Los Angeles, April 26, 2016 – Opponents of a controversial $100 million plan to expand the Archer School for Girls campus have won a court order requiring disclosure of 146 emails written by or to city officials, including Councilman Mike Bonin, about the Archer project despite City Hall’s effort to keep the content of the emails hidden from the public.
“The city and Archer wrongly withheld these emails in violation of the law,” said Brentwood resident Zofia Wright. Wright and her husband, David, are leaders of the Sunset Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group that is suing the city for improperly approving the Archer expansion project on Aug. 4, 2015. The school is located in Brentwood on a portion of Sunset Boulevard that already suffers from notorious traffic gridlock.
“The judge’s ruling is a major victory for transparency and open government,” said local resident and president of Brentwood Residents Coalition Wendy-Sue Rosen. “Now we will be able to see what the City and Archer were trying to hide from the public.”
The city initially opposed full public disclosure of the contents of 173 emails sought by the Sunset Coalition and its plaintiff-partners, the Brentwood Residents Coalition, the Brentwood Hills Neighborhood Assn. and the Wrights. These emails were among thousands of City Hall documents initially delivered to Archer’s opponents in November.
During their inspection of these documents, the opponents found 173 emails whose content was redacted or otherwise obscured without a valid reason.
Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien agreed there was a problem and ruled that 146 of the 173 documents contained information that should be released.
O’Brien noted that “many [of the emails] reflect public commitments, efforts for compromise, evaluation of community interests, balancing interests, and frustration and venting regarding efforts at compromise apparently overseen by the councilman’s office…. Also many reflect internal on-going negotiations.”
O’Brien observed that some of the email comments were so frank and revealing that it is clear the authors “never meant [them] for general circulation.”
The emails are to be delivered soon, said attorney Doug Carstens, who is representing the Sunset Coalition.
“This ruling could have a major impact on the way the city does business in the future,” said Carstens, a partner in the law firm of Chatten-Brown & Carstens. “Public employees, including elected officials, must realize that their emails can be open to the public. After all, these officials work for the public, not the other way around.”
The fight over disclosing the emails is one fight in the larger war to overturn the City Council’s decision to allow the Archer expansion project to go forward.
The Coalition alleges that Archer’s massive expansion project will overwhelm neighborhoods with its illegally large structures, jeopardize the health of its own students with toxic fumes and swamp already-paralyzed Westside streets, including Sunset Boulevard, with “tens of thousands” of additional vehicle trips.
The LA Superior Court lawsuit alleges the campus expansion project – involving nearly a quarter million square feet of construction and tens of thousands of construction-related truck trips – will “significantly burden not only the nearby residential community, but also the entire west side of Los Angeles.”