Do I Need A Building Permit?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

The answer usually is yes, you do need a building permit.  California, and in turn, local public entities, have adopted the California Building Code, which is a version of the International Building Code, formerly, and sometimes still called, the Uniform Building Code.  By now, most cities and towns in California should be using the 2010 Code, though the 2012 Code is being developed.  However, be cautioned that some municipalities are relying on older versions of the California Building Code, and the procedures were incorporated in the Uniform Administrative Code.  Check with your jurisdiction!
The California Building Code is difficult to find online, but it is codified in Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations.  The situation is much better than it used to be, when the copyright to the underlying model code prevented it from being offered inexpensively or free online.

Title 24, Part 2, Section 105 et seq. has the general requirement regarding permits.  It reads:

SECTION 105 PERMITS

105.1 Required. Any owner or authorized agent who intends to construct, enlarge, alter, repair, move, demolish, or change the occupancy of a building or structure, or to erect, install, enlarge, alter, repair, remove, convert or replace any electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing system, the installation of which is regulated by this code, or to cause any such work to be done, shall first make application to the building official and obtain the required permit.

There are certain exemptions to this requirement:

105.2 Work exempt from permit. Exemptions from permit requirements of this code shall not be deemed to grant authorization for any work to be done in any manner in violation of the provisions of this code or any other laws or ordinances of this jurisdiction. Permits shall not be required for the following:

Building:

1. One-story detached accessory structures used as tool and storage sheds, playhouses and similar uses, provided the floor area does not exceed 120 square feet (11 m2).

2. Fences not over 6 feet (1829 mm) high.

3. Oil derricks.

4. Retaining walls that are not over 4 feet (1219 mm) in height measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall, unless supporting a surcharge or impounding Class I, II or IIIA liquids.

5. Water tanks supported directly on grade if the capacity does not exceed 5,000 gallons (18 925 L) and the ratio of height to diameter or width does not exceed 2:1.

6. Sidewalks and driveways not more than 30 inches (762 mm) above adjacent grade, and not over any basement or story below and are not part of an accessible route.

7. Painting, papering, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, counter tops and similar finish work.

8. Temporary motion picture, television and theater stage sets and scenery.

9. Prefabricated swimming pools accessory to a Group R-3 occupancy that are less than 24 inches (610 mm) deep, do not exceed 5,000 gallons (18 925 L) and are installed entirely above ground.

10. Shade cloth structures constructed for nursery or agricultural purposes, not including service systems.

11. Swings and other playground equipment accessory to detached one- and two-family dwellings.

12. Window awnings supported by an exterior wall that do not project more than 54 inches (1372 mm) from the exterior wall and do not require additional support of Groups R-3 and U occupancies.

13. Nonfixed and movable fixtures, cases, racks, counters and partitions not over 5 feet 9 inches (1753 mm) in height.

Electrical:

Repairs and maintenance: Minor repair work, including the replacement of lamps or the connection of approved portable electrical equipment to approved permanently installed receptacles.

Radio and television transmitting stations: The provisions of this code shall not apply to electrical equipment used for radio and television transmissions, but do apply to equipment and wiring for a power supply and the installations of towers and antennas.

Temporary testing systems: A permit shall not be required for the installation of any temporary system required for the testing or servicing of electrical equipment or apparatus.

Gas:

1. Portable heating appliance.

2. Replacement of any minor part that does not alter approval of equipment or make such equipment unsafe.

Mechanical:

1. Portable heating appliance.

2. Portable ventilation equipment.

3. Portable cooling unit.

4. Steam, hot or chilled water piping within any heating or cooling equipment regulated by this code.

5. Replacement of any part that does not alter its approval or make it unsafe.

6. Portable evaporative cooler.

7. Self-contained refrigeration system containing 10 pounds (5 kg) or less of refrigerant and actuated by motors of 1 horsepower (746 W) or less.

Plumbing:

1. The stopping of leaks in drains, water, soil, waste or vent pipe, provided, however, that if any concealed trap, drain pipe, water, soil, waste or vent pipe becomes defective and it becomes necessary to remove and replace the same with the new material, such work shall be considered as new work and a permit shall be obtained and inspection made as provided in this code.

