What is a Public Record?
A public record is any form of content or document, irrespective of its physical form or characteristics, that is produced, owned, used, or retained by any government agency in the performance of a public function, or as a requirement by law.
The type of information these records contain varies widely, and can include written documents, emails, photographs, videos, maps, databases, meeting minutes, reports, and many other formats and types of information.
Public records serve to document the administrative functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the government. Essentially, they act as a testament to the government's actions and decisions.
Under the California Public Records Act, public records are generally accessible to the public upon request. However, some records are exempt from public access due to various reasons such as privacy considerations, law enforcement needs, or to protect certain governmental activities..
Public Records in California
In California, the access to information concerning the conduct of the public's business is a fundamental and necessary right for every person, as affirmed by the California Public Records Act (CPRA). Enacted in 1968, this law is designed to give the public access to information in possession of public agencies.
The CPRA dictates that governmental records shall be disclosed to the public, upon request, unless there is a specific reason not to do so. The CPRA covers records maintained by state and local agencies, as well as quasi-public entities, with a few exceptions.
While the CPRA greatly promotes transparency and accountability, it also recognizes that certain types of information must remain confidential for privacy or security reasons. Therefore, it establishes specific exemptions - circumstances under which public agencies may refuse to disclose certain documents.
It's also worth noting that the CPRA stipulates that the agencies must assist members of the public in making a focused and effective request that reasonably describes an identifiable record. This means our agency is obligated to help you find the information you are looking for, to the best of our ability.
The following records are typically exempt from Public Records Act requests:
- Preliminary drafts, notes, and inter-agency memos: Records that are not retained in the ordinary course of business.
- Personnel, medical, or similar files: Records pertaining to individuals if the disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
- Law enforcement investigations: Records of complaints to, investigations conducted by, or records of intelligence information or security procedures of any state or local police agency, or any investigatory or security files compiled by state or local police agency for correctional, law enforcement, or licensing purposes.
- Records related to pending litigation: Certain records pertaining to pending litigation to which the public agency is a party, until the pending litigation or claim has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled.
It's important to remember that this is not an exhaustive list of exemptions under the CPRA, and certain exceptions may apply depending on the specifics of the record request. Please refer to the CPRA or legal counsel for more information on exemptions.
Tips for Requesting Records
Asking for public records can sometimes be challenging, especially if you're unfamiliar with the process or the specifics of the law. To help you navigate this process, here are some tips that might make the process smoother and more efficient:
- Be Specific: The more specific you are about the records you want, the easier it will be for us to fulfill your request. Provide as much detail as possible about the record you're looking for, such as the document type, subject matter, date range, departments involved, or any other identifying details.
- Understand what can be requested: Familiarize yourself with what types of records are public and can be requested. Remember, not all government records are public records, and some are exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act.
- Familiarize yourself with the process: Understand the timeline for responses and potential fees associated with records requests. Be aware that larger or more complex requests may take more time to fulfill.
- Stay Organized: If you're submitting multiple requests or asking for a large number of documents, it can be helpful to keep track of your requests and the responses you receive.
- Ask for Assistance: If you're unsure about any part of the process, don't hesitate to ask for help. Our staff is here to assist you and make this process as easy as possible.
- Patience is a virtue: Remember, processing public records requests often involves a careful review to protect sensitive information. While we strive to handle all requests promptly, some may take more time due to their size or complexity.
- Electronic Records: If possible, ask for electronic copies of records. These can often be provided more quickly and without the copying fees associated with paper records.
Using these tips can help you get the most out of the public records request process. Remember, our goal is to help you access the information you need. We're here to assist you every step of the way!
For more information on the California Public Records Act:
- California Government Code Sections 7920.000 - 7931.000 (current as of 2023)
- California Public Records Act Primer
- League of California Cities - The People's Business: A Guide to the California Public Records Act
- Risher Law - How to Make a California Public Records Act Request: A 10-step Guide