On March 16, the nation will celebrate, “Freedom of Information Day” marking the declaration of the Freedom of Information Act enacted on July 4, 1966.
The Act ensures every person the right to get information from government records that are not protected by one of the nine exemptions, or particular law enforcement record exceptions.
The Eileen Cooke State & Local Madison Awards recognize champions of this ideal, and as we have seen some advances in freedom of information within government agencies, unfortunately, a large agency within our government, Caltrans is not one of them.
Caltrans would like us to think that it is a transparent agency and one who wants public input, but according to its own admissions by the proposed Interstate 5/state Route 78 Interchange project manager, it holds non-noticed, clandestine meetings where Caltrans names the participants in the “community working group.”
The meetings are staffed with political consultants, an engineering firm, and various “select” participants, and hosted with taxpayer dollars out of the view of the public.
Does that sound like an agency which embraces transparency or a government agency doing its bidding in the shadows?
Organizer Allan Kosup from Caltrans, outlined goals and stated at the onset of the secret meetings, “It is helpful to have the working group be part of the process so when it comes time to identify a preferred alternative, there are no surprises in the community about the decision Caltrans will make. It also shows the elected officials in the area that there is consensus in the community that a project needs to be built.”
What Mr. Kosup doesn’t seem to understand is, the group he assembled has not been transparent with the public either.
The public is not notified when the “community working group” meets so they can ask questions or offer insight, only given the results of the “meeting” — this is not transparency.
Does this satisfy the public’s right to know? Absolutely not!
The right to know should not be an afterthought rather the forethought; Caltrans persists in insulting the bright minds in our communities by continuing to discount their ideas, abilities, and participation in an open process.
Caltrans needs a do over — Caltrans needs to come out of the shadows and do it right this time.
Caltrans needs to notice the public they are seeking input and hold multiple public meetings throughout Oceanside and Carlsbad.
Since funding is not allocated for the entire project, the current focus should be on taking time to find the right fit for all, rather than how they can ramrod the Los Angeles style interchange through by means of surreptitious meetings.
Years ago, we asked Caltrans “marry” the I-5 widening with the interchange project.
They refused and we know why. The impacts of both projects will forever change Oceanside and Carlsbad communities and this should not be taken lightly.
Over an estimated 12,000 residents property values and quality of life (South Oceanside and Fire Mountain) will be impacted by the decision.
Caltrans’ idea that its “community-working group” will show there is “consensus” in the community couldn’t be more wrong.
There is no consensus in the community, rather feelings of deceit, secrecy and surprise.
So, Caltrans, let’s open it up, slow it down and make sure the fit is good for all in a transparent process as we celebrate “Freedom of Information Day” and the President (James Madison) who vowed to make certain that the newly formed nation held no secrets from the people it served.
Shari Mackin is a former Oceanside City Council member.