MARTINEZ – Tomorrow, December 13, Californians Aware (CalAware) will file a lawsuit in superior court here, seeking an order prohibiting the Contra Costa Community College District from continuing its violation of the California Public Records Act (CPRA) by charging a fee for copies of district records that is well above the “direct cost of duplication,” the maximum fee the CPRA allows.

During one of its routine audits of the records practices of government agencies, CalAware, the non-profit Center for Public Forum Rights, discovered that the district’s records policy allows it to charge copy requesters 25¢ per page, plus $40 per hour for staff time in compiling the records. When CalAware received a bill of $80 for 80 pages, the bill included $60 for 11⁄2 hours of staff time.

When faced with CalAware’s complaint that the fee was too high, Vice Chancellor Kindred Murillo refused to reduce it, replying that the fee was fixed by district “business procedure.”

But case law interpreting the CPRA has concluded that the recoverable “direct cost of duplication” is “the cost of running the copy machine, and conceivably also the expense of the person operating it, but does not include the ancillary tasks necessarily associated with the retrieval, inspection and handling of the file from which the copy is extracted.” (
North County Parents Organization v. Dept. of Education
(1994) 23 Cal.App.4th 144, 148.)

And in creating its own “Guidelines for Access to Public Records,” the California Attorney General’s Office determined that the Department of Justice’s direct cost of duplication was 10¢ per page, which, the department concluded, must “not include the staff person’s time in researching, retrieving, redacting and mailing the record.”

Richard McKee, CalAware’s Vice President for Open Government Compliance, said, “Excessively high copy fees such as those charged by this district serve to discourage requests for public records, contrary to the legislature’s declaration that ‘access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in the state.'”