California Public Records Act, How and Where to Make a Request in San Bernardino County and Riverside County

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

The California Public Records Act is an invaluable tool for individuals, traditional and new media,  public interest groups, non-profits, business entities, and even lawyers and political groups to find out what local government is doing.  This first post has to do with a very brief overview of the Act, and how to make a Public Records Act request.  Private Attorneys especially do not use the Act efficiently, much to the delight of City Attorneys and much to the detriment of their clients.

I have handled Public Records Act Requests on behalf of local agencies, and I have made Public Records Act Requests to local agencies, so I have a good perspective about how the Act is handled on both sides of the counter.  Having an attorney knowledgeable about the California Public Records Act is important if a client is involved in a case against a City, County, or other local government agency.

The Public Records Act is found in the California Government Code.  A Requester can find the California Government Code here.  The version found here is unannotated.  If a Requester wants to see an annotated code, it can be found at most public libraries and law libraries.  The annotated version gives case law and secondary source references.  The Act is codified at Government Code, Title 1 “General”, Division 7 “Miscellaneous,” Chapter 3.5 “Inspection of Public Records”, Article 1, “General Provisions” and Article 2 “Other Exemptions From Disclosure.”   If a Requester is searching manually, the Act is found in Government Code section 6250 et seq.  [“Et seq.” is legal jargon from the Latin “et sequentia” meaning “and following.”  It is shorthand to tell a court, or others, the general location of an some amount of primary or secondary law.]

The California Legislature, in enacting the Act, found and declared  “that access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in” California.  Government Code section 6250.

While, there are generally two rights, to inspect and/or copy public records, this post will focus on how to make the request.

How and When to make a request to a local government agency in San Bernardino County and Riverside County:

The Act requires that records not subject to an exemption are to be made available “upon a request”  Government Code section 6253(b).  The Court of Appeal for the Second District of California found that the “California Public Records Act plainly does not require a written request.”  Los Angeles Times v. Alameda Corridor Transp. Authority (2001) 88 Cal.App. 4th 1381, 1392.

What does this mean, practically?  A Requester can ask the local government agency in person, or over the phone, to inspect or copy records.  However, the practical thing to do is to put it in writing so that there is a record of the request.  Local governments are collections of individuals, and if the individual employed by the government does not understand the request, or does not write the request down correctly, a Requester may not get to inspect the records in a timely fashion.  A Requester’s best practice is to put the Public Record Act request in writing and date it.  A Requester does not have to use a form provided by the local government agency, but sometimes it is easier to use their form.

Where and to whom should the Request be made?  Though the Act does not specify, local government agencies in Riverside and San Bernardino County usually have Departments that are responsible for responding to routine requests, such as for copies of ordinances or minutes.   In an incorporated city or town, the Requester can usually request the documents from the City Clerk, and it should be routed within the City to the right department if it is not the City Clerk .  In cities with in-house City Attorney’s Offices, such as the City of San Bernardino and the City of Riverside, a Requester can request the documents from the City Attorney.  Likewise, it will be routed to the correct department.

However, the best practice is to request from the specific department that has the records.  If the Requester is ling with a specific department, such as Planning or Code Enforcement, the Requester can make the request directly to the department who is likely to handle the request.  If the Requester is asking for records from different departments, the Requester might want to make the request to the City Manager or City Administrator.  A Requester should feel free to ask someone in the particular city, town or county.  Most local government entities understand their responsibilities under the Act, and want to help the public.  Some do not.

A later discussion with examine how to make a reasonably described record request.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

 

A: 300 E. State St., Suite 517
Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Welcome to my blog.  I hope to use this blog to comment on the law, including personal injury law, municipal law, real property law, and small business law.

http://michaelreiterlaw.com

 

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

 

A: 300 E. State St., Suite 517
Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

San Bernardino Sun: 215 / 210 Interchange Dangerous

The Sun has an article posted on March 20, 2011 (and found at http://www.sbsun.com/news/ci_17659411?source=rss) stating that the transition from the southbound 215 to the eastbound 210 in the City of San Bernardino is dangerous, with the Sun stating that accidents have “skyrocketed.”   The 215 is currently being widened and construction can often limit lanes with k-rails.  The construction can change lanes from one day to the next.

A public entity, such as the State of California, Department of Transportation, also known as CalTrans)  may only be held liable for a dangerous condition of its property, not for simple negligence or premises liability.

A dangerous condition is “a condition of property that creates a substantial (as distinguished from a minor, trivial, or insignificant) risk of injury when such property . . . is used with due care in a manner in which it is foreseeable that it will be used.”  Government Code § 830(a).  A public entity is liable for injury caused by a dangerous condition of property it owns or controls if the plaintiff establishes that (1) the property was in a dangerous condition at the time of injury; (2) that the injury was proximately caused by the dangerous condition; (3) the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury incurred; and either (i) a public employee, within the scope of his or her employment, negligent or wrongly committed an act or omission that created the condition or (ii) the entity had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition in sufficient time prior to the injury to take protective measures against the dangerous condition.  Government Code §§ 830, 835.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

A: 300 E. State St., Suite 517
Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708