All over the State of California local agencies are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to deny the public access to records required by the California Public Records Act. I don’t, therefore, have nearly as much material to write about so in response I’m writing about the lack of records instead, and the various ways agencies deny access. Here are some earlier posts on this topic.
It’s well-known among requesters of public records that agencies don’t just violate the law, they don’t just ignore it or misunderstand it or willfully misinterpret it. They also whine about it constantly, they aggressively mischaracterize requesters to create the impression that the requests are the problem rather than the agency’s noncompliance, and so on.
Such behavior is bad enough when governments do it, but at least in the state of California numerous private corporations, if created by the government to carry out government functions, are also subject to the Public Records Act. These entities, mostly business improvement districts and charter schools, are not only subject to the CPRA by law but also due to contracts they sign with their authorizing governments.
Public records, you may have noticed, are essential to the work I do here on MK.Org. Without them it’s hard for me to find subjects without turning to unsubstantiated mouth-off-shooting.1 And local agencies including pretty much every department of the City of Los Angeles have always been very bad about producing records. They stall, they temporize, they lie, they go silent, and use a tediously unvaried set of ridiculous excuses to explain their noncompliance with the law.
And to that list of standardized and implausible excuses they’ve added the COVID-19 pandemic.2 About which they’re almost certainly mostly lying, but I still don’t feel right hassling actual individual City employees about my requests because who knows what unimaginable personal tragedies they might be dealing with? It occurred to me pretty recently that if the City’s going to fail to produce records for me to write about I could write about their failures to produce.
Last year the legislature passed and Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill amending the California Public Records Act to allow requesters to copy records at inspection time using their own equipment. The precise language added to the law at §6253(d) is:
(d)(1) A requester who inspects a disclosable record on the premises of the agency has the right to use the requester’s equipment on those premises, without being charged any fees or costs, to photograph or otherwise copy or reproduce the record in a manner that does not require the equipment to make physical contact with the record, unless the means of copy or reproduction would result in either of the following:
(A) Damage to the record.
(B) Unauthorized access to the agency’s computer systems or secured networks by using software, equipment, or any other technology capable of accessing, altering, or compromising the agency’s electronic records.
(2) The agency may impose any reasonable limits on the use of the requester’s equipment that are necessary to protect the safety of the records or to prevent the copying of records from being an unreasonable burden to the orderly function of the agency and its employees. In addition, the agency may impose any limit that is necessary to maintain the integrity of, or ensure the long-term preservation of, historic or high-value records.
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.
And to this very day George Yu has done nothing at all to even acknowledge that there’s this case pending against his damn BID. Of course a legal system isn’t a viable proposition if people can just ignore it. Obviously at some point they can be made to participate. And according to the lawyers,1 step one towards this end is to serve a bunch of discovery on them! And that is just what they did this very day! Today’s kind of discovery comes in three flavors, and here they are:
Requests for Admission — This kind of written discovery, as explained by the Wiki, is “a set of statements sent from one litigant to an adversary, for the purpose of having the adversary admit or deny the statements or allegations therein.” I find these super-entertaining, so there’s a transcription after the break.
Special interrogatories — This is a list of questions that the BID has to answer, like e.g. “Please state ALL actions YOU took prior to August 15, 2018 to locate ALL of the RECORDS that Petitioners requested.”
I know some of my readers have been wondering why I haven’t written much lately about batty little fusspot Blair Besten, the nattering sociopathic zeck dreck of the Historic Core, third weirdest of the minor downtown BIDs. Well, the reason for that is simple yet appalling. After a reasonably good run in early 2017,1 in May 2017 she just up and stopped producing records in response to my requests. And being the weirdo little liar that she is, she didn’t just stop producing, she randomly cancelled existing appointments, said she’d mail records and never did, claimed bizarro and indefensible lists of exemptions and so on. But then things really took a turn for the weird.
In October 2017 La Besten and/or her shadowy puppetmasters on the BID Board hired self-proclaimed Hollywood Superlawyer Jeffrey Charles Briggs who, at that time, was seen by the BIDs as a reasonably competent obstructer of CPRA requests.2 And after that, once everything was placed in the unclean hands of El Briggs, I received essentially no records.3 And being the weirdo little liar that he is, he didn’t just continue not to produce. Instead he announced an endless series of broken promises, imaginary technical difficulties, unnecessary test transmissions, ignored deadlines, and gratuitous lies.
When I set out to write this blog, I never imagined that the actual mechanics of the California Public Records Act would become such a big topic. However, it has indeed turned out that way, and for a number of reasons. Mostly it’s because I got really interested in the way the law works as well as in the benefits it provides. It turns out, also, that a lot of people read this blog because they’re interested in CPRA as a thing-in-itself. And finally, it turns out that my victims the objects of my attention, both BIDs and City, have become a whole lot more stubborn about handing over the goods, which leaves me to fill what might otherwise be holes in my publishing schedule due to sporadic document-production gaps by discussing their stubbornness.1
Anyway, somehow or another I learned of a workshop that BID-buddy Blair Besten‘s BID, the Historic Core BID, once co-sponsored with a bunch of LAPD and County DMH flunkies about craziness amongst the homeless downtown.2 So I asked Blair Besten to send me the goodies, and some time later, she sent me this set of 16 pages of emails. It turns out to mostly not be that interesting, although Blair Besten’s idea of what ought to be redacted is pretty cracked. For instance, you can see in the image that she redacted some guy’s whole name and then didn’t redact his first name in the very next paragraph. Is her hiding the fact that some guy named Andrew emailed her so much in the public interest that it’s obviously exempt? If so, why didn’t she cross out the very next instance of it?