I had a terrible day.
I don’t mean something went wrong for me as a person or that I came down with a fatal disease or that my kids screamed at me, or trouble at work. I mean, try as I might, beat my head against the brick wall, nothing I did could change the course of events of the day.
Working in news can give you an amazing amount of perspective on your Constitutional Rights. Now…before you run away screaming, thinking this is another Obama/Bush/Clinton/Bush/Carter/Reagan is destroying our country tome, this is far from that. There are no political machinations in my meaning here, I’m not plying a party perspective here. Today, while working with company lawyers, other journalists, and helping put a story together – and I know I’m supposed to be an objective observer, but I can’t here – the Californian Legislators stomped on the checks and balances system.
Yes . . . I said stomped on them. Somewhere, sneakily, in the middle of negotiations for the budget, they snuck language into the tail end of two trailer bills – one in each house – that effective remove the rights afforded by the California Public Records Act, or CPRA. More specifically, it tells city, county and local governments that they can deny the records request without giving a reason. It would remove the 10-day legal deadline they have to follow to tell you when you can get the records. So, in essence, the politicians can say the never removed the CPRA but in reality, they just removed the actual tenets of the act all together. Now. . . they’re quick to point out that the state isn’t part of this, but how long do you think it will really be before a legislator sneaks in an amendment to this bill . . . that exempts the state from it too?
Let me tell you why this is important, before I get to the real meat of my post. The new Oakland Bay Bridge . . . the fancy, multi-million dollar “piece of art” that Governor Jerry Brown said had to be prettier for the city of Oakland was put together and nobody had noticed that the massive, steel bolts that hold the pylons – the big ass posts holding up the bridge – were not up to spec. In fact, they were shearing off and breaking. That was before they even finished the bridge. Nobody said anything until the Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle did CPRA requests for inspection reports and information on the bridge. It started to come out that more than a couple bolts were sheared, that the internal bracing was rusting and getting wet when they shouldn’t be . . . lots of problems that may actually cause, I don’t know, maybe a bridge failure down the road.
How many guns sold in the last year in Sacramento? We did a story on that. When this bill gets signed by Governor Brown, though, we won’t be able to tell you . . . because the cities and counties won’t have to give us those numbers.
A child dies because of his father killing him with a hatchet (it happened, not a hypothetical) . . . CPS had to give the station the documents showing they’d visited the family multiple times and the Dad had multiple convictions for domestic violence, yet the CPS system still placed the kids with Dad.
None of those stories, none of that government information or over-spending or what have you would have come to light without the CPRA.
The state’s response? “We’ll write a constitutional amendment to fix it.” They even sent press releases telling everyone how amazing it is they’re going to try and get the state constitution amended. Never mind that it has to get written, debated, then end up on a ballot which requires a 2/3 vote. Voter turnout for last election? Under 15%. No bill that people think might cost the city/county/state money ever passes, either. Your rights as a citizen to find out why – for example – the city wants to take your land for some highway project and won’t tell you how much they’re going to pay will go away. You can’t get it. They’ll deny the request and you have no right to force them to hand it over under this legislation.
So I headed home, steam coming out of my ears . . . and I spoke to my 3 kids who are staying with their grandparents. I heard about how they rode their bikes incessantly in the back yard. I heard about the new towels and flip-flops they bought. I heard how the woman Hannah, my middle child, befriended at the city’s museum is in the hospital and she’s going to visit. I heard about amazing new books and the blow-up swimming pool system their grandma got. I heard how being at Grandma and Grandpa’s house is ah-may-zing! I heard how the cows came up to the fence and mooed at them . . . and how my brother’s dog Brubeck is just so smart.
I heard love in their voices. Love for me, love for my parents and love for each other.
As dark as the job and the state and the politics can be, I spoke with three young people who asked, to a kid, after their dissertations of their day: “how was your day Dad?”
The perspective hit me, that I was taking personally something I was only a small part of fighting. I smiled at the phone.
“It’s a lot better now, kiddo.”