Gary Patton’s ‘Land Use Report’ gets pulled off the air
Effective Dec. 1, environmental advocate Gary Patton will say farewell to his weekday “Land Use Report” program on the radio station KUSP.
The report, which has held the 6:49 a.m. and 8:49 a.m. weekday slots for the last nine and a half years, is an 80-second opportunity during NPR’s “Morning Edition” for Patton to expound on local land use issues like water, farmland protection, transportation, and housing, as well as a time for him to inform listeners on how they can help.
But while the station asked Patton to host the report a near decade ago, in mid-September, KUSP Talk and Information Producer JD Hillard put an end to the segment.
For Hillard, the reason for its cancellation is threefold: there were complaints about some of Patton’s commentaries, there was an inappropriate “preponderance of discussion of land use policy” on KUSP’s current schedule, and there is a conflict of interest—however unintentional—between Patton’s career at Wittwer & Parkin environmental law firm, where he is “Of Counsel,” and the commentary made in the report.
“His work at the law firm often overlaps in topic with his report,” says Hillard, who cites a letter on the status of the Wildfire Protection Plan for Monterey County that Patton commented on during his segment and was also work he did for the firm. “We loved the ‘Land Use Report’ because it was a unique way to make public policy accessible and get people to participate, but circumstances have arisen in his work at Wittwer & Parkin that don’t adhere to our policy of conflict of interest.”
Though Hillard says he is sad to see the report go and has received numerous complaints from loyal listeners, he believes that Patton was in accordance with the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics up until he started working for the firm in 2009. Before then, Patton was Executive Director of LandWatch Monterey County and later became General Counsel of the Planning and Conservation League (PCL).
“I think he wasn’t aware of the policy, and his situation changed when he moved over to Wittwer & Parkin,” says Hillard. “He was in a general advocacy position at PCL and there was no question of compensation having an influence on his decisions like there is now.”
Patton is insistent, though, that his role at the law firm is no different than that of his previous positions at LandWatch and PCL in terms of compensation.
“It’s true that I get paid for some of the issues that I’m discussing on the air, but that’s always been the case,” says Patton. “There was always a disclosure and I’m never advocating my position; I’m just trying to get people engaged in important issues.”
As a means of full-disclosure, Hillard had required that Patton make transparency statements on air, saying that he is working as an attorney and that he has done work on wildfire and UC Santa Cruz growth issues for the firm.
The need for transparency statements came after Hillard received complaints about Patton’s commentary on UCSC growth, city water issues and the Wildfire Plan. Members of the Fire Safe Council attended the KUSP Board of Directors meeting in August with requests that Patton retract some of his reports, which they believed contained misstatements, and to take him off the air. After investigating, Hillard found that no misstatements were made.
Though Hillard felt that the complainants’ demand to oust Patton from the air was too drastic of a measure to take, he claims that the conflict of interest issue left him with no choice.
While Patton believes that if listeners complain, the station has every right to change its programming, his frustration comes from KUSP’s decision to not tell him about or let him respond to the accusations concerning his commentaries until after the investigation was over.
“The whole process just doesn’t sit well with me,” says Patton. “I reflect upon issues in the report that I’ve been working on and I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong; it’s a shame that they didn’t ask the listeners what they thought about it first.”
Hillard hopes to negotiate a new role for Patton at the station, perhaps as a guest interviewee on more staff-driven news programming, but currently Patton is uninterested. For him, the report’s cancellation sends a message to listeners that the land use issues he has spent his life promoting are no longer a priority and do not deserve thorough coverage.
“Will something happen tomorrow because the ‘Land Use Report’ isn’t there? Probably not,” says Patton. “But people aren’t as engaged in land issues as they used to be with global warming, Iraq and economic failure at large—it’s too bad the report won’t be there every day to remind them.”