most of its time and analysis, suggesting that context matters. For example, an email from a public employee to a spouse complaining “my coworker is an idiot” is likely not a public record. However, an employee’s email to a manager about a co-worker’s mismanagement of an agency project might be.

(3) Is it prepared by a state or local agency? The Court found that if the communication was prepared by a local official or employee, then this prong of the test was met. The fact that it was prepared on a private device or using a private account did not make it purely private if the subject of the communication was about public business.

(4) Is it owned, used, or retained by a state or local agency? The Court held that an agency is considered to own, use or retain such communications because it has constructive possession of them through its control over its own employees. “A writing retained by a public employee conducting agency business has been ‘retained by’ the agency…even if the writing is retained in the employee’s personal account.”

Although the court’s opinion essentially expanded the definition of what constitutes a public record subject to disclosure under the PRA, it still acknowledged the important public interest in maintaining personal privacy even when complying with records requests, noting that privacy concerns could and should be addressed on a case-by-case basis, starting with the statutory exemptions from disclosure contained in the PRA (Government Code section 6254). Those exemptions include many familiar to readers of the Ethics Advisor: Personal and medical information, employee records, litigation records, for example.

Finally, the court touched on important practical and policy considerations for local agencies in complying with its ruling in the San Jose case. For example, how a public agency should search for agency-related communications on private devices while protecting officials’ and employees’ privacy. The Court stated that agencies should make a “reasonable effort” to locate records, but they are not required to launch “extraordinarily extensive or intrusive searches.” The Court suggested that public agencies should adopt internal policies for conducting such searches. When the request is for records in employees’ nongovernmental accounts, “an agency’s first step should be to communicate the request to the employees in question.” The Court concluded that the agency could then “reasonably rely on employees to search their own personal devices and accounts for responsive material.”

Thus, depending on the contours of any policy established by your local agency, it will be up to individual officials and/or employees to search for and provide to the agency records responsive to requests, even if those documents are stored on private devices or accounts. Finally, public agencies should consider adopting a policy that requires all officials and employees to use agency-owned accounts or devices when conducting public business to simplify the process of responding to records request after San Jose.

Ruben Duran is a partner in the Los Angeles office of Best Best & Krieger, LLP. He serves as the Southern California Latino Policy Center’s Ethics Advisor and represents cities, school districts and special districts throughout California.
(213) 787-2569


School Districts Entrusted with Taxpayer Money

By: Maribel Medina

An accomplished superintendent of a school district or college district is worth his/her weight in gold.

Skilled education administrators can pull troubled districts from the brink of fiscal and/or academic ruin or guide poor performing districts to dramatically improve their student’s academic success.

But what happens when the lead executive is inept, inexperienced, or worse, corrupt?

Many of you can probably name a school district or two that gained unwelcome notoriety because of mismanagement or malfeasance by these kinds of superintendents. Removing them often takes months, even years and then to add insult to injury, districts then face contract payoffs amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

School districts historically have been hamstrung and just had to pay. The state legislature has provided districts with some relief, although not enough school districts are utilizing these remedies.

Under AB215 severance payments to departing superintendents are capped at 12 months, down from the previously permitted 18 months. The legislation, authored by Assembly Member Luis Alejo, was passed in 2015 after a Bay area administrator reportedly received a payout of more than half a million dollars.

And under AB1344, those districts can now even recover severance or amounts paid while on administrative paid leave to superintendents later convicted of crimes involving their positions. That can often amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars that can now find their way back into the classroom.

AB1344, better known as the “Abuse of Office” statute (and also authored by Alejo) was a direct response to the city of Bell scandal, where that community’s residents had little recourse in pursuing the millions corrupt officials there stole from them.

Why hasn’t a single school district in California used this provision? There have certainly been opportunities – one of which our firm is currently pursuing.

Not using this statutory authority simply amounts to leaving money in a wrong doers’ pocket that rightfully belongs in the classroom.

We understand that the process of investigating and removing a corrupt administrator is often traumatic for school districts. The financial cost is often daunting and the emotional toll it can take on a district’s staff and school board, not to mention its credibility, may be incalculable.

This is precisely why AB1344 was created. School district policymakers must do everything in their power to recover valuable resources. And perhaps more importantly, ensure future administrators clearly understand corruption will not be tolerated. It might be the most important lesson a school district can impart.


Maribel S. Medina is a partner in the law office of Leal & Trejo.  She is an education law expert who has represented school districts for two decades.

@maribelmlaw; 213-628-0808