The Guild and several other open-government advocacy organizations are urging San Francisco Mayor London Breed to rescind a March 23 declaration indefinitely suspending certain parts of the city’s Sunshine Ordinance.
Breed is using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to withhold City Hall records from journalists and other members of the public.
“While some changes to government practices are to be expected due to challenges presented by the pandemic, Mayor Breed’s decision to limit the free flow of information contrary to an ordinance enacted by San Francisco voters erodes government transparency and public trust at a time when both are critical,” the advocacy groups said in a statement drafted by the Freedom of Information Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter. “Elected leaders and public officials should not use the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to stop following laws they simply do not like.”
Other signatories to the statement are the First Amendment Coalition, the California News Publishers Association, the activist group San Franciscans for Sunshine and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Breed’s posturing amid the crisis isn’t unique but considering her demonstrated antipathy toward government transparency, sunshine activists worry that she might resist restoring full compliance with the ordinance once normal operations at City Hall resume.
“The indefinite nature of the suspension of Sunshine Ordinance rights makes it particularly troubling,” the statement says. “Without a termination date, the suspension amounts to a de facto repeal of the affected provisions. Such sweeping changes, made by mayoral proclamation, are not authorized by the Sunshine Ordinance, nor are they authorized by 2018’s ‘Privacy First Policy’ (Proposition B), which allows the Board of Supervisors to make amendments to the ordinance only if they are ‘not inconsistent with’ the ordinance’s ‘original purpose or intent.’”
Guild Vice President, California