California enacted SB 1214 into law on Jan. 1, 2023. It uses copyright law to allow city planning departments to avoid sharing development plans with the public and news agencies.
It was previously the practice of planning departments to post development plans online and send images to media outlets, who could then write stories about the potential project and include renderings. Cities would post project information on their websites and council offices would send email updates showing development projects. This allowed residents to see what the development looked like and be able to contact their elected officials about the project.
That practice is no more—all that needs to be shared is a site and massing plan.
This calculated plan to remove transparency with the public was initiated by the American Institute of Architects California. Per its website, the group is comprised of 11,000 “dedicated and passionate members who are a commitment to design excellence and livability in California’s natural and built environments.” Nothing says design excellence like hiding the work of its members from the public.
To see plans for a development project, the public has to go to city hall and request to see it. Once there, one cannot replicate or take a picture of the plan images. The legislation exempts the images from being included in the information made public under the Brown Act. It states that unless permission is granted by the design professional or the owner of the copyright, it is subject to restrictions.
Republican State Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones introduced the bill on Feb. 17, 2022 and it passed into law on Aug. 29, 2022. That’s moving at the speed of light by state Legislature standards. It passed every legislative step unanimously and under the consent calendar in both houses. Next time you talk with your state elected leaders, ask them why they decided to hide important information from the public.
We need our local architects to consent to disclosing their plans online and to media outlets. If they truly share a commitment to design excellence and livability, then they need to allow for their projects to be fully transparent. Our local elected officials have the power to demand transparency when being lobbied by developers and architects.
It’s as simple as that—obtaining the public’s trust requires all aspects of a project to be shared online and with the media.
San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month. Contact Bob at [email protected] or follow @BobStaedler on Twitter.
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