The City of Los Angeles famously and frequently violates the California Public Records Act. One of the most difficult-to-counter ways in which they do this is to deny that they have responsive records at all. It’s pernicious because the only recourse for violations is to file a petition in Los Angeles County Superior Court but the statute only authorizes petitions when:
it is made to appear by verified petition … that certain public records are being improperly withheld from a member of the public.1
That is, if the City says there are no records and there’s no evidence to the contrary it’s likely a judge will believe the City’s claim and deny the petition.2 Which means it’s often useful to have evidence that responsive records exist even before requesting them. It’s also really important to duplicate requests to as many City departments as may have copies, since they all have different search methods.3
Fairly regularly one City department will say that there are no responsive records while another one will produce proof that the first was lying. For a recent and spectacular example of this phenomenon take a look at this stunningly good Twitter thread from @LANCWatch.
The California Public Records Act gives every person access to official writings because, as the law itself tells us,1“the Legislature … finds and declares that access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.” And this isn’t just some random preamble to some random law. It is among the fundamental human rights enumerated in the California Constitution itself,2 which states that:
“The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”
Among the other fundamental rights enumerated in this same article are freedom of the press, of speech, of religion, the right to civilian control of the military, the prohibition of slavery, equal protection, habeas corpus, and so on.3 This right of access to public records, measured both intrinsically and by comparison with the company it keeps, is hugely important. Fundamental.
Not quite as well-covered is the fact that in September 2019, as part of the lead-up to that lawsuit, AHF sent a request to HCIDLA for public records related to the bidding process in which their project was rejected. HCIDLA rejected it with a message stating that the Mayor’s Office had the records and that AHF should send it there.1 They did so, and a few days later Garcetti’s office sent them a denial stating “[it] is our policy not to disclose materials related to competing bids while the contracting process is still ongoing.”
NOTE: This post is turning out to be way longer than I thought, so I figured I’d better link to the actual public records it’s based on up here at the top. New for your perusal and edification are three contracts between the Westwood Village BID and various persons, including Exec Direc Andrew Lloyd Thomas and the BID security provider. Read ’em and weep, friends.
Naturally, the lobbyists hate this idea. Their big argument against it, which has, to their everlasting shame, been echoed by a number of Ethics Commissioners, is that this level of disclosure would require so much work that the entire lobbying industry in Los Angeles would be driven into bankruptcy. This, of course, is ridiculous, not least because, just for instance, our silicon-addled redheaded step-cousins up North in the City and County of San Francisco require precisely this information on their disclosure forms without, obviously, having driven the industry into the ground. It’s fascinating to look at these disclosures, by the way. Check out San Francisco’s lobbyist directory for links to all of it.1
Long-time readers of this blog will recall that, due to the stunning reluctance of the LAPD to comply with the simple mandates of the California Public Records Act, I’m running an experiment in which I requested 100 emails to and from BIDs from each of three California police departments. The SFPD was the clear winner here, supplying me with the goods in a mere 23 days. Late last week the city of Berkeley weighed in with two sets of emails (one and two). Most of the content isn’t especially interesting if you don’t know the dramatis personae; it’s the same old song about the homeless, about behaviors, about activities, about protecting investments, and so on and on and on. I did spot one interesting episode, which I discuss after the break. Also, I will note that the Long Beach PD still has not fulfilled my request (although they are discussing it with me), and of course the LAPD ignores everyone and they’re still being sued because of that. Is it a coincidence that the two cities that follow the law have municipal sunshine ordinances while the two that do not lack such laws? I doubt it very much. Continue reading Berkeley Police Department Fulfills Experimental CPRA Request in 59 Days→