I’m a little late in writing this up, but on December 9, with the able assistance of Abenicio Cisneros and Joseph Wangler I filed yet another petition under the California Public Records Act seeking to compel the City to follow the damn law and hand over a bunch of records I had asked for ever so long ago. And as they often will do, they actually started handing them over immediately, although I haven’t gotten the most interesting ones yet.
The petition covers three major requests,1 unrelated other than by the fact that they were all made to the City’s Information Technology Agency. These are the folks to file CPRA requests for emails with if you want MBOX format, which ultimately is the best way to get emails.2 ITA is also the sole source for emails in the accounts of former City employees. Here’s a link to the very interesting petition, worth reading for many reasons and also containing every last detail of the requests at issue, described more briefly below.
First is a request I first made in 20163 for emails having to do with Eric Garcetti when he was repping CD13, his staffers Heather Repenning and Helen Leung, and their conspiracy with Kerry Morrison, then-commander of the Hollywood Entertainment District BID, to illegally exclude homeless people from Selma Park in Hollywood.
I first asked for emails from 2007 through 2009 relating to Selma Park because I’d been told that ITA was the only source for emails this old. After a year ITA told me, to my horror, that the City of Los Angeles had deleted essentially all emails from 2009 and earlier.4 Finally, by June 2017 I had convinced ITA to revise my request to run through that date. In 2018 they told me that they’d finished collecting the emails and that they were being reviewed. They never turned them over.
The public interest in the history of the illegal closure of Selma Park is immense and still very current, given e.g. current CD13 repster Mitch O’Farrell’s recent failed attempt to normalize the unconstitutional statutes the previous closure relied on as well as his recent successful attempt to close the park at sunset rather than at 10 pm. That the City would delay the release of this information, that part of it which they didn’t wantonly delete, is indefensible.
The second request has to do with emails from CD14 repster Jose Huizar’s office relating to former aide and present plaintiff Mayra Alvarez. As Alvarez no longer works for the City ITA is the only source for her emails. Obviously the public interest here is incalculable. So I submitted the request and eventually ITA told me that there were 12,000 responsive emails and that this was too many for them to process.
It’s important to remember that the fact that there are a lot of responsive records is not an allowable reason under the law for refusing to produce, even though the City of Los Angeles pretends that it is. The City’s theory, while wrong and egregiously so, is not completely imaginary, though. The infamous §6255(a) of the CPRA, known ominously as the catch-all exemption, allows agencies to refuse to produce when “on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure”.
The City argues that if there are too many records then the public interest in them not wasting City resources processing them for release outweighs the public interest in obtaining the records. They uniformly ignore the requirement that this interest must be weighed against the interest in release, though. So that 12,000 responsive emails may be too many to process in one case but, depending on the interest, may be a perfectly reasonable number to process in another. Next Arora insisted that I narrow my request by adding key words, but I refused to do this.
First of all because the correspondents I’d provided are actually key words, and second because his argument against release was based on the number of responsive records. As it happens ITA has previously released a set of 11,121 emails to me and they didn’t complain at all about the work involved. So I asked Arora to release only 11,121 of the responsive emails here. He refused and insisted I narrow via key words. I asked him to just release however many he was willing to process and he stopped responding.
Finally, I also asked for a bunch of emails between Deron Williams and Andrew Westall, two high-level Herb Wesson staffers, from 2012 through 2014. Nothing at all interesting happened with this request. ITA just ignored it for over a year, ignored my status requests, eventually asked me if I was still interested. I told them that I was and they proceeded to continue to ignore it.
And, as I said, the City has already started turning over records5 even though it has not yet been two weeks since the suit was filed. In these CPRA cases, if filing a petition induces the City to hand over previously withheld material they already lose and they’re already on the hook for costs and fees. So all that’s settled and there’s not much to do immediately but wait for the emails to come through!
In the long run, though, there’s plenty to do. It certainly appears that the CPRA policy of the City of Los Angeles seems to rely on nothing more than the expectation that most people whose requests they mishandle won’t sue them. That and the fact that they expect to have enough money to cover the damages when they do get sued.
But eventually, I mean I hope so, anyway, the bad publicity involved in exposing this policy as well as in heightening the contradictions by suing them for every possible violation of it, may encourage some reform. It may also, I hope, help build a local movement towards a municipal sunshine ordinance, which would strengthen CPRA requirements locally. A number of cities around the state have these, and this case and the dozens6 of others like it show why we badly need one here as well.
Image of Jose Huizar telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the damn truth why the hell would you ever doubt that?! is ©2019 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and two things more. First this Huizar here. Second, the joke about the difference between right and wrong is stolen completely and without shame from P.G. Wodehouse, I don’t remember which book but you ought to read all of them anyway so do that and let me know when you find it, mmmkay?!
- And a fourth one, not so interesting but technically important, which I’m not going to discuss in this post.
- It’s occasionally possible to get MBOXes out of other City departments, but not for the most part. I’ve been meaning to write a post or two about this issue in particular but other priorities have so far superseded. If you want to meet up and talk about it some time I’d love to! Drop a line to email@example.com.
- Yes, 2016. That’s right. More than three years ago at this point and I still haven’t seen a single responsive record. This is not unusual for the City of Los Angeles.
- It’s still not clear what this means. According to ITA staffer Kuljeet Arora, when the City migrated its email to Google in 2010 they gave staffers some time to decide on their own whether to move their old emails into the new system. Again according to Arora most of them did not. I suspect that there might be backup tapes of the old emails around somewhere but I have not had time to pursue this. In any case, the fact that the City of Los Angeles would so easily and apparently without public comment either delete this incalculably huge swath of our City’s history or else choose to make it functionally inaccessible is beyond appalling. It ought to be criminal.
- Although not actually any of the emails described above. They turned over some forms relating to other CPRA requests to ITA. I’m not discussing them here because they’re not that interesting content-wise. They’re very, very interesting in the technical sense that there are not very many of them so that the City’s constant whining about how overburdened ITA is with CPRA matters is pretty darn implausible.
- This number is a tiny rhetorical exaggeration right now, but pretty soon it will not be. I filed six CPRA cases against the City of LA in 2019 and since 2016 there have been at least 14 others. My pace is not going to slow down, and may well pick up, if the City doesn’t find a way to just comply with the damn law. Which they show no signs at all of wanting to do, even though I constantly ask them to meet with me and work out a mutually agreeable procedure. They would, it appears, prefer to get sued over and over and over again.