During the UC Board of Regents’ latest meeting on Nov. 28, held across four campuses via teleconference, officials cited attempts to spread access to the proceedings but instead denied public open access and violated statewide public meeting legislation.
As the portion of California’s constitution guaranteeing the transparency of civic bodies, the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act ensures that government bodies serve the public and conduct their discussions openly. (11120) Student protesters — divided across Davis, San Francisco, Merced and Los Angeles — voiced their frustration with the meeting’s extralegal structure through a multi-campus microphone check, prompting the regents to swiftly retreat to a closed meeting where all action items were passed in minutes without discussion.
The board took this action under the assumption that the students’ form of demonstration constituted an emergency situation, defined in the act as “work stoppage or other activity that severely impairs public health or safety” or a “crippling disaster.” (11125.5)
Student Press Law Center Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein said this classification of the disturbance has scant legal or logical basis.
“I don’t know any exception in the Bagley-Keene Act for, essentially, ‘People are being obnoxious,’” Goldstein said. “If people screaming into a microphone constitutes an emergency, then there’s an emergency wherever Yoko Ono goes.”
In the event of willful disruption, the law states that officials “may order the meeting room cleared and continue in session,” but states no provision mandating the body to enter a closed session. During teleconference meetings, emergency meeting are only allowed to convene in open session. (11125.5(B)(1)(E))
The Board said its decision to respond by shutting the meeting down does not violate California law as the proceedings would be posted online. In accordance with the law, “notice shall also be made available on the Internet as soon as is practicable after the decision to call the emergency meeting has been made,” (11125.5 (C)) though the video has yet to be made public more than two months later.
While the act states that “the public may comment on agenda items before or during consideration by the Board,” (11125.7) citizens participating in public forum, who hoped to engage the board in a conversation about the UC’s future, were allotted one minute each in which to present their opinions to a vacant audience.
In fact, the only members of the public granted entrance were those admitted for public forum, with entrances at the UCLA location barricaded and staffed by numerous riot police. Once inside, attendees were given bag and body searches and then escorted through a maze-like path into the conference room, where officers and administrators far outnumbered members of the public.
State legislation provides that “all meetings of a state body shall be open and public and all persons shall be permitted to attend.” (11123)
At UCLA, those allowed into the meeting were required to register themselves with public relations staff, while this directly contradicts Bagley-Keene’s protection of civic rights, according to Goldstein. (11124)
“[Entrance to a public meeting] is a constitutional right and you can’t burden the constitutional right by saying that if you want to use it, you have to identify yourself,” Goldstein said.
According to Associated Students President Harrison Weber, the police presence during the event was excessive.
“I personally am very critical about police equipped to handle riots. I saw officers with helmets and riot gear,” Weber said. “As long as it’s non-violent, I don’t think there’s a need for force at all.”
Despite this, authorities took a less aggressive stance than in years past in ejecting protesters from regents’ meetings. Outside the meeting, Occupy UCLA protesters had erected 13 tents, which were ignored by law enforcement.
UCLA fourth-year international development studies major Andrew Newton, who has already been arrested in two Occupy UCLA raids, said the UC administration’s inept handling of the student movement on other campuses has given some demonstrators more leeway.
“Given what’s happened at Berkeley and Davis they don’t want to make too much of a fuss, so really we have the upper hand,” Newton said.