By Anne Lowe

PUBLIC INFORMATION – The City of Alameda has beeen sued for failing to respond to a Public Records Act request that sought e-mail messages pertaining to a contract with a real estate developer; the city's policy is that all e-mails are exempt as "drafts" until they are periodically and routinely destroyed on a wholesale basis.

SCC Alameda’s contract to redevelop the former Naval Air Station was cancelled in July at a city council meeting, and the developer filed suit in August claiming breach of contract.

After a Public Records Act request for documents relating to the developer’s contract was allegedly unanswered by Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant and City Clerk Laura Weisiger, the developer filed another complaint, stating the city officials are “engaging in a pattern of conduct that can only be described as a cover up and spoliation of evidence.”

A news release from PRNewswire explains:

The lawsuit claims that . . .Gallant and other Alameda officials "have decided to withhold public records that were specifically requested by SCC Alameda pursuant to the Public Records Act ("PRA").  Respondents have provided no explanation for their failure to produce these documents."  To date, not one of the requested emails for any member of the City Council or Ms. Gallant has been produced.

"We have never sued a city before regarding any project, but we were left with no choice in this instance because of the egregious actions of Ms. Gallant," said David Soyka, senior vice president of public affairs for SCC Alameda.  "These emails are public records that any citizen can request, but there is a deliberate attempt to conceal them.  Everyone has a right to know what these communications to and from City officials contain, and no one is above the law, not even Ann Marie Gallant."

The complaint states, "SCC Alameda believes … that Ms. Gallant and the other Respondents are concealing and/or destroying emails in violation of law.  SCC Alameda has done everything possible to obtain the requested documents, but is being stalled and stonewalled by the Respondents."

The filing notes that the City of Alameda is not complying with the Local Government Records Management Guidelines established in 2006 by the California Secretary of State pursuant to the California Government Code.  The state code requires that all correspondence exchanged by city officials be retained for a minimum of two years.

The complaint also states that the city is "…in violation of Government Code section 6253(c), which requires that a government entity produce all requested records pursuant to a PRA request within 24 days.  Respondents have now exceeded 70 days…"

The complaint notes that city representatives have previously stated that Alameda does not retain email messages past 30 days because it "does not have the server space to do so."  In addition, the City claims that it considers emails to be mere "drafts" and not correspondence, and therefore exempt from state law requiring cities to preserve correspondence for a minimum of two years.

In the contract lawuit, SCC Alameda is seeking damages in excess of $117 million against the City.  The company has spent $17 million in development costs for Alameda Point and incurred over $100 million in lost profits as a result of its ouster as the project's master developer.