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  The Law is a What?
November 26, 2003

It was Charles Dickens, in Oliver Twist, who wrote “If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, “the law is a ass, a idiot.” That phrase has been widely used for 150 years to describe bad law, and I borrow it once again to describe a puzzling inconsistency in California law relating to real estate ownership information.


Earlier this year, I noted that Oakland’s Geographic Information System (GIS) Internet interface allows users to access the name and address of a real estate property parcel’s owner. To try it, go to http://www.oaklandnet.com/maproom/GPZ/HTML/GPZMain.html?Accept=Accept.


I suggested to the Richmond GIS staff that they include the same ownership information in Richmond’s GIS Internet interface. See http://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/Non-Flash/GIS/mappingservices.html. After several inquiries, I was eventually told by the Richmond City Attorney’s Office that providing such information was contrary to state law (Government Code 6254.21), because it might include the address of a public official. See below;


6254.21.  (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
   (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) 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.
   (d) 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.
This didn’t make much sense to me, because all property ownership information is readily available to the public 
(also by state law) at the County Assessor’s office and the County Clerk/Recorder’s Office (Martinez in Contra Costa County), 
as well from title companies and numerous commercially available databases. Why should someone have to consume natural 
resources to drive to Martinez when the same information could be accessed on the Internet? 
So I asked Assemblywoman Loni Hancock to request an opinion for the Legislative Counsel, and she graciously consented. 
Several months later, the opinion arrived, confirming that, while property ownership information was definitely public information, 
it could not be accessed over the Internet if it included the name and address of any public official. Catch 22. Unless someone 
continuously sifts a City’s property ownership list for prohibited names of officials, or obtains the written consent of all such officials, 
posting property ownership data on the Internet as part of a GIS system is contrary to California law.
Unless Oakland’s GIS database has been cleansed of names of all public officials, Mayor Jerry Brown could be in trouble. The 
law is definitely an ass!