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San Diego Community Activists Fight For Sunshine On Public Records

Local activists Mel Shapiro and Ian Trowbridge talk with "Evening Edition" about their work.

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Carol Goodhue Shull, Government Transparency

Carol Goodhue Shull talks to "Evening Edition" about her investigation into the California government's transparency laws.

An investigation published today shows that while California has laws meant to make government transparent and eliminate conflicts of interest, "sometimes there are gaps between what the laws say and what they actually do."

That is also true in San Diego, said civic activist Mel Shapiro. Last week Shapiro won the 2012 Sunshine Award for his work as a "major thorn in the side of government officials," according to the local chapter of Society for Professional Journalists.

Shapiro and Ian Trowbridge, a retired Salk Institute professor who now heads the activist group Navy Broadway Complex Coalition, spoke with KPBS about their work.

The reason Shapiro pursues activism is because it's "a calling," he said.

"It reminds me of what Sarah Palin says for why she is doing her political career," he said. "Well, I have the same calling myself. This is what I chose."

Shapiro said he has sued local governments at least 12 times and only remembers losing once.

"It’s easy to beat the city on public records acts because they’re so secretive,” he said.

The best way to bring change is through lawsuits, not through the City Council or newspapers, he said. Shapiro added he's most proud of lawsuits against the city of San Diego and its redevelopment arm, the Centre City Development Corporation, for violating open meeting laws.

Mel Shapiro at the City Council

Mel Shapiro at a December 5, 2011 San Diego City Council committee meeting. He sued the San Diego City Attorney's office to force the release of information from the city's complaint hotline.

Trowbridge said his work as a scientist is similar to the activism he does now. Both are fact oriented, require documentation and scraps of information and "your job is to make a coherent story out of them," he said.

The projects Trowbridge said he's most proud of are his work to mitigate the removal of a park on the Broadway Pier with the Lane Field park, which will break ground next year, and his efforts to "kill Doug Manchester’s development on the Navy Broadway Complex."

"That is dead, that will never be built," he said.

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