BERKELEY -- After more than 10 years of revisions, residents will vote on a controversial open government law that would increase access to public records and add a commission with lawsuit powers to oversee it.
Supporters of Measure U on the November ballot say it's needed because city leaders often make decisions behind closed doors before they vote on them, and they don't allow enough public participation.
But it has drawn heavy criticism from city officials, including Mayor Tom Bates, who warns that the added sunshine will be more like "sunburn."
Measure U's most controversial aspect includes a new oversight commission with the power to sue the council for noncompliance.
"It's just really a bizarre, over-the-top measure that's put together by a lot of people who are paranoid about what's happening in Berkeley," Bates said. "And it creates a government body that is not accountable to anybody."
The city already is going above and beyond the necessary requirements for open government with the adoption last year of the Open Government Ordinance, Bates said.
Even Councilmen Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson, vocal critics of how Bates runs City Council meetings, don't like the proposed law.
Worthington said it means well but needs "fine-tuning." Anderson called the ordinance "draconian" and an additional workload for an already overburdened city staff.
Measure U affects City Council, the Rent Stabilization
Supporters say ongoing secrecy within city government makes the law necessary.
"If we had people of good will as our representatives we wouldn't have to have a sunshine ordinance," said Dean Metzger, one of the ordinance's authors. "But we have a City Council that makes a lot of decisions before they've come out in public."
Former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean is a supporter of Measure U's oversight commission because she said there is currently no way to force compliance with open meeting laws. She dismissed critics who say the oversight commission proposed by Measure U would result in a high number of costly lawsuits.
"The whole process is to prevent lawsuits," Dean said. "People aren't all just a bunch of crazies running around. I don't know why the council has to treat the public like that."
While critics of the ordinance say it could cost the city $1 million to $2 million a year to enforce, supporters say it would be more like $125,000.
"(The city analysis) included things that shouldn't be included because they're already part of the Open Government Ordinance," said Josh Wolf, the Sunshine Ordinance Committee's campaign coordinator.