Article Updated December 17, 2019
Concerned residents who could not attend the Corcoran City Council meeting on December 10 logged onto local farmer Justin Curti’s facebook to watch his live stream. But they were met with a rude awakening. Across the top of his facebook page it read, “Corcoran City Council is not allowing video.”
“I came in just as the meeting was starting, sat down, and pulled my phone out to record the meeting.” Curti recounted that then someone apparently working for the city approached him and said that recording city council meetings was not allowed and told him to put down his phone.
According to Government Code section 54953.5(a) preventing the public from taping or streaming a city council meeting is a violation of the Brown Act. It states:
“(a) Any person attending an open and public meeting of a legislative body of a local agency shall have the right to record the proceedings with an audio or video tape recorder or a still or motion picture camera in the absence of a reasonable finding by the legislative body of the local agency that the recording cannot continue without noise, illumination, or obstruction of view that constitutes, or would constitute, a persistent disruption of the proceedings.”
Violations of this code could possibly result in the city council having to redo all of its decisions taken the night of December 10, said John Sarsfield of the law firm of Melo and Sarsfield.
When asked if recording was allowed during city council meetings, Kindon Meik, Corcoran City manager said, “Absolutely, yeah.”
Meik asked around the next day but no one from the staff or council said that they spoke to Curti. “We have had visitors record or video the meetings in the past and it has never been an issue.”
Curti was not certain if the person who told him to stop recording was a city employee. At the time of the meeting it seemed to Curti that the person had some sort of authority and he did not want to cause any trouble.
Curti was attending the meeting because the city is pursuing a lawsuit against the Curtimade Dairy. He is a former owner but might still be liable in the event the lawsuit is successful. The city is suing the family for $65 million because of elevated nitrates in municipal wells in 2015.
Since the drought ended the city wells have been in compliance in terms of nitrates. Curti added that the family has never had a problem with nitrates and that the dairy and their private irrigation wells have always been in compliance.
Because of the suit, many farming families in Kings and Tulare County had planned on attending Corcoran City Council meetings in support of the dairy. Several people who wanted to attend could not, so Curti said he would stream the meeting on his facebook.
According to Xavier Avila, a Tulare dairyman, a large group of supporters were planning on attending the Corcoran City Council meeting on November 26 but it was canceled the week before.
“Apparently the Corcoran City Council didn’t want to face the large crowd of supporters of a 100-year -old family farm, so they canceled the meeting tomorrow night. They must think this is going to die down but I got news for them. We are not going away.”
Avila has been encouraging Tulare residents to stand up for farmers like they did when former Tulare Mayor Carlton Jones attacked the ag industry in May of 2018.
Avila posted on his facebook, “Join us at the Corcoran City Council Meeting on Tuesday, December 10th at 5:30pm. It’s time to once again flood the City of Corcoran with our concerns about their extortion tactics to squeeze money out of a local business. The city is saddled with debt, uses water funds to pay for other things, and its claims are unfounded. Please share and attend to learn about the damaging actions.”
According to an editorial in the Hanford Sentinel, “During the height of the drought, the City of Corcoran encountered issues with elevated nitrate levels in groundwater. After years of expert analysis and millions of dollars in legal fees, the city finds itself with a bill for high priced attorneys and wells that are actually clean. Although repeated tests conducted by the city reveal the water is safe, and has cleared neighboring farms, the city leadership is laser focused on litigation to solve their financial choice.”
Meik said that the city did hire experts and that those experts found that the nitrates originated from animal waste and came from the direction of Curtimade Dairy.
Tessa Hall, one of the owners of Curtimade Dairy, made the following comments at a November 12 meeting:
“Since they have claimed alleged contamination and have held a gun to my family’s head for four years, the Executive Officer of the Regional Water Quality Control Board has told them numerous times they cannot single out one source of nitrates in this valley. Yet they continue to just go after us as the neighboring dairy. Why does the city consider itself an expert in hydrology and nitrate movement? Why do they not listen to the experts? They demanded the water board take enforcement action upon us and the water board could find no cause to do so.”
The Tulare County Farm Bureau has reported that in 2013 the Curti farm was awarded with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s annual prize for protecting the environment and for promoting their community. The dairy has embraced renewable energy sources and is monitored by voluntary and state mandated programs.
The next Corcoran City Council meeting is scheduled for January 14, and all are encouraged to attend.
Justin Curti said this time he plans on bringing his tripod.