Lake County PEG Board Excludes Politics from Free Speech

There are few controls allowed on what citizens can put on their public access channels. No editorial control on content is legal. The term “political” is a content category not on the short list for exclusion. Nevertheless, the Lake County PEG Board passed the following content restriction over my strenuous objections.

3.5 No election related programming which favors one candidate or ballot measure shall be broadcast. Candidate forums which are public and give equal opportunity to all candidates may be broadcast. Ballot measure forums which are public and give equal opportunity to all parties may be broadcast.

Apparently, this government dominated board feels I do not have the right to use my public access channel to editorialize on ballot issues or promote candidates with new ideas. Its gets even worse. Ed Robey, Lake County’s representative, has rammed through a ban on all political programs “until the Board adopts a policy on political programs” even though TV8 has been on the air for 14 years.

At the last PEG Board meeting I was able to attend, ED Robey acting as Chair, bragged that a recent small claims complaint against the Station forced him to learn all about public access. Robey had acted boldly over the years without seeking any information about what was legal. I had been complaining that the Board had been acting as illegal censors since its inception. So I asked Ed, “So how much of your research dealt with Designated Public Forum law (The legal basis for a PEG Station) His one word answer: “None.”

If the current and past Lake County PEG reps had any interest in the law they would have kicked over gems like “Conrad v. Southeastern Promotions (1975)”, dealing with prior restraint, or “Grayned v. Rockford (1972)”, describing the test for “time, manner, and place” limitations, or the big Kahuna of public forum doctrine “Perry Education Association v. Perry Educators Association (1983), that finally cleared up the exact definition of each type of public forum with their rights and powers.

There is an amazing irony in the certainty of Lake County, Clearlake, and Lakeport representatives about how much power they think they wield over the citizens mouthpiece. The Sue Buske Group was hired to negotiate new cable franchises around 1998. Her team included an attorney to advise them on all matters legal, concerning franchises and public access. This attorney’s name is James Horwood. Any authorities preferring truth over plausible denial should check out his article, “Political Speech and PEG Access: A Legal Analysis”, Community Media Review, Winter 2002-2003.

It would not take an afternoon in a law library to learn that courts have consistently applied the “strict scrutiny” test on any public forum restrictions, demanding that they serve “a compelling State interest.” In other other words, the legislature must pass a law first before the local goobertocracy invents a new way to cut up our 1st Amendment for fish bait.

I have an opinion, based on hours of internet searches after the 2009 conspiracy against TV8, that the Lake County PEG organization has the most hostile attitude toward free speech in the Country. I’m sure many people who agree that public access has been wronged in Lake, still think this judgment is over the top. But consider these two facts: No franchiser is legally required to have a PEG Station. Cities and counties that oppose putting citizens voices on a par with theirs, simply will not ask for a PEG channel. Problem solved. Over two-thirds of the franchisers don’t have PEG channels. The others feel, on balance, that public access is a civic asset.

The only example I’ve found of a PEG station whose operations are regularly and psychotically attacked by the entity that created it is TV8 in Lake County. When I attempted to be the first outsider to use TV8 in 2004 government officials were shocked and angrily responded. The only theory I’ve come up with for this behavior is that Lake County and the city of Clearlake thought they could squeeze all the PEG equipment goodies they could from the cable franchisee without sharing them with a public that they despised. As far as I know, this puts Lake County in a small, mean, and arrogant category all by itself.

If its not obvious, once again I’m asking the Board of Supervisors to demand Ed Robey’s resignation and to educate themselves as to controlling public forum laws.

TV8 – One Channel Ghetto

Most PEG stations are communities where public, education, and government entities enjoy equal access to the public without interference with each other.  One-channel public access stations usually exist for a brief start up period while most go on the air for the first time with three channels.  When different interests are forced to share the limited broadcast time of one channel the government interest always dominates, resulting in their routine meetings getting first choice of air time and the public getting the leftovers.  Censorship of the cramped public ghetto is never far behind.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  When California ceased renewing new local franchises in favor of a State franchise system I assumed the option to demand extra channel space from cable companies by local PEG stations ended.  I was wrong.  Beth, the sole surviving volunteer at TV8, told me she checked State franchise law P.U.C. 5870 and found the new channel provision was still in place.  Our PEG Board is dominated by government representatives.  I wonder why they didn’t know about this valuable free opportunity for local media.

