With spring break, there\u2019s sun on pallid skin and rays from the Sunshine Act prying in on musty agency habits. The California Public Utilities Commission has the chance to renew its relationship with the public this spring after a stilted and awkward attempt to relate last week. The commission made a trip to San Diego\u2014\u201cAmerica\u2019s finest city\u201d\u2014which turned out be coarse when it comes to the public trust. Instead of bathing under the state\u2019s sunshine law, appointed commissioners were ensconced in a meeting room in San Diego when they could have been on the nearby public beach. Adding insult to the pallor of no sunshine, there was only a muffled, scratchy audio feed at its business meeting that any weekend deejay could have solved in an instant, or prevented to begin with. Plain tacky. Activists and the media apparently perceived the week\u2019s sunblocked activities as nefarious\u2014or at best as a sign of incompetence. They lashed out at the commission in the state\u2019s second largest city, even though in its own clumsy way it was trying to do the right thing by meeting with locals on their own turf. The commission\u2019s San Diego \u201coutreach\u201d trip started March 20 where the surf meets the turf with an informal meeting. The commissioners supposedly circulated a couple at a time\u2014in order to avoid triggering restrictions in the state\u2019s open meetings law\u2014through a room with about 60 people whose identity remains a secret to discuss various topics informally. Apparently the commissioners synchronized watches before the meeting, so as not to miss a beat in rotating in and out of the room and between tables. The next day the commission held its regular business meeting at county hall and listened to almost an hour-and-a-half of public testimony. Those of us saving our carbon footprint with no bare toes in the sand trying to follow the meeting on the telephone conference line or the audio webcast could hear about every third word for the first half hour over the hiss, crackle, static, and shrill of feedback on the audio feed. Before the meetings, press reports criticized the commission for holding the invitation-only stakeholder meeting. One syndicated columnist from Southern California even called on Gov. Brown to fire commission president Mike Peevey. The commission faced a lawsuit filed by an environmental activist who was excluded from the stakeholder meeting, though the suit failed to stop the event. Amazingly, it was the fifth such secret commission meeting. Outside the meeting room, environmental activists spearheading a local drive to stop two new fossil-fueled power plants from being built in the San Diego area denounced the commission for its closed door meeting, plus for being too cozy with the local utility San Diego Gas & Electric and the fossil fuel power industry. Ironically, the next day the commission turned down permission for SDG&E\u2014at least for now\u2014to enter power purchase agreements with the plant developers, heeding the call by local environmental activists to instead rely more on energy efficiency, locally produced solar power, and conservation as a way to meet future power needs. \tBut the spring break reception in San Diego should not have been surprising. Commissioners have to know that closed door meetings always raise public suspicion, just on principle. Couple a closed-door meeting with the delays in making a decision about the proposed power contracts (making it look like there was funny business going on out of public view), and there\u2019s more fuel for the fire of public mistrust. Adding to distrust is a CPUC decision-making process that requires lawyering up for participation. What happened in San Diego is unfortunate because it could have been largely avoided and should be when the commission holds future stakeholder meetings. The commission could have built public trust through outreach by substituting transparency for secrecy and remoteness. Instead of holding a meeting behind closed doors with handpicked individuals from a list of folks who responded to several invitations the commission sent to various organizations, the commission staff should have identified various stakeholder groups in the community and invited them to send their representatives to the meeting. For the next round of Spring, Summer, or Winter \u201cbreak\u201dout sessions, here\u2019s a plan: * Stakeholders should be selected to represent the full range of opinion in the community. For instance, when it comes to concerns about wildfires from transmission lines, backcountry residents living along transmission lines, firefighters, school principals, health officials, SDG&E, etc. know their kindling. * Those pesky green people\u2014the ones without the pocket change to access commission meetings in San Francisco\u2014should be invited, along with leaders from business groups, the ranks of elected officials, professors, and even the Green Party, like Masada Disenhouse who filed the lawsuit seeking to stop the meeting. * The commission should issue a public notice of its stakeholder meetings with invitees, to open them up to the public and the media. * At those meetings, in the middle of a room with chairs set up in circular fashion around it, should be a table where all the invitees for each topic\u2014safety, energy efficiency, or renewable energy\u2014sit with commissioners. All should clearly and audibly speak into a microphone. All should have readable name plates so the public knows who\u2019s talking. * A \u201cgeek squad\u201d should tumble out of their Volkswagens with horned rim glasses and laptops to vet the audio-visual equipment and computers before the meetings and stand by to solve any technical problems that arise. That\u2019s a wise use of rate\/taxpayer funds for simple public sunshine access. * A moderator would run the meeting, with a media outreach person available, and within a few weeks a follow up report would be issued to the community on what the agency learned at a stakeholder meeting. Next time, dear commissioners, don\u2019t just show up on the beach and expect your authority to suffice for good public relations. Create trust through openness, rather than creating the enmity that results from secrecy. The good news is there\u2019s still time to get out in the sun on the public beach for future stakeholder meetings. Perhaps the CPUC should even return to San Diego before summer concerns hit the fan over the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station outage.