|Public Records Request
January 13, 2001
Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council
925 Alhambra Avenue
Martinez, CA 94553
I received a copy of your letter dated January 8, 2001, to Mayor Corbin regarding your complaint and that of John H. Farrow involving difficulties in obtaining public records from the City of Richmond. In my opinion, the City of Richmond has a long and unfortunate history of failing to conform to local and state legislation involving public records.
Former Council Member Donna Powers and I have, in the past, both sued the City of Richmond for failure to respond to our own public records requests. Powers' suit went to the California Supreme Court, and mine went to the State Court of Appeals. We both lost on technicalities, but we learned a lot in the process.
Last year, the Bay Guardian had better luck and prevailed in a lawsuit that resulted in a $232,000 settlement that the City of Richmond and its taxpayers unfortunately had to pay out (West County Times, August 9, 2000). It was the largest settlement in California history paid by a public agency for unlawfully withholding public records. My advice to you, in seeking public records, is as follows:
2. State in your written request that it is being made pursuant to the California Public Records Act and Chapter 2.40 of the Richmond Municipal Code. The Richmond Municipal Code is more stringent than the California Public Records Act and has much more restrictive response times. To find Chapter 2.40 of the Richmond Municipal Code on the web, go to http://bpc.iserver.net/codes/richmond/index.htm. To get information about California Public Records Act on the web, go to http://cfac.org/.
3. If you do not get what you have requested in a timely manner, be prepared to go to court for an order. If the City fails to respond in a timely manner with what you have requested, you can be awarded attorney fees and costs.
Better luck next time! Following this letter is a sample form that I recommend for requesting public records from the City of Richmond.
Thomas K. Butt
Diane Holmes, City Clerk (or department head in possession of records)
2600 Barrett Avenue
RE: Public Records Request
Dear Ms. Holmes:
Pursuant to my rights under the California Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6250 et seq.), and the Richmond Public Information Ordinance (RMC Chapter 2.41) ,I ask to [inspect/obtain a copy of] the following, which I understand to be held by your agency:
[Describe the record as precisely as possible, including the designation of any forms or reports with titles, the date or dates if relevant, the author and addressee if the item is a letter or memo, etc. If the record is referred to in another document or published report and it will help to attach a copy of that reference, do so.]
I ask for production of the requested information within the deadlines set by RMC 2.40. If additional time is required to locate and provide the information, I expect to be so notified. If you have any reason to believe that the California Public Records Act supercedes RMC 2.40, I request a written determination and explanation of your decision. In any event, I expect a determination on this request within 10 days of your receipt of it, and an even prompter reply if you can make that determination without having to review the record[s] in question.
[Use the following if applicable:]
I would not ordinarily trouble you with this written request, but when I first made it informally I was told by ___________ that your agency considers the information to be exempt from disclosure because _______________________. I respectfully suggest that this position, if I understand it correctly, is inconsistent with the Act as it has been interpreted in the following [authority/authorities] [cite case or Attorney General's opinion].
If you determine that any or all or the information qualifies for an exemption from disclosure, I ask you to note whether, as is normally the case under the Code and/or Act, the exemption is discretionary, and if so whether it is necessary in this case to exercise your discretion to withhold the information.
If you determine that some but not all of the information is exempt from disclosure and that you intend to withhold it, I ask that you redact it for the time being and make the rest available as requested.
In any event, please provide a signed notification citing the legal authorities on which you rely if you determine that any or all of the information is exempt and will not be disclosed.
If I can provide any clarification that will help expedite your attention to my request, please contact me at [provide phone or fax number, pager number, etc.].
[Use the following as applicable:]
I am sending a copy of this letter to your legal advisor to help encourage a speedy determination, and I would likewise be happy to discuss my request with [him/her] at any time.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.