California’s "Brown Act" serves to promote transparency and public participation in the legislative process. It requires that all meetings of local legislative bodies be open and public, except for in a few limited circumstances. As such, a legislative body is generally prohibited from meeting to discuss local government business in private.

What Constitutes a Legislative Body?

The Brown Act broadly covers every type of public legislative body including councils, commissions, boards, and committees and applies to all members of the legislative body regardless whether they are elected, newly elected, or appointed.

What Constitutes a Meeting?

A meeting occurs when there is a gathering of a quorum of a legislative body to discuss government business. This includes informal gatherings at restaurants, bars, or conferences. Thus, anytime the majority of a legislative body is at the same place at the same time, they are prohibited from discussing government business unless it is a meeting open to the public.

What Doesn’t Constitute a Meeting?

Legislators are permitted to meet with constituents in private and have individual contacts with other board members. However, a series of individual contacts between the majority of board members may amount to a serial meeting which is prohibited. Legislators may also attend public events together, so long as government business is not discussed.

How Must the Meetings Be Made Public?

The public must be given notice of the date time and location of all legislative meetings and be provided an agenda at least 72 hours prior to the meeting. Items not on the agenda generally cannot be discussed. All members of the public must be allowed to attend the meeting and be given an opportunity to participate.

When Can Legislative Bodies Have Closed Meetings?

There are a few limited exceptions when legislative bodies are permitted to hold closed meeting sessions, including:

  • To receive legal advice from counsel regarding litigation
  • To discuss a purchase, sale, exchange, or lease of real property
  • To consider someone’s appointment, employment, performance, discipline
  • To negotiate labor disputes
  • To discuss matters posing a threat to security of public buildings

However, these closed sessions must be briefly described on agenda with reason for exception