Before the State franchise law took effect, we were told (accurately) that a station had to fill each channel they had with a minimum of 8 hours of local programming per day.  Everyone assumed that “local programming” meant 8 hours of “locally produced”  programming.  Since I knew our neighboring 3-channel PEG stations were not powerhouses of local production I decided to conduct a survey of how they met the 8 hour per day per channel.  The most bewildering was Willits that operates on no money except for City Council videoing and airing fees.  They were a one channel station like Clearlake until about five years ago.

Willits PEG operates on Channels 3, 64, 65.  I interviewed their main programmer, Andy, about their station content as well as his take on what I learned from other PEG station content.

Channel 65 is the scrolling community bulletin board.  It is just as easy to fill one hour as 24 hours per day this way.  One channel worth of 8-hour requirement met.

Channel 64 is the government channel.  Since Willits is a small town they only have their Council meetings on video.  The public would rebel if one channel was showing the same meeting over and over, 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. They import as many nearby government and government partner meetings as they can get.  This type of  programming is an aquired taste but it knocks out another channel for legal purposes.

Channel 3 is the true public access channel.  In addition to video produced by local citizens, they have imported copywrite free programs from universities, PEG Media, and  Clearly, local programming means “put on by a local person” and not as the PEG Board interpreted, “produced by a local person.”  Most of their local programming is imported.

Other PEG stations are sometimes one channel short of a programming requirement due to not having the time to sort through all the free imports.  They will fill this gap with an internet site created for this purpose.  Examples are The Classic Arts Showcase and the NASA channels.  When something more compelling comes along I’m sure they will make the switch.

TV 8 in Lake County is in a much better position to start a 3-channel line up than many PEG stations.  We have an arrangement with Yuba College to air their Distance Learning Program classes.  We could air all of them if it were not for the Board of Supervisors hogging up so much free time on our solitary channel.  Unlike the County deadbeats, Yuba pays us but they’re getting tired of settling for half a loaf of time.

I believe the long time hamstringing of channels by the PEG Board is in the context of ongoing content censorship and acquiesence to illegal station shut-downs by City Managers   (The station is in Clearlake’s old City Hall vending room).  They have rebuffed ever effort by the public for their policies to become compliant with designated public forum law.  So the channel upgrade could not have been merely an oversight by a dedicated but overworked PEG Board.

My suspicion is that their insistance on a one-channel PEG station is yet another strategy to strangle TV8 without showing any blood on their hands during its death throes.

The current Board chair is ED Robey.  He was originally the County’s rep on the Board.  After he quit his Supervisor’s gig he became a “Public Representative” on the Board, just in time for the December 9th, 2009 attack on the station.  When no one else from the Board of Supervisors would consent to sit on this powder keg, Robey switched hats again to fill the County slot, even though he was no longer a Supervisor.

I have a better title for Mr. Robey.  How about “ex PEG Board Member.”  Officially, I am demanding that the BOS ask for Ed Robey’s resignation so TV8 can finally move forward toward independence and functionality.  It would be a good idea if the free loading County butted out as well.  There are non profits waiting in the wings to run TV8 right.

Jesus Crashes Council Meetings

Fundamentalist Christians and the civil rights crowd have never mixed well in Clearlake. There is a history of blending right wing politics and religion here. The ruling elite consider this strange brew superior to any concoction of civil rights decisions rolled out by the U.S. Supreme Court. This is how the Clearlake brain trust rammed through its prayer “invocation” resolution on Sept. 25th.

How ironic that this resolution was excreted one day after the tenth anniversary of Clearlake’s experiment in violent censorship on its PEG Committee. “Ironic” because a local Fundamentalist minister was on this City Committee “representing the public” but chose instead to join the goober shock troop attack on my legally defined 1st Amendment Rights. Not one participant has ever offered an apology for this outrage.

