California Assembly to restore Public Records Act

Under intense pressure from the state’s media organizations and government watchdogs, California’s legislative leaders on Wednesday backed down from proposed changes to a key transparency law that would have restricted the public’s access to government records.

“To be clear, this means that the California Public Records Act will remain intact without any changes as part of the budget — consistent with the Assembly’s original action,” Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles said in a statement.

Critics had called for Gov. Jerry Brown to veto the measure, saying it would have gutted access to local government records by changing the law from a legal requirement to a “suggested best practice.”

The California Newspaper Publisher’s Association called for a veto and all of the state’s major newspapers, including this one, ran editorials on Wednesday deploring the proposed changes. Perez said the Assembly would restore the funding that reimburses local governments to comply with the law.

Assembly Speaker pro Tem Nora Campos, D-San Jose, said “we’ll be looking forward to the Senate following the lead of the Assembly.”

“This is important information for individuals to have,” Campos said. “I think this is good news for local government, and they’re not in a position to have to make any decisions” about whether to respond to public records inquiries.

State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, was on the phone with a reporter from this newspaper when news of the Assembly bill broke and said it was too soon to know for sure what the Senate would do. A news conference with Senate leaders is set for late Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m very open to it,” Corbett said of the new bill. “We champion making public information available to the public.”

A spokesman for Brown did not respond to a request for comment.

Before the new bill broke Wednesday afternoon, Bay Area lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill said they supported the public records law — they just don’t want the state to pay for the cost of complying with it.

“Why the state should have to backfill local jurisdictions for something that really is inherently a governmental function that everybody should be complying with is beyond me,” said Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Monterey Bay, a member of the Assembly Budget Committee.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, agreed, and said he though cities would still respond to public records request even if they have to pay for it themselves.

“If there’s a problem, we’ll go in and fix it,” Levine said. “There’s an always an opportunity to pass another law.”

But state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco — the only Bay Area legislator who voted against the original bill — says the situation is much more urgent.

“The history of local government has been that this is burdensome, it costs us a lot of money and we would rather not do it,” Yee said. “Absent a requirement that local government follow the Public Records Act, they are not going to do it.”

Language inserted into a budget bill last week would have allowed local governments to turn down requests for records without citing a legal reason. It would no longer have required government officials to respond to records requests within 10 days or force them to help the public by describing what records exist.

Gov. Brown had said he favored some changes aimed at reducing costs, but details did not emerge about the until a rider bill to the budget was introduced July 12, just three days before the budget deadline.

San Jose Mercury New Today

By Thomas Peele and Mike Rosenberg

Staff writers

Post Lawyers challenge police secrecy – Revisited

Dave Price Editor and Co-Founder of The Daily Post
Dave Price Editor and Co-Founder of The Daily Post

We beleive, what the Daily Post failed to report and disclose, were all the documents concerning their California Public Records Request Act requests, and subsequent opposing answers from the city of Los Altos. We’ve done that for them now.

After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?  Open Government and Transparency in reporting the news!

As reported today – Attorneys representing the Daily Post say the city of Los Altos should make public documents it is withholding about an accident in which a police officer using a “mobile device” rear-ended a car and injured the driver.

City refuses to release police car crash report

After the city denied nearly all of the documents the Post requested in a public records request. The newspaper turn the matter over to its attorneys at Kern & Wagstaffe, one of the nation’s top First Amendment law firms.

In a six page letter sent to the  city, Post attorney Kevin B. Clune cited court precedences to dispute every reason the city gave for withholding the information.

“The records requested by the Daily Post here, which pertain to an accident that occurred on public streets involving… a peace officer and resulting in potential injury to civilians and their property, are of tremendous public concern” Clune wrote.

In the Aug. 20 accident, a police car driven by officer John Korges rear-ended a Volvo sedan stopped at foothill Expressway and  Arboretum Drive near, the lucky grocery store.

Distracted driving

The driver who was hit Lisa Shaanan of Los Altos said in a claim against the city that Korges was using a “mobile device” at the time to crash. The city has not disputed that statement.

Shaanan’s attorney said she is still suffering from her injuries five months after the crash. Her injuries included a concussion retinal hematoma and multiple bulging and protruding discs in her spine, according to her attorney.

Police normally provide details about car accidents to the news media, but in this case police withheld most of the basic information about the accident. No mention of the mobile device was made by police at the time.

By law, police are required to have another law enforcement agency investigate a crash involving one of its vehicles, so the case was turned over to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office, which also withheld information about the case.

