A&A:City wants me to pay to see report on fire at my house

Q: I just requested an incident report from the Fire Department relating to a fire at my property. They wanted to charge me $16 just to view the record, and said that they had been authorized to do so by the City Council.  Is this legal?  GovC 6253(b) authorizes charges “… of fees covering direct costs of duplication, or a statutory fee if applicable.”  Does a city council resolution and ordinance authorizing the $16 fee count as a “statutory fee”? I’m aware of Shippen v. Department of Motor Vehicles 161 cal.app.3d 1119, but I’m wondering if the resolutions of a city council would carry as much weight as the Vehicle Code, which was in play in Shippen.

A: Although my first impression is to agree with you in that a city council’s ordinance or resolution concerning what the Fire Department may charge for copies of incident reports would not qualify as a statute, it is not entirely clear whether a court would agree with our interpretation. There are certain legal dictionaries which define local law, such as city and county ordinances as a statute (e.g., “a statute that relates to or operates in a particular locality rather than the entire state,” (Black’s Law Dictionary, 2004)). Moreover, although I was unable to find any cases discussing the specific issue of whether a city or county ordinance qualifies as a “statute” for purposes of the California Public Record Act’s copying costs provision, there is at least one case that states that an “ordinance is a local law which is adopted with all the legal formality of a statute.” City of Sausalito v. County of Marin, 12 Cal. App. 3d 550, 565 (1970). Note, however, the City of Sausalito court distinguished between an ordinance and a resolution: “An ordinance adopted without the ‘formality’ required of an ordinance cannot be deemed an ordinance.” Id. at 566. Thus, if the Fire Department is relying on the city council’s passage of a resolution, as opposed to an ordinance, you might have an argument that such resolution would not be considered a “statute” and, thus, cannot prevail over the PRA’s cost of duplication provision (Gov’t Code 6253(b)).