The California Public Records Act (CPRA) recognizes that the public owns the work of their government, and therefore requires that public agencies, councils, cities, bodies, release information to the public. At the federal level, the applicable law is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and at the state level, it is the California Public Records Act (CPRA).
How to make a Public Records Act Request
The hard part in using these laws is knowing which records to request. Although it is the law that the governmental workers must be helpful to the requester, frequently just the opposite is true. They can make it all but impossible to specify the records specifically enough, can claim that no records exist, or that they are only working documents and not final records, among many other strategies.
Here are some tips regarding use of the CPRA or FOIA:
- Make the request in writing.
- Specify that the records should be returned in electronic form. If they have them in that form, they must make those available in that form. This will save you money for copying the records.
- They must provide the documents within ten business days if at all possible.
- They are not required to generate additional records or consolidate data into a form that is useful for your purposes. The exception to this rule is that the accounting department can make reports per your specifications.
- Elections officials are expected to go beyond the release of completed public records and are specifically encouraged by the elections code to answer questions.
- If they have to make photocopies or scan the documents to produce electronic files, a maximum of $0.10 per copy has been found to be reasonable in recent court cases.
- To avoid any additional costs for certified or return-receipt mailing services, simply hand-carry two copies of your request to the administrative office of the governmental entity you are communicating with, and ask that you receive a date-stamped copy in return. For many city offices, you can work with the City Clerk as it is their job to handle such requests and distribute them to the appropriate office.
- Find out who will ultimately handle the request so you can follow up if you don't receive a timely response.
- Some entities archive previous records requests and those results on their web site. You should review this information before you make your request to see if it is already available as that can shortcut the time required.
- Make sure you are respectful of the time of these governmental workers, but be aware that they are frequently compensated by the state for this work as it is a state law they are complying with.
Typical CPRA Request
The following request is quite typical but each request is a bit different based on the exact material requested. If you know the exact document to be returned, that is the best way to deal with it. The following template can be used as a start for most requests.
Citizens' Oversight Projects (COPs)
(your email and phone)
(Entity Address, phone, email)
This request for information is supported by the California Public Records Act
(Government Code Section 6250 et seq.) which provides that the public have
access to documents.
(Describe the record as precisely as possible, including the designation of any
forms or reports with titles, the date or dates if relevant, the author and addressee
if the item is a letter or memo, etc. If the record is referred to in another document
or published report and it will help to attach a copy of that reference, do so.)
Please provide any and all correspondence, meeting reports, meeting attendance
logs, emails, phone conversation records, etc. between board members and/or
district staff with ____________, its employees, agents, and representatives.
In addition, we wish to be advised of any future correspondence which occurs
during the negotiations process, and informed of any meetings where this issue
is placed on the agenda.
We also wish to know if previous meetings of the board where this topic was
discussed were recorded, and if so, we would like to have access to those recordings.
In an effort to minimize cost to you, we would suggest that this information be
provided in electronic form and returned using email, to which we will actively
confirm receipt. Please email to ______________________.
Otherwise, if the volume of records to be returned will incur any significant cost
(over $25), please contact me first so I can arrange to scan the original documents
at your site. Please discuss logistics for acquiring audio or video recordings with
me by email or phone.
Recent court findings limit the cost of any photocopies or document scans to
$0.10 per copy.
If you determine that any or all or the information qualifies for an exemption from
disclosure, I ask you to note whether, as is normally the case under the Act, the
exemption is discretionary, and if so whether it is necessary in this case to exercise
your discretion to withhold the information.
If you determine that some but not all of the information is exempt from disclosure
and that you intend to withhold it, I ask that you redact it for the time being and make
the rest available as requested.
In any event, please provide a signed notification citing the legal authorities on which
you rely if you determine that any or all of the information is exempt and will not be
Since this is an active item on the agenda of the board, we would appreciate your timely
response so we may study this material. Maximum delay allowed by the CPRA is ten days.
Thank you for your kind assistance,