2. The clearing of stoppages or the repairing of leaks in pipes, valves or fixtures and the removal and reinstallation of water closets, provided such repairs do not involve or require the replacement or rearrangement of valves, pipes or fixtures.

However, the inquiry does not end here.  California Health and Safety Code section 17958.7  permits local changes to the California Building Code:

(a) Except as provided in Section 17922.6, the governing body of a city or county, before making any modifications or changes pursuant to Section 17958.5, shall make an express finding that such modifications or changes are reasonably necessary because of local climatic, geological or topographical conditions. Such a finding shall be available as a public record. A copy of those findings, together with the modification or change expressly marked and identified to which each finding refers, shall be filed with the California Building Standards Commission. No modification or change shall become effective or operative for any purpose until the finding and the modification or change have been filed with the California Building Standards Commission.

So, the answer to “Do I Need a Building Permit” requires you to look at the changes to the California Building Code in your local municipal code.  For example, one local City used to have a requirement that you needed a permit to pour a concrete patio slab, where it was otherwise exempt from the Uniform Building Code.  The City of Moreno Valley has modified the Code adding an exemption:

Moreno Valley Municipal Code section 8.20.010 reads in pertinent part:

    The California Building Code, 2010 Edition, based on the 2009 International Building Code as published by the International Code Council, excluding Chapter 29 and Chapter 34 and including Appendix H and the standards referred to therein, is adopted and made part of this title by reference with the following modifications:

. . .

E.   Chapter 1, Division II, Section 105.2, Building 2 is hereby amended to read as follows:

Fences not over six (6) feet high, masonry concrete block walls under four (4) feet, or combination masonry concrete block walls with wrought iron under four (4) feet high.

Note that the City Council or other approving body must make findings that the ” changes are reasonably necessary because of local climatic, geological or topographical conditions.”   However, the findings just have to be made and filed, they don’t actually need any basis in reality, apparently.  The City of San Jose, for example, removed the administrative appeal process in the California Building Code for revocation of permits.

So, the short answer is that many things that people do not obtain permits for, such as installing a new dishwasher, require permits, though there are some things such as tile work or painting that don’t require permits, unless they are prohibited by local agencies.

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

Cost Per Attorney for In-House City Attorney’s Offices in Southern California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Here is another chart comparing the various in-house City Attorney’s Offices in Southern California.  This time, the comparison is the cost per attorney.  This is the number arrived at by dividing the 2011-2012 budget (or the latest available budget) by the number of in-house attorneys.  This is not the true cost per attorney, because the budget includes such things as supplies, investigators, secretaries, and paralegals.  El Centro and Hawthorne have incredible numbers, that if true, show a very tight ship indeed.  Newport Beach’s ratio is high because it includes the outside counsel budget.  The City of Riverside spends more than $56,000 less per attorney, a number that could be attributable to the City Attorney investigators used in San Bernardino.  Oxnard and Oceanside, which are the two cities I think are most analogous to the City of San Bernardino as far as legal problems, demographics and size, are underspending San Bernardino by about $35,000 and $47,000 per attorney.  A closer examination of the differences between the offices is in order before drawing more conclusions.