When the Post was denied information about the crash, the paper filed a request for documents about the crash citing the California Public Records Act, a law that says all information held by city governments and their police departments are published with certain narrow exceptions defined by law.

The city initially refused to release in nearly every item requested.

A few of the legal arguments

City Attorney,  Julie Houston claimed that police reports about the accident are exempt from disclosure under the California vehicle code. But Clune, the Post’s attorney, cited court precedences that call for disclosure of such reports as long as identifying information about individuals reporting accidents is removed.

The city also argued that the California Public Records Act exempts the release of documents that might concern litigation. But Clune argued that the litigation exceptions was narrow and that it only applies to documents that were “specifically prepared for use in litigation,” not something city workers created “in the usual course of business for a purpose independent of possible legal consultation.”

Clune made several other arguments in the letter which can be read at

The letter also states, “If the city refuses to produce the requested documents promptly, the Daily Post will be compelled to seek production via court action.”

The undisclosed and unreported not so secret documents 

Daily Post initial CPRA request

City of Los Alto’s first response to Daily Post

Email follow-up and second CPRA request to Los Alto Police Chief Younis

From: Jeramy Gordon []
Sent: Monday, January 07, 2013 3:34 PM
To: Tuck Younis
Subject: Public Records Request

Dear Chief Younis,

Please accept this e-mail as an official public records request for the police report and any other related documents regarding the Aug. 20 car accident involving Sgt. Korges. Specifically, we’re looking for any documentation related to any type of citation or reprimand given to Sgt. Korges.

Your citation of California Vehicle Code 20012 does not provide a complete list of parties entitled to the report and we believe as a news agency, we have a right to view the report.

Please get back to me as soon as possible. I have also mailed an official public records request to your attention.


Jeramy Gordon
Daily Post
(650) 328-7700

City of Los Altos second response to Daily Post

Attack Battle Lines Drawn

The Daily Post’s final ultimatum and California Public Records Act Request

In an email received this evening from the Law Offices of Berliner Cohen, attorney Jolie Houston representing the City of Los Altos anticipates an official response Monday. “And now you know the rest of the story” -Paul Harvey- Well almost…

City of Los Altos responds to Daily Post’s ultimatum

Final email from Daily Post

February 13, 2013

We did obtain a copy of the police report (see Daily Post, Feb. 8, 2013). Lisa Shaanan, the Los Altos resident whose Volvo was rear ended, included a copy in a claim she filed against the city last week. We obtained a copy of that claim through a public records request and the police report contained within it.

We still maintain that the documents we requested are public record and are not exempt from disclosure.



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Palo Alto Police Department’s Disappointing and Confusing Oakland Occupy Disclosure

As reported earlier we set out to determine through the California Public Request Act the actual costs and involvement by the PAPD in assisting the Oakland Police Department in the now ongoing and much publicized raid on the encamped Occupy demonstrators.

Key highlights of our public records request and the city’s response was provided by assistant police chief Mark Venable which we have italicized in bold font.

The responses are rather revealing but not surprising given the on-going secretive policies of the PAPD.

1. Any policies, guidelines, or other documentation regarding the use of police services rendered to other policing agency’s including the City of Oakland, California.

Attached is a copy of the Santa Clara County Mutual Aid Protocols:

Mutual Aid Protocols-Part one

Mutual Aid Protocols-Part two

2. List of all tactical equipment used during this operation.

Records of intelligence information or security procedures of a local police agency are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Government Code section 6254(f).  There are no non-exempt records that contain this information.

3. Copy of request for services received by the city of Palo Alto’s police department from the city of Oakland California on staffing requirements.

There are no documents responsive to this request.

We find this response hard to believe in that there was no coordinating communication between cooperating agencies.

4. Total number of Palo Alto Police officers used / employed during operation.

Fourteen officers responded to the mutual aid request.

5. Total amount of salaries including overtime.

There are no documents responsive to this request.

Some have suggested the cost may exceed 3 million Will Occupy Oakland Costs Exceed $3 Million? How can anyone believe there were no costs impacting the city of Palo Alto in terms of time and expenses.

Salaries and wages of police officers are in fact public knowledge.  Fourteen PAPD officers responded to this Mutual Aid operation.  Where did they receive their funding? From the tooth fairy!

6. Number to weapons fired: (1) Teargas (2) Tazers (3) Beanbags (4) Bubberbullets

There are no documents responsive to this request.  However, please note that the Palo Alto Police Department does not have or use propelled teargas canisters or rubber bullets.

