California public records


    A guide to your rights as a citizen

    Chase down public records and share them with The Times

    Since the pub­lic cor­rup­tion scan­dal broke last sum­mer in the city of Bell, hun­dreds of read­ers have voiced con­cerns to The Times about po­ten­tial prob­lems at the gov­ern­ment agen­cies in their com­munit­ies. The Times en­cour­ages read­ers to share gov­ern­ment re­cords you con­sider news­worthy or in­ter­est­ing. Send us doc­u­ments and a Times staffer will re­view them and post them to this site, which also in­cludes files ob­tained by our re­port­ers.

    — Shelby Grad and Sam Allen (March 14, 2011)

    What rights do Californians have to access public records?

    The Cali­for­nia Pub­lic Re­cords Act re­quires that “pub­lic re­cords are open to in­spec­tion at all times.” The law provides mem­bers of the pub­lic ac­cess to gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments and en­titles them to a copy of re­cords. It’s a cru­cial tool for journ­al­ists and for cit­izens seek­ing a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of their state and loc­al gov­ern­ment — and it’s re­l­at­ively simple to use.

    The act ap­plies to both state and loc­al agen­cies, joint powers agen­cies, and spe­cial dis­tricts, and it cov­ers most types of re­cords, in­clud­ing em­ploy­ee con­tracts and pay­ment his­tor­ies. Most cit­ies and counties have an of­fice des­ig­nated to handle pub­lic re­cords re­quests.

    “The best thing to do is to go to the agency first to see if they have any spe­cial guidelines or any pref­er­ence for how they re­ceive their re­quests,” said Dav­id Green, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the First Amend­ment Project, a non­profit based in Oak­land. “Many will pub­lish their guidelines.”

    Once you have loc­ated the ex­act re­cords you need, it’s helpful, but not required to sub­mit a writ­ten re­quest, cit­ing the Cali­for­nia Pub­lic Re­cords Act. Sev­er­al web­sites pub­lish forms for these re­quests, Green said, and his group has a guide avail­able.

    The city or agency has 10 days to re­spond to your re­quest. In some cases, the agency may re­quest an ad­di­tion­al 14 days to pro­duce re­cords. A vari­ety of re­cords are ex­empt from dis­clos­ure, ac­cord­ing to state gov­ern­ment code, in­clud­ing per­son­al in­form­a­tion and re­cords per­tain­ing to on­go­ing lit­ig­a­tion.

    Share your documents

    If you have a pub­lic re­cord you would like to share with The Times, at­tach it to an email to doc­u­ or mail it to 202 W. 1st St. Los Angeles, CA 90012, at­ten­tion City Desk.

    Reader-reported documents

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    The Times has pub­lished thou­sands of pages of public doc­uments, ranging from Ruben Sal­azar’s killing to the Bell scandal. Track the Times’ latest at doc­u­­