City Name # Attorneys 2011-’12 Budget $/Attorney
San Bernardino County
San Bernardino 10 $3,026,000* $302,600
Redlands 1 $429,237* $429,237
Riverside County
Moreno Valley 3 $910,535* $303,512
Riverside 14 $3,451,041 $246,502
Los Angeles County
Burbank 11 $3,614,447 $328,586
Compton 4 Not Online Unknown
Culver City 4 $1,779,809 $444,952
Glendale 13 $3,720,156* $286,165
Hawthorne 3.6** $551,447 $153,179
Inglewood 10** $2,342,133** $234,213
Long Beach 22 $8,585,107 $390,232
Long Beach City Prosecutor 17 $4,824,978* $283,822
Los Angeles 444 $94,950,894* $213,853
Palmdale 2 $3,988,760 $1,994,380
Pasadena 20 $6,467,000* $323,350
Redondo Beach 6 $2,496,915* $416,152
Santa Monica 24.5 $8,672331* $353,972
Torrance 6 $2,160,322* $360,054
Orange
Anaheim 23 $5,592,143 $243,137
Huntington Beach 7 $2,311,624* $330,232
Newport Beach 5.7 $2,298,563.87*** $403,256
Orange 4 $1,411,049* $352,762
Santa Ana 8.5 $2,081,395* $244,870
Ventura County
Oxnard 5 $1,336,917* $267,383
Simi Valley  4 $983,400* $245,850
Thousand Oaks 4 $1,564,032* $391,008
Ventura 4 $1,711,112 $427,778
San Diego County
Carlsbad 4 $1,336,460* $334,115
Chula Vista 8 $2,271,182 $283,898
Escondido 7 $1,873,925 $267,703
National City 2.5 $703,760 $281,504
Oceanside 6 $1,535,860 $255,977
San Diego 147 $42,442,992* $288,728
Vista 3 $1,011,603 $337,201
Imperial
El Centro 3** $588,772** $196,257
* 2011-2012 Proposed
** 2010-2011 Adopted
*** Includes Outside Counsel budget

The City of Palmdale’s City Attorney’s Office bares more scrutiny.  Looking back at it, it has a category of “operating expenses” without a detailed break-out of what that entails.  However, even if it includes outside counsel (like Newport Beach), the number seems high.  Perhaps litigation reserves are included in the City Attorney’s budget?  The City’s budget gives the personnel expenditures of $822,060.  That includes two lawyers, and 4.16 positions in total.  The price per attorney for just salaries, wages, and similar would be $411,030 per attorney, still higher than the average.

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. #517
Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

Ratio of Attorneys to Population in In-House City Attorney’s Offices in Southern California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Continuing my series on In-House City Attorney’s Offices in Southern California, here is a new set of data comparing the Attorneys to population in City Attorney’s Offices.

City Name Pop. (2011 est.) # Attorneys Atty/Population Ratio
San Bernardino 211,076 10 21,108
Redlands 69,231 1 69,231
Riverside County
Moreno Valley 195,216 3 65,072
Riverside 306,779 14 21,913
Los Angeles County
Burbank 104,304 11 9,482
Compton 96,925 4 24,231
Culver City 38,973 4 9,743
Glendale 192,473 13 14,805
Hawthorne 84,854 3.6** 23,571
Inglewood 110,028 10** 11,003
Long Beach 463,894 22 11,894
Long Beach City Prosecutor Included Above 17 Included Above
Los Angeles 3,810,129 444 8,581
Palmdale 153,334 2 76,667
Pasadena 138,915 20 6,946
Redondo Beach 66,970 6 11,162
Santa Monica 90,174 24.5 3,681
Torrance 145,927 6 24,321
Orange
Anaheim 341,034 23 14,828
Huntington Beach 190,377 7 27,196
Newport Beach 85,376 5.7 14,978
Orange 136,995 4 34,249
Santa Ana 325,228 8.5 38,262
Ventura County
Oxnard 199,722 5 39,944
Simi Valley  125,026 4 31,257
Thousand Oaks 127,557 4 31,899
Ventura 107,124 4 26,781
San Diego County
Carlsbad 106,555 4 26,639
Chula Vista 246,496 8 30,812
Escondido 145,196 7 26,774
National City 58,785 2.5 23,514
Oceanside 168,173 6 28,029
San Diego 1,311,882 147 8,924
Vista 94,431 3 31,477
Imperial
El Centro 43,145 3** 14,382
* 2011-2012 Proposed
** 2010-2011 Adopted

Not surprisingly, the ratio is usually lowest in cities that prosecute state law misdemeanors and in large cities.  For example, Anaheim has a ratio of one attorney per 14,828  in population.  Los Angeles has one attorney per 8,851 people.  San Diego, the State of California’s second largest city, has a similar ratio, one city attorney per 8,924 people.  Palmdale, Redlands, and Moreno Valley have the highest ratios.

