Upland Councilors Provide Special July 4th Accommodations For Their Donors

A minor furor has broken out in the City of Gracious Living over special viewing accommodations for Upland’s upcoming July 4 fireworks spectacular being given out at taxpayer expense to an unknown number of municipal, political and business insiders who are on good terms with the Upland City Council.
A letter, referenced in its subject line as an “Invitation to City of Upland Firework Spectacular private viewing,” from the city council and signed by Mayor Bill Velto dated June 1, 2021 was sent so a select group of residents, business people and individuals active as political supporters of the current city council.
The letter stated, “The City of Upland is proud to announce the return of our Firework Spectacular! This year’s event theme is “Light up the Night” and will be viewable from many locations within the city. While we cannot have a large-scale viewing event due to potential Covid restrictions, we have arranged a smaller private viewing event. We are excited to invite you and a guest to attend our “Light up the Night” Firework Spectacular private viewing event on Sunday, July 4, 2021 at 7 p.m. This private event will be held outdoors at the city’s public works facility, 1370 N. Benson Ave, Upland, 91786.”
The invitation said there “will be light refreshments… and activities for everyone to enjoy.”
Those invited were asked to RSVP to (909) 931-4281 by June 20.
“Upon your RSVP, you will be provided with details regarding parking,” the letter states, before concluding, “We look forward to seeing you there!”
The 931-4281 number connects with a desk in the city’s recreation department.
There has arisen a brouhaha over the matter on multiple grounds.
Some have objected to the exclusivity of the invitations and the suggestion that the city council is looking to hobnob with a select group on an occasion as iconic as the Fourth of July. The upshot is that if the council is going to engage itself in such a celebration, it should be open to the public.
A second objection is that if the city council is to extend private invitations to its members’ friends and political supporters, it should not be doing so at taxpayer expense but rather on the council members’ own dimes.
Third, there is the suggestion that the council was misusing the city-sponsored fireworks show improperly by exploiting it for political purposes and to ingratiate itself with possible campaign donors.
A fourth objection is that the circumstance is exacerbated by the consideration that the get-together between the council members and their friends and supporters is being hosted on city property.
Fifth, the event involving all five of the council members in the same place and at the same time may be a violation of California’s open meeting law, the Brown Act, which prohibits members of an elected public panel from coming together and discussing anything related to the agency they represent outside of a forum open to the public. The Brown Act also requires that such a panel’s actions and deliberations be open to public scrutiny, and that members of the public must be given an opportunity to comment on any action the panel might take before the action is taken. The Brown Act further requires that such a meeting have an agenda laying out the topics of discussion, and that the agenda be publicly posted 72 hours in advance of the meeting.
The private fireworks viewing event in Upand this coming Sunday summoned comparisons to an exclusive reception that San Bernardino Mayor John Valdivia held for his supporters last month after he delivered his state of the city address. The cost of that event, held at a restaurant owned by one of Valdivia’s campaign donors, was defrayed with city funds. While Valdivia maintained that it was intended as a celebration of the city’s progress and bounce back from the bankruptcy San Bernardino declared in 2012 which was meant to be attended by the city’s movers and shakers and community “stakeholders” and those likely to contribute to the city’s continuing economic recover, only those invited were allowed to attend. Valdivia failed to invite six of the city’s seven council members to the reception.
Meanwhile in Upland, City Councilwoman Janice Elliott insisted, “I was not involved with the guest list” for the fireworks viewing event in Upland.
Moreover, Elliott said, she did not believe that city staff was involved in sending the invitations out.

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