I understand the Calvary Church was behind this six page, legal-case-studded document. The upshot of this high priced verbage was that if the City does not deny any prayer leader equal opportunity to waste public meeting time then prayer in City Council meetings is not explicitly illegal. Of course, we could have a segment on auto maintenance tips too, open to all the public, but that is also not government business and a waste of the public’s time. I notice City staff charges often for THEIR time.

Since I have not seen any openness to other religious ideas from the jumpin’ Jesus fanatics, I’m assuming they are betting that a Wiccan, Druid, or Satanist signing up on the First Church of City Hall calender will be a rare event. Religious freedom includes the right not to participate. Since the Calvary Church demands that I be part of their cult’s captive audience, my religious rights are being violated.

It seems that just a couple months ago the council paid a lawyer to say letting citizens use TV8 (a designated public forum) for candidate and issue programs was wasting government resources. Never mind that a designated public forum is not a government resource. In fact, their lawyer was careful to not cite any case that had anything to do with this over riding legal status. In other words, the City paid an attorney to deliver an irrelevant legal opinion. I was livid.

This is just another example of how hostile the right wing is toward competition when it comes to ideas. Anything that could be said in their anointed prayer segment could be said in Public Input. But they would have to share the podium as equals. Maybe the closet proselytizers don’t like to rub elbows and stand in line with our unwashed secular concerns. Maybe they think the time subsidy to push their faith based infomercials to the head of the line is sanctioned by their God.

If the Council insists on featuring words from imaginary friends at meetings at least they should auction the spot off to the highest bidder. This is the way the Internet and web host providers work. You can get the free version (the equivalent of “public input”) or pay the going rate for the bells and whistles. To demand prime public time for Sunday morning highlights is aggressive panhandling at its ugliest.

Anyone who opposes this backdoor hijacking of Clearlake’s Council meetings should encourage a boycott by their religious leaders of the “Congregations List” maintained by the City. In government functions, Christians should not demand special treatment. They should stand in line as humble members of the public. If they want a roomful of people’s time for themselves they should pay for it. Time is money. I believe the Christians signed on to “Thou shall not steal” a long time ago.

Still not convinced that we don’t need more filler for our underpowered Council meetings? Then why not bump up the regular public features a notch further with a few more acts. We could have ongoing Citizens Police Review Reports or “Sustainability Project Experiments” updates. I only ask that we keep moving forward. Brain dead prayer was fine for the 1st Century but this is the 21st Century.

Like most small-minded bergs ruled by right wing ideologues, Fundamentalists get put at the head of the public banquet table while those expecting simple recognition of their basic American Bill of Rights, as defined by the Supreme Court, get kicked to the curb with the morning garbage.

Clearlake’s Zombie Candidates

I was planning to do a story where I picked out the City Council candidates who had something to say or had some experience standing up to the local goobertocracy. It didn’t work out that way. When the candidate list was final and the statements were filed what we got were the less-than-magnificent seven. There is no one worthy for the job. Certainly no one who deserves the City Council medical benefits that are more lavish than the much criticized Congressional perks.

Of course I have minimum requirements that exceed the legal micro standards posted for the two seats. I believe a contender should be well informed on the issues and have put in the time to be a tireless advocate for at least a couple – preferably on the right side. They should offer clearly researched alternatives and have promoted these alternatives in articles, speeches, and a well linked web site. A serious leader needs to read, write, and show up – everywhere, over and over….and on the internet. Sorry, but it is the 21st Century.

Battles have been fought here, mostly out of the gaze of our small town media. They are still being fought and will likely get nastier in the near future. Those worthy of a vote need to be prepared. When our civil liberties are under attack by a city that abuses its authority for political purposes a true leader will raise their voice. The lesser seven have been mostly silent.

We should have no patience for dilettantes who want to play at pretending to be City Councilpeople. These people would only be in the way and just delay moving Clearlake into a much postponed future. Who are these people?

Two of the candidates didn’t even submit a candidate’s statement. A third, Bruno Sabatier, has a statement but no e-mail contact. He’s the one with the oily patter who never sees any evil.

The incumbent, Joey Luiz, originally wanted to be liked by everyone until he found out that annoyed the people that counted. Now he just schmoozes up the good old boys.

Quincy Jackson appears to be running for the political equivalent of Miss America, espousing lofty sentiments while forgetting to include any boring details.