What does the data mean?   The average in Southern California is one attorney per 20,000 population. I think in some cases, it means that some cities are richer than other cities.  I think Santa Monica is certainly in this category, with one attorney per 3,861 in population.  In other cases, it may mean that some cities are overweight.  In researching this data, I found, for example, that El Centro was considering eliminating its in-house City Attorney’s Office.  The City of Oxnard looks like it could use another attorney, but these are fiscally trying times.

One caveat is that the cities are not equal.  The number of attorneys includes attorneys in cities that prosecute state law misdemeanors.  Also, full service cities should be expected to need more help then non-full service cities.  That explains Palmdale and Moreno Valley a little, but Moreno Valley cut a vacant position in 2010, also skewing the ratio.

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) 708-6055

An Abbreviated Version of the Chart of In-House City Attorney’s Offices in Southern California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Usually WordPress is a very reliable platform, but in this case, it did not like the chart that I created to illustrate my earlier post.  Here is a more readable post without information about each City’s City Attorney:

City Name Pop. (2011 est.) City Form Charter or General Law Full Service? Elected/Appointed # Attorneys 2011-’12 Budget Prosecute State Law Misdemeanors?
San Bernardino County
San Bernardino 211,076 Charter Y E 10 $3,026,000* No
Redlands 69,231 General Law Y A 1 $429,237* No
Riverside County
Moreno Valley 195,216 General Law N A 3 $910,535* No
Riverside 306,779 Charter Y A 14 $3,451,041 No
Los Angeles County
Burbank 104,304 Charter Y A 11 $3,614,447 Yes
Compton 96,925 Charter N E 4 Not Online No
Culver City 38,973 Charter Y A 4 $1,779,809 No
Glendale 192,473 Charter Y A 13 $3720156* No
Hawthorne 84,854 General Law N A 3.6** $551,447 Yes
Inglewood 110,028 Charter N A 10** $2,342,133** Yes
Long Beach 463,894 Charter Y E 22 $8,585,107 No
Long Beach City Prosecutor Included Above Charter Y E 17 $4,824,978* Yes
Los Angeles 3,810,129 Charter Y E 444 $94,950,894* Yes
Palmdale 153,334 Charter N A 2 $3,988,760 No
Pasadena 138,915 Charter Y A 20 $6,467,000* Yes
Redondo Beach 66,970 Charter Y E 6 $2,496,915* Yes
Santa Monica 90,174 Charter Y A 24.5 $8,672331* Yes
Torrance 145,927 Charter Y A 6 $2,160,322* Yes
Orange
Anaheim 341,034 Charter Y A 23 $5,592,143 Yes
Huntington Beach 190,377 Charter Y E 7 $2,311,624* Some
Newport Beach 85,376 Charter Y A 5.7 $2,298,563.87*** No
Orange 136,995 General Law Y A 4 $1,411,049* No
Santa Ana 325,228 Charter Y A 8.5 $2,081,395* No
Ventura County
Oxnard 199,722 General Law Y A 5 $1,336,917* No
Simi Valley  125,026 General Law N A 4 $983,400* No
Thousand Oaks 127,557 General Law N A 4 $1,564,032* No
Ventura 107,124 Charter Y A 4 $1,711,112 No
San Diego County
Carlsbad 106,555 Charter Y A 4 $1,336,460* No
Chula Vista 246,496 Charter Y E 8 $2,271,182 No
Escondido 145,196 General Law Y A 7 $1,873,925 No
National City 58,785 General Law Y A 2.5 $703,760 No
Oceanside 168,173 Charter Y A 6 $1,535,860 No
San Diego 1,311,882 Charter Y E 147 $42,442,992* Yes
Vista 94,431 Charter N A 3 $1,011,603 No
Imperial
El Centro 43,145 Charter Y A 3** $588,772** No
* 2011-2012 Proposed
** 2010-2011 Adopted
*** Includes Outside Counsel budget

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) 708-6055

In-House City Attorney’s Offices in Southern California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

I was recently speaking to an investigative journalist about in-house versus contract City Attorneys.   The journalist asked me if there were a list of in-house City Attorney’s Offices in California.   Upon review, there does not appear to be a list, though the League of California Cities does keep a list of all City/Town Attorneys in California.  So, I created  a list of in-house City Attorney’s Offices in Southern California:

