I can’t remember where I learned that the Office of the Chief Legislative Analyst writes briefing notes for each meeting of each City Council committee, but obviously as soon as I heard I started trying to get copies via the California Public Records Act. And so on June 24, 2020 I fired off a request asking for a few years worth.
And you know how the City of LA is. I didn’t get a response at all until September 29, when CLA staffer Karen Kalfayan sent me this ill-considered bit of crapola, claiming that she would have denied my request as “overly broad” but that instead she was denying it as so-called “deliberative process,” a court-created interpretation of the CPRA at §6255(a):
With regard to your request for briefing notes for the period January 1, 2016 through June 24, 2020, please be advised that this Office has made its determination on your request as required by Government Code section 6253(c).
Please note that the request is overly broad, and normally we would request you to clarify your request in order for us to search for specific records. However, please be advised that records may be withheld under Government Code Section 6255 because they would show the officials’ deliberative process. As to these documents, Government Code Section 6255 permits nondisclosure because the public interest served by protecting the official’s decision-making process clearly outweighs the public interest served by the records’ disclosure.
But, you know, I had a thought about this. These briefing notes must be distributed to committee members, otherwise what’s the point? And the Brown Act, not the Public Records Act, contains a really important, really useful bit at §54957.5, also worth quoting:
Notwithstanding Section 6255 or any other law, agendas of public meetings and any other writings, when distributed to all, or a majority of all, of the members of a legislative body of a local agency by any person in connection with a matter subject to discussion or consideration at an open meeting of the body, are disclosable public records under the California Public Records Act and shall be made available upon request without delay.
I tried this out on Kalfayan but she ignored me and continues to ignore me. This, even though her exemption claim relied on 6255(a) and this section of the Brown Act explicitly states that 6255(a) doesn’t apply. At this point, though, I only suspected strongly that the briefing notes went to all the committee members. So I made an additional request of Kalfayan, this one for emails1 used to distribute the briefing notes, the most recent for each committee. And Kalfayan just handed them over this afternoon, so get a copy here!
These revealed a great deal of new information. First, I learned that the CLA actually prepares two distinct sets of notes; one for the members and one for the chair. And they also provided proof that at least the briefing notes for the members are in fact distributed to the whole committee. This last is the evidence needed for a petition if Kalfayan doesn’t produce them. So one way or another we’ll eventually find out what’s in these notes!
But there’s a larger issue here, and that’s the absolutely appalling dishonesty of City of LA staffers when it comes to CPRA matters. CLA Sharon Tso apparently chose Kalfayan to be her office’s CPRA responder. Kalfayan has some kind of a duty to know how to do her job, and this includes understanding applicable laws.
Also, Kalfayan quoted a lot of the same kind of meaning-free legalese slapped up by the City Attorney’s office every time Strefan Fauble forgets to insufflate his daily dose of dehydrated Geritol. People with law degrees touched her answer at one point. These lawyers not only have a duty to understand the laws their advising on, but they have a duty not to advise their clients to break the law.
And of course they do understand it, each and every one. They pretend not to, though. Or, more accurately, they pretend to understand a conveniently wrong version of the law in order to intimidate requesters and they actually do understand the correct version of the law, which is why they settle almost every CPRA case filed against them.
They’ve worked up a really effective method for discouraging almost every single requester by baffling them with bullshit. It’s illegal, it’s a huge waste of money, and it makes them legally vulnerable. It’s no way to run a city, and yet it’s the way our City is run. For now.