Our former second in command at the Sheriff Department, Russ Perdock, has made no effort to establish a different attitude about civil liberties from previous former officers running for Clearlake City Council. (see “Goober Rampage in Lake County”)

And finally, someone needs to explain to Michael Walton that the way pre California Map Act residential roads get paved is for residents in a neighborhood to form an assessment district for the purpose. Too bad that’s his only issue.

I guess I’ll have to provide the serious analysis of local issues all by myself. I’ll follow each issue blog with a video. If a candidate wants to make it a discussion they can contact me right after the blog. But I’m warning you, don’t show up unprepared. Its a discussion not an interview.

Goober Rampage in Lake County – 10 Years Later

Anniversaries are supposed to be festive affairs. But sometimes they are a dark reminder of a dark chapter of events. Obviously those responsible would prefer that everyone kept quiet until memories became hazy.

Lake County has 5 and 10 year local anniversaries coming up that I haven’t forgotten. They are ugly examples of what happens when a few ignorant, small minded ideologues filled with hate gain political power and use it as a club against our basic civil rights.

The dates are September 24th, 2004 and December 9th, 2009 if anyone wants to mark them on their calendar or don a black robe and carry a sign. Both these days of infamy deal with Lake County’s public access channel (TV8). I was the focus of the earlier date and fought in the second battle.

In 2003 Lake County’s public access channel limped onto the cable on the strength of a provision in the city of Clearlake’s franchise agreement. Its only funding was from a fee charged to Yuba College for their distance learning program.

There was never any intention of turning TV8 into a true PEG Channel. The only regular programming was the college classes, a community bulletin board, and the Board of Supervisors meetings. Control of Lake County’s TV8 resided in the “PEG Committee”, dominated by the city of Clearlake. The City Manager chaired the Committee which included a City Councilperson and a City employee. The public was supposedly represented on the Committee by the City Manager’s crony and a fundamentalist minister.

Only the City Manager and his crony regularly put their own programs on the access channel, using equipment squeezed out of the cable channel and editing time from the City employee. Anyone else who wanted to use the access channel had to go before this star chamber for a viewing where they would issue their verdict as to whether to air the submitted video or not. I was the first member of the public to push the matter.

I had this idea for a satirical melodrama based on a local political controversy. The City employee slipped me the cheap camera no one used and let me use the editing computer when no one was around. Still, word got out to the ruling junta about what I was doing.

At the September 24, 2004 PEG Committee meeting my video was scheduled to go on trial. Normally no one but me from the public shows up to these snoozers. But on this day the room was packed with the crony’s personal goon squad who paradoxically called themselves “Positive Image for Clearlake.” They showed up and took over the meeting, howling and hooting with the Manager smiling broadly as his crony egged them on. An insurance agent stood up and denounced me at length to thunderous applause before storming out the room, coat tails flapping.

The mob’s outbursts were punctuated by the crony repeating that he wanted to “punch me out.” The pitchfork and torch wielding geriatric goober squad included three candidates for Clearlake City Council that the crony thought appropriate to endorse in the middle of a PEG meeting.

Fortunately, Cynthia Parkhill, the local newspaper editor, came to my rescue. She had gotten wind that something weird was afoot and decided to show up. As my video, Broadsided At Basshole played, she took notes and smiled. This enraged the bible thumper on the Committee who began attacking her for being amused by my work of heresy.

The next time the crony said he wanted to punch me out I suggested a chess game instead. This only earned me a look of stark hatred from the Neanderthal.

Meanwhile, the City employee who had broadcast experience, answered questions about the arcane concept of free speech and getting sued. The codger strike force of businessmen, former policemen, and City founders began to lose steam. In the end it was just the City Manager, his crony, and the preacher who voted to ban “Broadsided At Basshole” from TV8.

Later, two of the principle goobers were over heard complaining, “And the worst part is he used OUR equipment.” Such is ruling class mentality. I kinda thought it was my equipment too.

Boogie On The Hill

By Dante DeAmicis

I got a free ticket. How could I pass it up. Hoberg’s coughed and sputtered into action after 40 years of down time with back to back concerts, nostalgically billed as “Woodstock” and “Summer of Love.” My pass was for the shorter “Summer”, trotting out “Its a Beautiful Day”, “Cold Blood”, and “Elvin Bishop.”