City Name Pop. (2011 est.) City Form Full Service Elected/Appointed Name of City Attorney Tenure # Attorneys 2011-’12 Budget Prosecute State Law Misdemeanors?
San Bernardino County
San Bernardino 211,076 Charter Yes Elected James F. Penman 1987 10 $3,026,000* No
Redlands 69,231 General Law Yes Appointed Daniel J. McHugh 1994 1 $429,237* No
Riverside County
Moreno Valley 195,216 General Law No Appointed Robert Hansen 2010 3 $910,535* No
Riverside 306,779 Charter Yes Appointed Gregory Priamos 2001 14 $3,451,041 No
Los Angeles County
Burbank 104,304 Charter Yes Appointed Dennis Barlow 1997 11 $3,614,447 Yes
Compton 96,925 Charter No Elected Craig J. Cornwell 2008 4 Not Online No
Culver City 38,973 Charter Yes Appointed Carol Schwab 1997 4 $1,779,809 No
Glendale 192,473 Charter Yes Appointed Scott H. Howard 1990 13 $3720156* No
Hawthorne 84,854 General Law No Appointed Russell I. Miyahira 2009 3.6** $551,447 Yes
Inglewood 110,028 Charter No Appointed Cal P. Saunders 2006 10** $2,342,133** Yes
Long Beach 463,894 Charter Yes Elected Robert E. Shannon 1998 22 $8,585,107 No
Long Beach City Prosecutor Included Above Charter Yes Elected Doug Haubert 2010 17 $4,824,978* Yes
Los Angeles 3,810,129 Charter Yes Elected Carmen Trutanich 2009 444 $94,950,894* Yes
Palmdale 153,334 Charter No Appointed Wm. Matthew Ditzhazy 1994 2 $3,988,760 No
Pasadena 138,915 Charter Yes Appointed Michele Beal Bagneris 1997 20 $6,467,000* Yes
Redondo Beach 66,970 Charter Yes Elected Michael W. Webb 2005 6 $2,496,915* Yes
Santa Monica 90,174 Charter Yes Appointed Marsha Jones Moutrie 1993 24.5 $8,672331* Yes
Torrance 145,927 Charter Yes Appointed John L. Fellowes III 1993 6 $2,160,322* Yes
Orange
Anaheim 341,034 Charter Yes Appointed Cristina Talley 2009 23 $5,592,143 Yes
Huntington Beach 190,377 Charter Yes Elected Jennifer McGrath 2002 7 $2,311,624* Some
Newport Beach 85,376 Charter Yes Appointed David R. Hunt 2008 5.7 $2,298,563.87*** No
Orange 136,995 General Law Yes Appointed David A. DeBerry 4 $1,411,049* No
Santa Ana 325,228 Charter Yes Appointed Joe Straka 2011 8.5 $2,081,395* No
Ventura County
Oxnard 199,722 General Law Yes Appointed Alan Holmberg 2008 5 $1,336,917* No
Simi Valley  125,026 General Law No Appointed Tracy M. Noonan 2009 4 $983,400* No
Thousand Oaks 127,557 General Law No Appointed Amy Albano 4 $1,564,032* No
Ventura 107,124 Charter Yes Appointed Ariel P. Calonne 2007 4 $1,711,112 No
San Diego County
Carlsbad 106,555 Charter Yes Appointed Ronald R. Ball 4 $1,336,460* No
Chula Vista 246,496 Charter Yes Elected Glen R. Googins 2010 8 $2,271,182 No
Escondido 145,196 General Law Yes Appointed Jeffrey R. Epp 1996 7 $1,873,925 No
National City 58,785 General Law Yes Appointed Claudia Silva 2010 2.5 $703,760 No
Oceanside 168,173 Charter Yes Appointed John P. Mullen 2006 6 $1,535,860 No
San Diego 1,311,882 Charter Yes Elected Jan Goldsmith 2008 147 $42,442,992* Yes
Vista 94,431 Charter No Appointed Darold Pieper 2005 3 $1,011,603 No
Imperial
El Centro 43,145 Charter Yes Appointed Luis F. Hernandez 2008 3** $588,772** No
* 2011-2012 Proposed
** 2010-2011 Adopted
*** Includes Outside Counsel budget

I define Southern California in this case as Imperial, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.