Now this response is in total contrast to the inquire received by Palo Alto resident Nat Fisher to a similar question posed to PAPD Police Chief Dennis Burns in an email obtained by Palo Alto Free Press. 

“Were the “chemical agents” tear gas and or something else?”

Chief Burns response, “At the request of the Oakland Police Department, Palo Alto officers did use chemical agents once officers had rocks, bottles and other weapons thrown at them.  I approved the request to send our officers.”

7. Total number of vehicles used.

There are no documents responsive to this request.

Again, we are dismayed by the lack of knowledge and response coming from the second in command of the Palo Alto Police Department.  Did they parachute in?

8. Tactical name assigned by the Palo Alto Police Department for the city of Oakland, California.

No tactical name was assigned by the Palo Alto Police Department for the city of Oakland, California.

Again, assistant police chief Mark Venable goes out of his way to provide as little information as possible.  In fact, he has refused all follow-up emails and phone calls.

The California Public Records Act is the equivalent on a state level as the Freedom of Information Act is on a Federal level.  (FOIA)  The law states the agency must provide the following: California Public Records Act Government Code Sections 6250-6270

6253.1.(a) When a member of the public requests to inspect a public record or obtain a copy of a public record, the public agency, in order to assist the member of the public make a focused and effective request that reasonably describes an identifiable record or records, shall do all of the following, to the extent reasonable under the circumstances:

(1) Assist the member of the public to identify records and information that are responsive to the request or to the purpose of the request, if stated.

(2) Describe the information technology and physical location in which the records exist.

(3) Provide suggestions for overcoming any practical basis for denying access to the records or information sought.

(b) The requirements of paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) shall be deemed to have been satisfied if the public agency is unable to identify the requested information after making a reasonable effort to elicit additional clarifying information from the requester that will help identify the record or records.(c) The requirements of subdivision (a) are in addition to any action required of a public agency by Section 6253.(d)

This section shall not apply to a request for public records if any of the following applies:

(1) The public agency makes available the requested records pursuant to Section 6253.

(2) The public agency determines that the request should be denied and bases that determination solely on an exemption listed in Section 6254.

(3) The public agency makes available an index of its records.

Where we find assistant police chief Mark Venable’s statement, There are no documents responsive to this request.” indicates he put forth no effort at suggesting ways the answers to ALL questions could have been successfully achieved as mandated by law. 

What we do find is obfuscation and ambiguity in applying the law as noted in question number 2.

2. List of all tactical equipment used during this operation. Here assistant police chief Mark Venable claimed this information was “exempt from disclosure pursuant to Government Code section 6254(f).”

However, this information was in fact partially revealed in the same email from Palo Alto resident Nat Fisher received from Police Chief Dennis Burns.

“As part of a Bay Area wide, regional mutual aid request by the Alameda County Sheriffs Office through the Santa Clara County Sheriffs Office, the Palo Alto Police Department responded to assist Oakland PD on October 25th.

At the request of the Oakland Police Department, Palo Alto officers did use chemical agents once officers had rocks, bottles and other weapons thrown at them.  

I approved the request to send our officers.  We have not responded to assist Oakland subsequently.”

This information seems to be in direct contrast to the answer we received in number 6. Number of weapons fired: (1) Teargas (2) Tazers (3) Beanbags (4) Bubberbullets.

“There are no documents responsive to this request.  However, please note that the Palo Alto Police Department does not have or use propelled teargas canisters or rubber bullets.

Phone calls and emails sent to both police chief Dennis Burn and acting assistant police chief Mark Venable seeking clarification have gone unanswered.


The Peoples Right to Know – Living in Vehicles Ordinance

Palo Alto city attorney Molly Stump

In April of this year, when Molly Stump was chosen as Palo Alto’s new city attorney, we were encouraged that the inherited local governmental process of decisions made behind closed doors would change. Ms Stump professed to be in favor of open and transparent government.

We are still waiting for signs that her perspective has gone viral within the rest of Palo Alto’s city government. The inherited manner of doing business within government (AND in business) involves small groups of individuals attending a series of meetings to come to a determination about a perceived problem.

Too often, it’s easier to think of creating laws that “protect me” from social problems rather than laws that contribute to solving social problems.

