Plaintiff James Chaffee brought an action for injunctive and declaratory relief, alleging defendants had violated the Ralph M. Brown Act (Gov.Code,
The Commission held a meeting on September 4, 2003. There were 12 items on the agenda. Higueras announced at the beginning of the meeting that public comment on each agenda item would be limited to two minutes per speaker, instead of the three minutes normally allotted to each speaker.
Chaffee contends state and local law required the Commission to provide each speaker three minutes to make comments, and that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to defendants.
As discussed in a decision announced by Division Two of the First Appellate District, involving the same plaintiff
Three enactments bear upon this dispute. The Brown Act requires local agencies to provide an opportunity for public comment at meetings. (§ 54954.3, subd. (a).) In particular, as pertinent here: "The legislative body of a local agency may adopt reasonable regulations to ensure that the intent of subdivision (a) is carried out, including, but not limited to, regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker." (§ 54954.3, subd. (b).)
The Sunshine Ordinance likewise regulates public comment at meetings. Section 67.15, subdivision (c) of the San Francisco Administrative Code provides: "A policy body may adopt reasonable regulations to ensure that the intent of subdivisions (a) and (b) [providing that members of the public have an opportunity to address public meetings] are carried out, including, but not limited to, regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker. Each policy body shall adopt a rule providing that each person wishing to speak on an item before the body at a regular or special meeting shall be permitted to be heard once for up to
The Commission's bylaws provide in article VII, section 2, as pertinent here: "The Commission shall hold meetings open to the public and encourage the participation of interested persons. Each person wishing to speak on an item before the Commission shall be permitted to be heard once for up to three minutes."
Chaffee's position is straightforward: He contends the phrase "up to three minutes" in the Sunshine Ordinance and the Commission's bylaws gives the speaker— not the Commission—the right and the power to determine how long his or her remarks will be, up to three minutes.
"The rules governing statutory construction are well settled. We begin with the fundamental premise that the objective of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and effectuate legislative intent. [Citations.] To determine legislative intent, we turn first, to the words of the statute, giving them their usual and ordinary meaning. [Citations.] When the language of a statute is clear, we need go no further. However, when the language is susceptible of more than one reasonable interpretation, we look to a variety of extrinsic aids, including the ostensible objects to be achieved, the evils to be remedied, the legislative history, public policy, contemporaneous administrative construction, and the statutory scheme of which the statute is a part. [Citations.]" (People v. Flores (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1059, 1063, 135 Cal.Rptr.2d 63, 69 P.3d 979.) Thus, although we look first to the statutory language, we do not give the words a literal meaning if to do so would result in an absurd result that was not intended. (People v. Pieters (1991) 52 Cal.3d 894, 898, 276 Cal.Rptr. 918, 802 P.2d 420.) We should avoid an interpretation "`which renders a part of the statute or ordinance "surplusage."'" (Baldwin v. City of Los Angeles (1999) 70 Cal.App.4th 819, 838, 83 Cal.Rptr.2d 178.) We must give due consideration to the public entity's view of the meaning of its ordinance. (City of Walnut Creek v. County of Contra Costa (1980) 101 Cal.App.3d 1012, 1021, 162 Cal.Rptr. 224.) However, we are not bound by the public entity's views, as interpretation of laws is ultimately a judicial function. (City of Long Beach v. Department of Industrial Relations (2004) 34 Cal.4th 942, 951, 22 Cal.Rptr.3d 518, 102 P.3d 904; Crumpler v. Board of Administration (1973) 32 Cal.App.3d 567, 578, 108 Cal.Rptr. 293.) We use the same rules to interpret ordinances. (Carson Harbor Village, Ltd. v. City of Carson Mobilehome Park Rental Review Bd. (1999) 70 Cal.App.4th 281, 290, 82 Cal.Rptr.2d 569.)
Arguably, the language of the Sunshine Ordinance and the Commission bylaws is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation. Accordingly, we will look to appropriate extrinsic aids to ascertain its meaning.
We do not mean to imply that restrictions on public comment time may be applied unreasonably or arbitrarily.
This interpretation of the Sunshine Ordinance is consistent with the Brown Act. As noted earlier, the relevant portion of the Brown Act provides for local agencies to adopt "reasonable regulations to ensure [opportunity for public comment], including, but not limited to, regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker." (§ 54954.3, subd.
In light of the foregoing, we agree with the trial court that the undisputed evidence shows defendants did not violate the Sunshine Ordinance or the Brown Act in the September 4, 2003, meeting at issue here. Higueras stated in his declaration that before the meeting, he anticipated four items would be lengthy. Those items were the presentation of a report by two members of the library staff concerning the library's "affinity centers"; the presentation, discussion, and potential Commission action on the 2003-2006 Strategic Plan for the library; the presentation by the City Librarian on a proposed gift recognition policy; and a closed session with deputy city attorneys concerning pending litigation. Based on his judgment of the time required for the Commission to consider those four items and the other items on the agenda, Higueras concluded the Commission would not be able to complete its meeting in a reasonable period unless public comment was somewhat shortened. According to Higueras, meetings generally last between two and a half and three hours. When Higueras left the meeting after three hours, it was still in progress, and the meeting minutes indicate it lasted more than four hours. This showing was sufficient to meet defendants' initial burden on summary judgment to show that one or more elements of the action could not be established or there was a complete defense to the cause of action, and the burden accordingly shifted to plaintiff to show the existence of a triable issue of material fact. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (o); Aguilar, supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 849, 107 Cal.Rptr.2d 841, 24 P.3d 493.)
In our view, plaintiff failed to meet his burden. He stated in a declaration that it was not unusual for Commission meetings to have 12 or 13 items, and the 12-item agenda at the September 4, 2003, meeting was not unusually long. Whatever the number of agenda items that are usual at Commission meetings, plaintiff presented no evidence that Higueras did not reasonably expect the four items he enumerated to be lengthy, or that the Commission did not reasonably apply its bylaws in the circumstances.
The judgment is affirmed.
We concur: REARDON, Acting P.J., and SEPULVEDA, J.