After four editorials in the Santa Barbara News-Press and countless articles elsewhere condemning the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District for their apparent loss in the lawsuit files by the Libertarian Party, I decided to do something that apparently no one else has done — read the actual decision by Judge Anderle, which is available to the public, and do a little research into the history of this lawsuit. Not surprisingly, there’s a much different picture here than is being told by the Libertarians and the media.
Initially, there were 12 counts against the IVRPD filed by the Libertarian Party. Of those initial 12, six were thrown out before the trial even began. The four others were ruled in favor of the IVRPD.
And what about those two remaining counts that the judge ruled the district was in fact in violation of the Brown Act? According to the judge’s ruling: “Indeed I find that the Board has sincerely tried to meet the requirements of the Brown Act consistently and regularly. The violations here involved are either very technical or involve a situation where the District’s interpretation of the law and their action was not unreasonable. ”
In other words, the IVRPD was clearly trying to follow the letter of the Brown Act — the law that requires public access to meeting and requires elected officials to let the public speak. They just happened — under reasonable circumstances — to be wrong.
Perhaps the only route the Libertarian Party had was to file the lawsuit against the IVRPD. Not according to Anderle: “It seems to this bench officer that such a request to correct any perceived Brown Act violation would have been reasonable and could have eliminated or at least dramatically narrowed this litigation. Instead the gauntlet was thrown down and the parties were left with litigation and the pressure of defining who was ‘right.'”
If the Libertarians had bothered to contact the IVRPD before filing a lawsuit and asked them to clarify or correct these violations, this waste of taxpayers’ dollars might have never occurred. Instead, according to the judge, the IVRPD was left with no choice but to defend itself in court against the allegations made by the Libertarian Party, one-sixth of which were ruled in the district’s favor.
Rather than beat down the IVRPD for doing what it thought was right, it appears the real problem lies with the Libertarian Party’s abuse of our legal system. Clearly, there were alternatives available to them outside of suing the district — alternatives that the judge himself stated went unutilized by the plaintiff.
The Brown Act exists to hold government agencies accountable and to ensure they meet in forum that guarantees public input. Based on the words of Anderle’s decision, the district was clearly attempting to do just that.
Which begs the question: Was the real purpose of this lawsuit to actually open up public discourse into the decisions made by the IVRPD, or was it to utilize the Brown Act as a cash cow for opportunistic attorneys?
Ironically enough, there wasn’t an official plaintiff of standing in this case until the fourth day of trial, when the judge allowed Robert Bakhaus to be added as the plaintiff representing the Libertarian Party — over three years after the lawsuit was initially filed.
For a political party that claims to advocate a decrease in government spending, it seems the Libertarian Party — not the IVRPD — has a lot to answer when it comes to this colossal waste of public money.
Katrina Oberhauser is a UCSB alumna.