Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Brown Gives Go-Ahead to Controversial Riverside Conservation Pact
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A controversial agreement between Riverside County and certain cities, whereby the county would enforce stricter development standards in unincorporated areas in exchange for adjoining cities’ support for a multiple species habitat conservation plan favored by the county, does not violate state laws against bribery or “vote trading,” Attorney General Jerry Brown has opined.
In an opinion requested by state Sen. Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert, and released last Thursday, Brown also said the proposed memorandum of understanding between the county and the affected cities would remain binding on the participating entities after the current members of their governing bodies left office.
Under the agreement, the county would enforce either its own development standards or the cities’ standards, whichever was stricter, within each city’s “sphere of influence” as defined by the county Local Agency Formation Commission. In return, the cities would sign off on the habitat plan, which would conserve over 240,000 acres of open space and protect 27 plant and animal species within the region.
The agreement does not violate Penal Code Sec. 86, which prohibits public officials from asking for or receiving bribes or from offering “any official vote” in exchange for another public official’s vote on the “same or another question,” the attorney general said.
The purpose of the statute, he explained, is to prevent anyone from “corruptly” securing an advantage through the actions of a public official. Brown said the Riverside agreement, “at least on its face, provides no basis to conclude that any individual or group has wrongfully sought such an advantage, much less offered a public official anything of value in an attempt to secure it.”
Nor is there any suggestion of illegal vote-trading, Brown wrote. “In other words, we have no reason to conclude that any county supervisor or city council member called upon to vote on the question of whether to commit his or her local agency to the proposed MOU will condition his or her vote on some other public official’s vote ‘on the same or another question’ within the meaning of section 86.”
It would be contrary to the language of the statute and the obvious intent of the Legislature, Brown said, to treat intergovernmental agreements as a form of bribery or vote trading. The laws, he explained, are designed to regulate the conduct of individual lawmakers, not the actions of the governmental bodies on which they serve.
“And as to that official vote — on whether the cities should agree to implement the county-favored conservation plan in exchange for the county’s agreement to implement the development standards that the cities favor in the relevant city spheres, and vice-versa — the mere fact that the item voted upon involves a proposed trade-off between jurisdictions does not dictate or even imply that any trade-off will occur between officials voting on that item. As stated above, we have no basis to conclude (in the absence of any indication to the contrary) that any of the public officials involved will condition his or her vote on whether to adopt the proposed MOU on any other official’s vote on this or another question. Thus, we presume that the members of each jurisdiction’s legislative body will make an independent judgment as to whether the compromises embodied in the proposed MOU are beneficial to his or her local agency and constituents.”
Brown went on to reject the suggestion that the participating entities would be bound by the MOU only as long as the current supervisors and council members remain in office. “Both a county board of supervisors and a city council are continuing bodies whose authority and obligations do not change simply because their memberships change over time,” Brown wrote, adding that participating jurisdictions could withdraw from the agreement at a later date if they chose.
The opinion, No. 07-506, was prepared for Brown by Deputy Attorney General Marc J. Nolan.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company