By Anne Lowe

PUBLIC INFORMATION – A judge's decision granting Orange County an exemption from the California Public Records Act for its computerized parcel map system is headed for the Court of Appeal.

The Sierra Club filed suit in 2009 to obtain parcel mapping data from the Orange County’s Geographic Information database. The suit was denied in May citing Government Code Section 6254.9, which excludes computer software from Public Records Act disclosure requirements.

A blog on the Orange County Weekly reports:

The ecological stewards allege "faulty reasoning" went into DiCesare's interpretation of Section 6254.9. Other authorities have held that "computer software" means just that and not software plus data, states the appeal. And  "computer mapping system" shows up no where in the PRA anyway, argues the Sierra Club.??

The county has gone beyond the exemption written in 1988 to include hardware, software, data, applications, and management of GIS technology, the Sierra Club further charges. And DiCesare's interpretation, the club claims, "does considerable violence to the plain meaning of the statute, goes against the Legislature's intent as evidenced by the legislative history, and clashes with the public policy of liberal disclosure as contained in the California Constitution and the Public Records Act itself." ??

The Sierra Club cites a recent Court of Appeal decision requiring Santa Clara County to provide its GIS parcel basemap to the First Amendment Coalition, stating, "the holding–that Santa Clara cannot claim copyright protection under Section 6254.9 for its GIS basemap because the GIS basemap is not software–is dependent on that trial court's finding that the GIS basemap is not software."??

Orange Countians need relatively painless access to the GIS database so they can determine if their property taxes are being assessed fairly or their zoning variance applications are being handled uniformly across the region.

??"To keep our government agencies accountable to us," the Sierra Club stated in an announcement, "the data that government agencies use to make their decisions must be available to the public so we can challenge the decisions, if necessary. That is the purpose of the California Public Record Act."