Sunday I had breakfast in Kelseyville and bicycled up to the show. Up and over Bottle Rock with time to have a hot chai in Cobb. Then it was up to Hoberg’s ridge top resort where I chained my bike to the parking lot guard.

Lydia Spence from Cold Blood and everyone in Bishops band belted out a show. They were worth every dollar I didn’t pay. “Day” struck me as stiff and grumpy but a “Father Time” looking guy assured me they were like that in the 60’s too.

But this isn’t a music review. Its a venue review. These are tough times and its a tough sell to get people out of their high-tech cocoons. If a venue is going to charge for music they cannot make mistakes. And Hobergs made mistakes.

The outdoor concert space was a shallow trough opening to a mulched field, hugging Highway 175 so close that auto noise was a problem for the North side of the space.

The main deal killer was the location of the stage. I could see only one reason for wedging all the action in an armpit of the Highway and the tip of the trough – sideways no less. They wanted to be able to pack the entire open area with ticket buyers even if it meant sacrificing acoustics and comfort.

It turned out there was no reason for this trade off. The thin crowd was distributed in several “camps” on the sides where the shade was. Most of the VIPers preferred to set up lawn chairs on the shady upland side of the stage rather than cook in the sun on hard benches in front of the bands. Two thirds of the cheap seaters were dug in under an oasis of seven trees at the end of the trough. Several small clusters were clinging to the shade from the highway trees, engine noise and exhaust fumes be damned.

Outdoor concerts are supposed to have a solid audience in the center of the venue. Video of the performers from a distance would show a hard core three rows of VIP fans on benches against the stage and two rows of sun resistant cheap seaters huddled behind crime scene tape. The orange shirted security patrolling the vast empty field looked like the loneliest people in the world.

Since there was plenty of extra space, management needs to relocate the stage, sacrificing some of the unused wasteland. When I told Father Time, a veteran of countless outdoor shows, that the stage was in the wrong place he already knew where it should go – backed up against the bamboo fencing on the side of the wasteland. This would turn the area between the current stage and the VIP upland into a natural amphitheater. The oasis and the highway shade strip would be retained. Lose the principal-office-bad-boy benches in front of the stage. This is dance area. Keep them on the sides if you must.

The other visual blight is the cheap orange stanchions and yellow tape separating the ticket classes. Sorry, the center of the audience should not look like a construction project or a crime scene. I recommend a line of low sawhorses that band and event posters can be slapped on. Then, before the end of the first band, have staff and security grab a sawhorse and move the class barriers forward into the unused VIP void.

Other gripes are opening day nit picking with two exceptions. I’m assuming management has been told by many people that charging full ticket price for infants is Dickensian and won’t happen again. Right?

Finally, for some reason the organizers felt that having people drop over from dehydration would add to the excitement of the day. If they want to charge $2 for a bottle of water, fine. But let people bring water in or point them to a hose. Its against the law to deny a dog access to water.

Regulation Clearlake Style

   Clearlake City Hall does not create much original content.  They administer even less.  The original City Code was a boiler plated Lake County Code.  New laws or ordinances tend to be boiler plated versions of other cities’ ordinances or “me too” copies of Lake County regs.  Therefore, large chunks of Clearlake’s working documents are not understood or agreed with by staff or council.  Some provisions lay dormant for years until an opportunity arises to use them as an ad hoc club for some unrelated purpose.

   For some reason poor little Clearlake decided they needed a massive expansion of local taxi regulation.  As a taxi driver I took a personal interest.  To start with, I wanted to know why a few struggling drivers needed a big city regulatory structure when the existing regulations were not being administered or enforced by the police department.

   Normally when a sweeping new regulatory scheme is proposed the existing companies are brought into the process.  This is because the economic effects may not be known to those creating the regulations.  There is a block of data that only the companies themselves can provide.  Unless a city or agency is completely indifferent to the harmful effects of a given regulation they should be interested in this data.  Clearlake was not.

