Government Code section 6254.21 Being Used to Deny San Bernardino County Property Tax Information Over the Internet

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

If you ever have searched the San Bernardino County Tax Collector’s database for property tax information, which also has relatively current property ownership and other information (including finding Assessor Parcel Numbers (APNs)  from street addresses, and Assessor Parcel Maps, you might be confronted with this warning:

Please Note – We no longer display addresses on this page per CA. Govt. Code Sect. 6254.21 If you need assistance determining the correct parcel number please call the County of San Bernardino Assessor’s Office at (909) 387-8307.”
Back when I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, the site used to give street addresses, and it was a great resource.  Then, the notice displayed above was posted.   If you need an address for an APN, you can call the Assessor’s Office, and eventually, someone who will give you their first name, but not their last, will tell you an address.  Similarly, if you need to know the mailing address (where tax bills are sent), they will give that to you over the phone, too.
The Government Code section posted above is in the California Public Records Act.  Does the section say that counties cannot display addresses on tax bills on the internet?
Government Code section 6254.21 reads, in its entirety:

(a) No state or local agency shall post the home address or telephone number of any elected or appointed official on the Internet without first obtaining the written permission of that individual.

(b) No person shall knowingly post the home address or telephone number of any elected or appointed official, or of the official’s residing spouse or child, on the Internet knowing that person is an elected or appointed official and intending to cause imminent great bodily harm that is likely to occur or threatening to cause imminent great bodily harm to that individual. A violation of this subdivision is a misdemeanor. A violation of this subdivision that leads to the bodily injury of the official, or his or her residing spouse or child, is a misdemeanor or a felony.

(c) (1) (A) No person, business, or association shall publicly post or publicly display on the Internet the home address or telephone number of any elected or appointed official if that official has made a written demand of that person, business, or association to not disclose his or her home address or telephone number.

(B) A written demand made under this paragraph by a state constitutional officer, a mayor, or a Member of the Legislature, a city council, or a board of supervisors shall include a statement describing a threat or fear for the safety of that official or of any person residing at the official’s home address.

(C) A written demand made under this paragraph by an elected official shall be effective for four years, regardless of whether or not the official’s term has expired prior to the end of the four-year period.

(D) (i) A person, business, or association that receives the written demand of an elected or appointed official pursuant to this paragraph shall remove the official’s home address or telephone number from public display on the Internet, including information provided to cellular telephone applications, within 48 hours of delivery of the written demand, and shall continue to ensure that this information is not reposted on the same Internet Web site, subsidiary site, or any other Internet Web site maintained by the recipient of the written demand.

(ii) After receiving the elected or appointed official’s written demand, the person, business, or association shall not transfer the appointed or elected official’s home address or telephone number to any other person, business, or association through any other medium.

(iii) Clause (ii) shall not be deemed to prohibit a telephone corporation, as defined in Section 234 of the Public Utilities Code, or its affiliate, from transferring the elected or appointed official’ s home address or telephone number to any person, business, or association, if the transfer is authorized by federal or state law, regulation, order, or tariff, or necessary in the event of an emergency, or to collect a debt owed by the elected or appointed official to the telephone corporation or its affiliate.

(E) For purposes of this paragraph, “publicly post” or “publicly display” means to intentionally communicate or otherwise make available to the general public. (2) An official whose home address or telephone number is made public as a result of a violation of paragraph (1) may bring an action seeking injunctive or declarative relief in any court of competent jurisdiction. If a court finds that a violation has occurred, it may grant injunctive or declarative relief and shall award the official court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. A fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) may be imposed for a violation of the court’s order for an injunction or declarative relief obtained pursuant to this paragraph. (3) An elected or appointed official may designate in writing the official’s employer, a related governmental entity, or any voluntary professional association of similar officials to act, on behalf of that official, as that official’s agent with regard to making a written demand pursuant to this section. A written demand made by an agent pursuant to this paragraph shall include a statement describing a threat or fear for the safety of that official or of any person residing at the official’s home address.

(d) (1) No person, business, or association shall solicit, sell, or trade on the Internet the home address or telephone number of an elected or appointed official with the intent to cause imminent great bodily harm to the official or to any person residing at the official’s home address. (2) Notwithstanding any other law, an official whose home address or telephone number is solicited, sold, or traded in violation of paragraph (1) may bring an action in any court of competent jurisdiction. If a jury or court finds that a violation has occurred, it shall award damages to that official in an amount up to a maximum of three times the actual damages but in no case less than four thousand dollars ($4,000).

(e) An interactive computer service or access software provider, as defined in Section 230(f) of Title 47 of the United States Code, shall not be liable under this section unless the service or provider intends to abet or cause imminent great bodily harm that is likely to occur or threatens to cause imminent great bodily harm to an elected or appointed official.

(f) For purposes of this section, “elected or appointed official” includes, but is not limited to, all of the following: (1) State constitutional officers. (2) Members of the Legislature. (3) Judges and court commissioners. (4) District attorneys. (5) Public defenders. (6) Members of a city council. (7) Members of a board of supervisors. (8) Appointees of the Governor. (9) Appointees of the Legislature. (10) Mayors. (11) City attorneys. (12) Police chiefs and sheriffs. (13) A public safety official, as defined in Section 6254.24. (14) State administrative law judges. (15) Federal judges and federal defenders. (16) Members of the United States Congress and appointees of the President.

(g) Nothing in this section is intended to preclude punishment instead under Sections 69, 76, or 422 of the Penal Code, or any other provision of law.

 

Thus, we apprehend the 1998 enactment [section 6254.21]  as having been intended to prevent public agencies from posting on their public websites any list or directory of public officials’ home addresses and telephone numbers, without first obtaining each official’s written permission to be included in the listing. This apparent intent informs our conclusion.
So opined the California Attorney General in Opinion No. 06-802, May 20, 2008, 91 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 19.  However, the Attorney General, perhaps because of the more limited question the Office was asked to answer, opined:
We therefore conclude that, in the circumstances presented here-that is, where a county maintains a comprehensive database of property-related information that may incidentally contain the home addresses and telephone numbers of persons who are elected or appointed public officials, but who are not identifiable as such from the data-Government Code section 6254.21(a) does not require the county to obtain permission from those officials before transmitting the database over a limited-access network, such as an “intranet,” “extranet,” or “virtual private network.

A city attorney who shall not be named, who liked to say that an opinion of the California Attorney General is just “one attorney’s opinion.”   However, I think this is the correct interpretation of the statute.

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: 1255 W. Colton Ave. Suite 104, Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 708-6055
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About Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law
Michael Reiter is a Redlands, California-based lawyer, serving San Bernardino County and Riverside County in Southern California's Inland Empire. Michael Reiter is a lawyer practicing in the following fields of law: Municipal Law, Code Enforcement Law, Small Business Law and Real Estate Law. Michael Reiter practices in all the local courts, including San Bernardino Superior Court, Riverside Superior Court, and the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Michael Reiter was admitted to the California State Bar in 1998. Michael Reiter was Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands, a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, and Staff Attorney for Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino. Michael Reiter serves all of San Bernardino and Riverside County, Orange County, and Los Angeles County. Michael Reiter can be reached at (909) 296-6708, or by electronic mail at michael@michaelreiterlaw.com. 300 E. State St. #517 Redlands CA 92373-5235

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