Outside City Lawsuit Settlements
Q: Last year, the city settled a lawsuit by several outdoor advertising companies. The settlement, approved by the Superior Court in Feb. 2007, included a requirement that the companies submit to the city a complete inventory of all their off-site advertising signs, including location and permit status. A public request for this information has been denied, citing the following section of the settlement: “Nothing herein shall prevent the City from providing to the public the name of the sign company associated with any sign if requested to do so based upon the location of or complaint about a particular sign. Nor shall this judgment prevent City personnel from searching its own data base for information based on ownership information.” The city attorney’s office has informally supported this view, and has said the only way a member of public can get such information about a company’s signs is to make a request based upon an individual address, and that the city is under no legal obligation to release the entire inventory submitted by the companies.
A: As you know from our response to your inquiry earlier this year about the City’s obligation to make the settlement agreement public, under the Public Records Act (“PRA”), records in the possession of state and local government entities are presumed to be public unless one of the PRA’s enumerated exemptions to disclosure applies. See Cal Govt Code Section 6252. I know of no exemption in the PRA that would allow the City to withhold records on the basis of a settlement agreement reached with a third party.
It appears that you have already requested the records at issue, and that the City responded only by citing the settlement agreement, and not a specific exemption in the PRA. You may want to submit another PRA request, and specifically remind the City that it is obligated to cite the specific exemption in the PRA on which they rely, and inform the City that the settlement agreement does not provide sufficient basis for denial under the PRA. Upon submitting your written request, the City must provide you with written notification within 10 days that specifies the exemptions in the Act upon which they rely. Gov’t Code Section 6253( c). A sample PRA request letter can be found on CFAC’s web site at the following link: http://www.cfac.org/templates/cpraletter.html