The California Public Records Act (CPRA) is based on the fundamental principle that the public has a right to public documents. Passed into law in 1968, it has been a part of our lives for so long that it’s easy to take it for granted—believing that it will always remain as it is.
But as recent state budget-related votes have shown, that’s not always true. And today we are back fighting to defend portions of the CPRA that many assumed would never go away, such as requiring local governments to cite a legal reason before turning down requests for records, requiring a 10 day response time, and providing assistance to the public in making effective records requests.
For some background, read Terry Francke’s June 14th article, Legislature Moves to Neuter the Public Records Act.
So why does this even matter? Well, it matters because information is power and what you don’t know can hurt you.
Take, for example, the ongoing battle between two public agencies—he San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) and the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California. The SDCWA is a wholesale supplier of water and MWD is its main supplier. MWD sets the rates charged for your drinking water and passes those rates on to SDCWA. Setting those rates is a complicated process, so the more information about how those rates were set, the better. And that’s where this battle gets even more interesting.
According to SDCWA, there have been lots of secret meetings by certain MWD member agency managers where they discussed such things as eliminating funding for SDCWA's long range projects and conservation measures and setting rates the public pays for drinking water. And this was being done outside of any public hearings. However, in order to prove it, SDCWA needed evidence, and that’s where the Public Records Act is key. Over 18 months ago, SDCWA made a Public Records Act request for documents. Finally, after lots of stonewalling by some of MWD’s member agencies, a judge finally ordered that the records be produced. This information will help determine whether MWD met in secret to overcharge San Diego ratepayers.
But imagine the outcome if the Public Records Act requirement to produce documents within 10 days had been eliminated. It’s possible this matter would never have seen the light of day, and this won’t be an isolated example if the current budget language is allowed to stand.
And this is where we are today, facing a Public Records Act wipe-out unless Governor Brown vetoes that portion of the budget trailer bills and restores all the provisions currently in place.
Today, please call the Governor at (916) 445-2841 and ask the following:
“I urge Governor Brown to veto section 4 of Senate Bill 71 and Assembly Bill 76 (specifically section 6252.8 to the Goverment Code) to restore effectiveness to the Public Records Act.”