Take, for example, the ordinance to ban living in vehicles within Palo Alto City limits. City records obtained through the California Public Records Act request by attorney Aram James revealed that a series of meetings were being conducted on this topic.  Homeless in Vehicles – Enforcement aspects

Other documents received from the city attorney’s office contain email addresses of community members inviting them to attend a “Living in Vehicle Meeting” on June 30, 2011.

How those community members were selected is unclear. Presumably, these are the individuals who initiated the meetings to propose an ordinance. What is clear is that transparency had not yet been considered for these meetings.

This raises a question about transparency in government. Should local government meetings be open to the general public from the beginning of a proposed ordinance, or should meetings be held erstwhile in private until the idea and language of the ordinance is ready to be presented to the public, at which time invitations to attend meetings will be extended?

Of course, the latter sets up a scheme in which an ordinance is ready to be sent through to fulfill the wishes of its proponents, making it much more difficult to reshape Allowing the public to openly participate from inception and throughout the process may completely reshape or even kill a proposed ordinance early on.

The debate on homeless in vehicles opens to a wider debate on government procedure. While Molly Stump’s views on open government hadn’t been able to influence the process for the proposed ban on living in vehicles, let’s encourage our city council members to break with history and make open and transparent government a reality with future ordinance proposals.

Results of Attorney Aram James – California Public Records Act – Key Document Disclosure

Living in Vehicle Issue January 13th 2011 Agenda

Living in Vehicle Issue June 30th 2011 Agenda

PAPD Surveillance Vehicle Dwelling Map

Pending city ordinance not yet approved

Living in Vehicle – Enforcement Aspects


August 30th, 2011 – Update on Palo Alto’s Planed Vehicle Ordinance

Hi Curtis

The September 12th date is fast approaching would you send a brief outline for publication as to recent developments and or progress?  This would be greatly appreciated.


On Aug 30, 2011, at 8:49 AM, “Williams, Curtis” <> wrote:


We will not be presenting anything to the Council or the Policy & Services Committee on that date. Instead, we are scheduling a community forum on September 15th (Thursday) to discuss the issues and brainstorm solutions.

We expect the meeting to be held at the University Church in College Terrace (1611 Stanford Avenue) at 7:00 p.m. We will finalize the date, time and place by the end of the week and put an ad in the Weekly, post and distribute.

The earliest we could possibly get to Policy & Services is at their October 11th meeting, though it could be later. Thanks for checking in.

Curtis Williams

Editors note: Mr. Williams has been extremely open and candid on all vehicles ordinance planned discussions.  This is a fine example of open government and transparency and model to follow.


The City Of Palo Alto’s Closed Door Police Meetings – Kennedy Speech Conspiracy Secret Societies

Secrecy is weakness

“In the 21st Century, democracy demands an innovative approach to policy making – an approach built on transparency, participation, and collaboration. These foundational qualities are the keys to creating a more effective government that taps the creativity and diversity of an entire nation to generate solutions to the challenges we face.”

Implementing the President’s Memorandum on Open Government –

“The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings”.

“Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:

“Tonight, I want to talk about our common responsibilities in the face of a common danger.

The events of recent weeks may have helped to illuminate that challenge for some; but the dimensions of its threat have loomed large on the horizon for many years.

Whatever our hopes may be for the future — for reducing this threat or living with it — there is no escaping either the gravity or the totality of its challenge to our survival and to our security — a challenge that confronts us in unaccustomed ways in every sphere of human activity.

“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.

We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions.

Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it.

And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.

That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.

“Today no war has been declared — and however fierce the struggle may be, it may never be declared in the traditional fashion. Our way of life is under attack. Those who make themselves our enemy are advancing around the globe. The survival of our friends is in danger. (…)

“For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence — on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day.

It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations.

“Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed. It conducts the Cold War, in short, with a war-time discipline no democracy would ever hope or wish to match. (…)

“It is the unprecedented nature of this challenge that also gives rise to your second obligation — an obligation which I share. And that is our obligation to inform and alert the American people — to make certain that they possess all the facts that they need, and understand them as well — the perils, the prospects, the purposes of our program and the choices that we face.

“Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive.

That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment — the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution — not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply ‘give the public what it wants’ — but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.

“This means greater coverage and analysis of international news — for it is no longer far away and foreign but close at hand and local.

It means greater attention to improved understanding of the news as well as improved transmission.

And it means, finally, that government at all levels, must meet its obligation to provide you with the fullest possible information outside the narrowest limits of national security — and we intend to do it.”

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

By Popular Demand 1 August, 2010 @ 7:18 by Mark Petersen-Perez