Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Ruling: Ralph M. Brown Act Applies to Town Councils in L.A. County

Agua Dulce Town Council



Case No. BS 096594 Petition filed May 9, 2005 JUDGMENT.

Petitioners — Mary Johnson, Mike Gibbs, Brendon Cangiano, Richard Dyer, Denise Holland, Mike Holland, Timothy Alan Rosenberg, Aline Rosenberg, Lorene Cangiano, Connie Spears, Eric Harnett, Melissa Harnett, Jeffrey Pierce, David Aiello, Crystal Blackstone, and Stephen Chang, individually and as residents of the Town of Agua Dulce,

DATE : July 15 , 2005 TIME: 9:30 an DEPT. 85


Respondent- Agua Dulce Town Council, a nonprofit public benefit corporation.

The above proceeding came on regularly for trial before the undersigned on July I5, 2005, Richard A. Fond and Judith M. Sasaki appeared for Petitioners and Christine M Kudija appeared for Respondents. Petitioners asserted, and Respondent denied, that Respondent is subject to the Brown Act (Government Code 54950 et seq. and that Respondent has violated the provisions of Government Code 54953.5. Respondent asserted, and Petitioners denied, that if Respondent violated any provision of the Brown Act the violation has been cured and that, as a consequence, the Court is required by Government Code 54960.1(e) to dismiss this proceeding, with prejudice.

The Court has read and considered all of the written arguments submitted by the parties; has read, considered and received in evidence all of the declarations and exhibits submitted by the parties and the parties' written Stipulation re: Facts and Documents ("the Stipulation"), filed herein on June 23, 2005; and has heard and considered the oral arguments of counsel at the July 15 trial. Having done so, and based in part of the facts and documents that are the subject of the Stipulation, the Court finds and concludes as follows:


1. The Court is commanded by the preamble to the Brown Act (Government Code 54950) and by the appellate case law interpreting the Brown Act to construe the Brown Act liberally in favor of coverage. In interpreting the various provisions of the Brown Act, the Court is also commanded to give meaning to every word and to avoid making any term surplusage or nugatory. People v. Craft. (1986) 41 Cal. 3d 554, 560.

2. Respondent, the Agua Dulce Town Council was created in 1991 by the approval and adoption, by the residents of Agua Dulce, an unincorporated town in north Los Angeles County, of the "Charter for Agua Dulce Town Council". Respondent is an active California non-profit public benefit corporation, incorporated in 1994. A copy of the "Charter for Agua Dulce Town Council" was received in evidence as Exhibit A to the Stipulation.

3. Petitioners are all legal residents of the Town of Agua Dulce who, in accordance with the provisions of the Respondent's Charter, are "eligible voters" who are entitled to vote in elections for Councilpersons and to participate in proceedings held by Respondent.

4. Respondent has adopted By-Laws, which have been amended from time to time. A copy of Respondent's current By-Laws was received in evidence as Exhibit B to the Stipulation. By-Laws Article 6(3) states that the Respondent Council's Secretary's duties include electronically recording all regular and special Council meetings".

5. Prior to the commencement of this proceeding, the only electronic recordings of Respondent's meetings made by Respondent were made with a cassette tape recorder. Respondent's audiotaping ceased in February 2005. Between then and the commencement of this action, Respondent did not successfully create any electronic recordings of its meetings that were audible, complete and comprehensible.

6. Prior to April 27, 2005, members of the public were permitted to audiotape and videotape the meetings of Respondent.

7. On April 27, 2005, Respondent passed a motion that "Agua Dulce Town Council meetings are not to be electronically recorded by any outside entity or entities." This resolution was not on the agenda for Respondent's April 27, 2005 meeting.

8. In passing said April 27, 2005 motion, Respondent and its members acted in good faith, based on advice they had received to the effect that Respondent is not subject to the provisions of the Brown Act.

9. On May 18, 2005, after this proceeding had commenced, Respondent passed a motion rescinding the April 27, 2005 resolution banning public recording of its meetings.

10. Notwithstanding its rescission of the April 27 resolution banning public recording of its meetings, Respondent has asserted that it is not subject to the Brown Act and, therefore, that the question of public recording of Respondent's meetings is a matter that lies exclusively within the discretion of Respondent.

11. Respondent is regularly contacted by people with applications pending before Los Angeles County for land use permits involving property located in Agua Dulce. These applicants report that Los Angeles County staff or the Los Angeles Regional Planning Commission or the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has directed them to present their projects to Respondent and to seek Respondent's support. The applicants report, further, that the County would not consider their applications further until after they had presented their projects to Respondent and Respondent had made a recommendation to the County. When requested to do so, Respondent sets aside time at one of its regular meetings to allow the applicant to present his project. If asked to do so, Respondent then informs the appropriate County department, board or commission, in writing, of Respondent's position regarding the applicant's project. Petitioners presented testimony regarding five such applications, which testimony was received in evidence.

12. Respondent has, for the past five years, been preparing a proposal for a revised Community Standards District Ordinance. Respondent intends to present this proposal to the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Department and the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission for ultimate adoption by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. If and when Los Angeles County adopts the revised Community Standards District Ordinance, it will become part of the Los Angeles County Code and have the force of law in Agua Dulce.

13, Referring to itself as "the Council," Respondent has posted the following statements on its website,

a. "'The Charter does require the Council to act as the community's representative, and in doing so, the Council has historically functioned as a conduit between the community and the County of Los Angeles, its various departments and Section Heads, and the Supervisor's office. The Council also meets on a regular basis with developers, environmental groups, law enforcement agencies, individual constituents and various representatives to the State Assembly and Congress in order to gather information or request action on issues of importance to the Agua Dulce community."

b. "There is no other organization or individual in Agua Dulce which operates with the official portfolio of the Agua Dulce Town Council."


1. The unincorporated Town of Agua Duce is a "town," as that term is used in Government Code 54951; and, therefore, a "local agency" within the definition set forth in 54951.

2. Respondent is a "legislative body" within the definition set forth in Government Code 54952(b), in that it serves in an advisory capacity to the community of Agua Dulce and to the County of Los Angeles, and was created by a Charter, as that term is used in 54952(b).

3. On Apri1 27, 2005, Respondent violated the Brown Act, Government Code 54953.5, by passing a motion that "Ague Duce Town Council meetings are not to be electronically recorded by any outside entity or entities."

4, On May 18, 2005, Respondent cured its Brown Act violation by rescinding the April 27, 2005 resolution described in the preceding paragraph.

5. Respondent having cured its Brown Act violation, the provisions of Government Code 54960.1(e) require that the Court dismiss, with prejudice, Petitioners' claim based on Respondent's Brown Act violation.

6. The dismissal of Petitioners' Brown Act claim is not intended to violate the Court's conclusions that (a) Respondent is subject to the Brown Act and ( b) that prior to the commencement of this proceeding Respondent violated the Brown Act.


Based on the Findings and Conclusions recited above, and good cause appearing therefore, it is adjudged and decreed that

1. Upon the entry of this Judgment, this proceeding shall be dismissed, with prejudice.

2. Petitioners and Respondent each shall bear their own costs, expenses and attorney's fees incurred in connection with the claims and defenses asserted in this proceeding.

Dated: August 1, 2005

Dzintra Janavs, Judge of the Superior Court


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