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The Oakland Sunshine Ordinance and the State of California's open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, contain specific requirements to ensure that the public has an effective right to learn about, attend, and participate in public meetings. With few exceptions, all city boards, commissions, and their respective committees must conduct their business publicly and provide ample notice of the items to be considered.

The Basic Rule

Meetings of public bodies, such as the City Council and many of Oakland's advisory boards and commissions, are governed by laws requiring that business be conducted openly and only after the public has been notified a sufficient time in advance of any meeting.
Meetings of public bodies, such as the City Council and many of Oakland's advisory boards and commissions, are governed by laws requiring that business be conducted openly and only after the public has been notified a sufficient time in advance of any meeting.

Local legislative bodies shall not convene a meeting unless and until adequate public notice has been provided.

What Is a Local Legislative Body?

In Oakland, local legislative bodies include:

  1. The City Council, Port Board, Planning Commissionand Public Ethics Commission,
  2. Any board, commission, task force or committee established by the City Charter, ordinance or by City Council action, and
  3. Any advisory board, commission or task force created and appointed by the Mayor which exists for longer than a 12-month period. Any standing committee of the above entities are also considered a local legislative body.

[O.M.C. Section 2.20.030(E)]

What Counts as a Meeting?

A meeting is a congregation of a majority of a local legislative body in which any item within its jurisdiction is “heard, discussed, deliberated or acted upon.” This definition includes meal gatherings before, during or after a formal meeting. [O.M.C. Section 2.20.030(F)]

It is not necessary that the local legislative body "take action" in order to constitute a meeting. Almost any gathering by a majority of members to receive information, hear a proposal, or discuss views on an issue can constitute a meeting. Meetings can include such gatherings as retreats, workshops, and so-called "team building" or "goal setting" activities.

Beware of “Serial Meetings”

Use of direct communication or intermediaries that causes a majority to become aware of the views of other members is prohibited. [O.M.C. Section 2.20.030(F)] An illegal meeting can occur even if members do not gather in the same place at the same time. Just communicating before a meeting can constitute an illegal meeting if it involves a majority of members. Sending emails is an especially easy way to violate this provision because of the ease of involving more members than originally intended (e.g. forwarding or hitting "reply to all").

What Is Adequate Public Notice?

For most regularly scheduled meetings of Oakland's local legislative bodies, a copy of the meeting agenda must be posted at least 72 hours before the meeting in a location that is freely accessible to the public 24-hours a day. In addition, a copy of the agenda and all agenda-related materials (staff reports, draft minutes, correspondence, etc.) must be filed with the Office of the City Clerk at least 72 hours before the meeting. [O.M.C. Section 2.20.080]

For special meetings (that is, meetings that are called in addition to, or in place of, the regular meeting schedule) public notice must be given at least 48 hours before the stated time of the meeting (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays), by:

  1. Posting a copy of the agenda,
  2. Delivering a copy of the agenda to each member of the local legislative body, news media and any person who has previously requested notice in writing,
  3. and filing a copy of the agenda and all agenda-related materials in the Office of the City Clerk.

[O.M.C. Section 2.20.070]

Meeting agendas must specify the date, time, and location of the meeting and a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed. Agenda items should be informative and give the public sufficient information to decide whether or not to attend a meeting. Agendas must avoid the use of abbreviations or acronyms whose meaning would not be known to the general public. [O.M.C. Section 2.20.030(A)]

Related Resources

For more information about open meeting law, see the Public Ethics Commission's guide How to Notice a Public Meeting and Respond to Requests for Public Records.