Public Records Act Challenges


The California Public Records Act is a crucial piece of legislation for journalists and activists. The 1968 law, modeled on the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) promoted maximum public disclosure based on the “The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business” statement contained in the California State Constitution.

Exemptions to CPRA are narrow and are found in sections 6254 and 6255 of the Government Code and require an affirmative finding that “the public interest served by not making the record public clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record”.

In real life, it doesn’t always work out as planned. Here are three current California developments regarding CPRA.

  1. In the Silicon Valley town of Milpitas, the First Amendment Coalition has taken the City of Milpitas to court for refusal to release records relating to misoconduct by city officials.

FAC vs Milpitas.pdf

2. In Los Angeles, the California Supreme Court heard a writ of mandate filed by ACLU of Southern California against the Los Angeles Police Department after LAPD refused to provide a week of automated license plate reader scans in response to a public records act request. LAPD stated the records were excempt from disclosure under Section 6255 because they were all evidence in pending investigations.

In time, the June 6 oral argument video will be archived here. 

3. In the California Legislature, Rob Bonta introduced AB-1479, a law (partially written by Mike Katz-Lacabe of Oakland Privacy), which strengthens CPRA by imposing financial penalties for unreasonable delays in responding to public records acts requests.

On June 1, 2017, AB-1479 passed the California Assembly with a resounding 66-1 vote. It now must pass through the California Senate and be signed by Governor Jerry Brown.