   Since the drivers, companies, and the public were not brought in at the beginning of the process, the announcement of a first reading of new taxi regulations caught those affected by surprise.  For unknown reasons this was a very fast tracked item.  Since I was a literate driver contracting with the only functional cab company, we engaged the City.

   We got a copy of the draft ordinance and demanded a delay so we could respond.  I went line by line through this massive tome while the owner did a lengthy online search to see what city or county birthed this beast.  Margie Huit found a perfect fit for the wealthy suburb of Woodland, a city six times larger than Clearlake.  Their taxi regs were an exact duplicate of what the the City Administrator was trying to shove down our throats.  They did not even delete the absurd references to theatres and railroad stations, terms which will never be uttered in the same sentence with Clearlake.

   Margie and I then went on a road trip to study Ukiah’s taxi regs and scheduled a meeting with the City Administrator, Police Chief, and the Police Lieutenant who would be enforcing these edicts, which includes shaking down the companies and drivers for fees.

   Ukiah is Lake County ‘s nearest neighbor, has only a few more people than Clearlake, and was recently voted the most livable city in California.  We got copies of their ordinance as well as all the “to do” lists from the Police Department, then talked with staff.  Ukiah’s regulations are more extensive than Clearlake’s existing ordinance but within the realm of reason.  And unlike the cribbed-to-impress Woodland ordinance, was written in plain English.

   The owners of the other two taxi companies in town are disfunctional on several levels.  Our so-called representatives on the City Council are mere rubber stamps for the City Administrator and do not raise any issues that would expose their severe learning disabilities.  This meant Margie and I were bucking the City alone.

   I came to our meeting with my written analysis and Margie came with Ukiah’s ordinance and associated documents as an alternative. We also wanted to know why this was being rammed through since they were not even administering the old ordinance.  None of our concerns were addressed in a meaningful way, including telling us what the real agenda was.  We were nobodies, peasants, insignificant, and therefore irrelevant.

   I did prove that our police did not understand the big city boiler plate either.  One of their implementations required all taxis to be sequentially numbered and those numbers listed on each car’s annual permits.  I pointed out that as cars are taken out of service the new sequential numbers would not match up with each car’s permits.  Over time, it would be impossible for anyone to be in compliance.  This section and the railroad reference were the only changes we could get.  There is no stigma in being unreasonable but looking stupid sticks to your face.

   To delay the steamroller longer Margie had to hire a lawyer to write a couple fast and dirty letters.  It was all she could afford.  But it did force the City to send those letters and my articles to the City’s attorneys.  The City’s bottom feeders knew we couldn’t bankroll a legal battle so they called our bluff with absurdities, asserting they could copy any city’s ordinance they wanted without even knowing everything in it and without collecting any cost or market data.  So there.

   Before the final reading the Administrator thought she could weasel out of responsibility for this travesty by declaring her only motivation was to comply with DMV, PUC, and group risk sharing requirements.  So I went to my computer and checked.  She lied.  In fact, the PUC explicitly stated they do not regulate taxis.  I also spent $200 for a data set from the taxi and limo association. Throughout the struggle I wrote about ten articles of various types.

   The City Council did not care that I proved the Administrator was a liar and I was the best informed person in the room on the issue. The crushing regulations passed unanimously.  As promised, I quit a month later.

   A year went by, Margie and her drivers were hounded for fees, licenses, and a tripling of insurance requirements.  Modifications to taxis and drug tests were demanded.  Some of these fees were supposed to pay for police to administer the ordinance but they never inspected the cars or delivered the ID’s that were paid for.  It turns out the police did not know how this new “live scan” requirement in the regs worked either.  Margie was told to get a special Department of Justice number before having the drivers live scanned but it turns out that’s the police’s job.

   The other companies did not have these problems.  They waited to see if they were forced to comply.  If they were hit with enforcement provisions they said they would just go out of business.  After about eight months City Hall’s famously short attention span ran out and the threatening letters to do still more, ended.  I found out that another taxi owner has been telling new hires that Clearlake has no taxi regulation.

   This is how regulation works in Clearlake.  You pay lots of money to do business in an area that’s poor and crime ridden while getting nothing in return.  That is why Clearlake is a true city of industry…. the industry of fleecing marks.