It can be difficult to directly compare cities and City Attorney’s Offices directly.  The difficulty is that different cities use different accounting.  For example, Newport Beach places the outside counsel directly in its budget.  Some cities use a Risk Management/liability account to pay for outside counsel.  Other differences are whether the city prosecutes State law misdemeanors, which increases the size of the budget and the number of attorneys.  One City offset the budget with internal fund transfers.  I just added them together to get the budgeted amount.  Long Beach has both an elected City Attorney and an elected City Prosecutor, which I have listed separately.  The population figures are  the January 2011 estimates from the California Department of Finance.  There  are a variety of definitions of “full service.”  For the purposes of this list, I define “full service” as having both a Fire Department and a Police Department.

I tried to use equivalent data.  However, some cities have not adopted 2011-2012 budgets, so I used the proposed budget if available, and the 2010-2011 Adopted budget if neither the FY 12 adopted or proposed budget was available online.  Also, some full service cities are more full service than others.  For example, Redlands has both an airport and a landfill, while San Bernardino has neither, but San Bernardino is about three times as big as Redlands in population.  Some full service cities do not have any utilities, while others have solid waste, water and electricity.  The coastal cities have harbors and have to deal with the Coastal Commission.  As far as complexity, I would imagine that the City and County of San Francisco as a the only Charter City and County in California, as well as having its own transit system, would be the most complex City in the State.

The data came mostly from the City’s website.  Sometimes, the number of attorneys comes from the City Attorney’s website, sometimes from the adopted or proposed budget, sometimes from the State Bar’s website (though it is more difficult to do than in the past), and the State Controller’s compensation website.  The determination whether the City is a Charter or General Law City comes from the list maintained by the League of California Cities.  The names of City Attorneys comes from an August 2011 list from the City Attorney’s division of the League of California Cities, and checked against the internet.  The year the City Attorneys were appointed or elected came from a variety of internet sources, such as newspaper archives, Google, or the City’s website. I couldn’t find two.  I counted from the initial appointment (including interim appointments).  I derived the data about which cities have in-house City Attorney’s Offices from Google searches cross-checked against the League’s list of City Attorneys.

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) 708-6055

Where to find San Bernardino County and Riverside County Municipal Codes

Most cities, towns and counties in California codify their ordinances in municipal codes.  Codes are organized versions of ordinances passed by the legislative body of the local agency (such as City Council in incorporated cities, Boards of Supervisors in Counties).  They make it easier to find a particular law and make it easier to give a citation to a particular section.  Cities and Counties often organize their codes into Titles, Chapters and Sections. You will often find that the general scheme of municipal codes are similar.  For example, many local cities entitle Title 6 “Animals.”  Some ordinance are not codified at all, and some local agencies do not codify their ordinances.  Some agencies separately codify their zoning ordinances

Where do you find local San Bernardino County and Riverside County Municipal Codes for cities like San Bernardino, Riverside and Ontario as well as the County of San Bernardino and the County of Riverside?  The official copy is kept by each City Clerk or Clerk of the Board.  Copies of the official code can be found in local libraries, and law libraries.  Interested persons should rely on the original ordinance if possible, then the printed copy, and make sure the copy of the municipal code is current.

However, there are online versions available of local municipal codes.  When I was an Assistant City Attorney and a Deputy City Attorney, I sometimes found errors or omissions in online codes (and even in printed codes).  When in doubt, get a copy of the written code, or check the original, uncodified ordinance.

County of San Bernardino Code

County of Riverside Code

Here are the codes of the five largest cities in each county:

Riverside County

City of Riverside

City of Moreno Valley

City of Temecula

City of Corona

City of Murrieta

San Bernardino County

City of San Bernardino

City of Fontana

City of Ontario

City of Rancho Cucamonga

City of Victorville

 

Copyright 2011 Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

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

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.

 

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