San Gabriel City Council voted, without opportunity for public discussion, to give the San Gabriel Chamber of Commerce a yearly stipend of $23,000.
By News Desk
At the June 6, 2023, San Gabriel City Council meeting, it appears that the Brown Act was violated. An item, not on the agenda, was introduced after public comment was closed, and subsequently voted on by the City Council.
As stated in the California Brown Act, Section III “What Notice Must Be Given of a Public Meeting?” Government Code 54954.2:
A.1) At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body of the local agency, or its designee, shall post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session. A brief general description of an item generally need not exceed 20 words. The agenda shall specify the time and location of the regular meeting and shall be posted in a location that is freely accessible to members of the public and on the local agency’s Internet Web site, if the local agency has one.
B.1) Agenda descriptions must not be misleading. According to the California Attorney General’s Guide to the Brown Act, “the purpose of the brief general description is to inform interested members of the public about the subject matter under consideration so that they can determine whether to monitor or participate in the meeting of the body.” (The Brown Act, Open Meetings for Local Legislative Bodies, Office of the Attorney General, 2003, at pp. 16-17)
The item in question is the vote to give the San Gabriel Chamber of Commerce a yearly stipend of $23,000, with no contract or accountability for the monies. The item was not listed on the agenda for the June 6 meeting, nor was it brought to a vote until the end of the meeting when the time for public comment had passed.
Government Code 54954.3 states: “Time must be provided for comment by the public.“
In 2020 ColoradoBoulevard.net published an editorial, “Why Is San Gabriel City Hall Subsidizing the Chamber of Commerce?”. This exposed the subsidy of $31,680 that the SG Chamber was receiving from the City annually with no contract and no audit of said funds. When asked to sign a contract and allow for an audit, the Chamber refused, and the money stopped.
Now they are coming to the City again with their hand out for more funds, offering the City a “special” Presidential Circle Membership. Upon looking at the SG Chamber website, there is no mention of a “Presidential Circle Membership,” for $23,000. The closest membership in price is a $490 one-year membership for businesses. There seems to be no difference between the member resources for the $490 membership and the $23,000 membership.
The Chamber of Commerce is not a branch of city government. It is a non-profit organization responsible for supporting itself through membership fees and advertising.
So why was this Special Membership request for $23,000 not on the San Gabriel City Council agenda and available for public comment? Therein lies the possible Brown Act violation.
Colorado Boulevard reached out to the City Manager asking, 1) why the commitment of funds was not a separate agenda item, 2) why the commitment was voted on before the public knew it was to be considered and after public comment period closed, 3) why the funding was approved without a contract, and 4) whether this would be an ongoing budget item. We got the following two responses:
From City Manager Mark Lazzaretto: “The City of San Gabriel strives to be business-friendly and help our small businesses to develop and thrive in various ways. In addition to our Economic Development team who diligently assists our businesses, we believe our efforts can be amplified by partnering with the San Gabriel Chamber of Commerce. As the Chamber provides proactive outreach, marketing, advocacy, education, and networking assistance to its members, by becoming a member of the Chamber, the City will be able to take a cooperative and coordinated approach to leverage the Chamber’s efforts and deliver a greater impact in our efforts. Through partnering with the Chamber, we will be able to create a welcoming and supportive climate for small businesses to thrive and provide services and goods to our community.”
We reached out to all City Councilmembers asking them to provide a comment about their vote to give $20,000 to the Chamber of Commerce. From Councilmember John Wu: “The SG Councilmembers voted 5-0 to fund and join the Chamber of Commerce. A city, touted as business-friendly, with numerous small businesses like San Gabriel, requires such a role to enhance the prosperity of the business community.”
No responses from the rest of the Council as of publication deadline. This is a developing story, check back our front page for future follow ups.
> In the video below, discussion regarding the budget starts at 1:48:44 and ends at 2:00:
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