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Asked & Answered

A&A is a searchable database of questions posed by users like you about their rights under open government laws and First Amendment safeguards that have been answered by FAC’s attorneys—all First Amendment and government access specialists at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, LLP, an international law firm with offices in San Francisco.

A&A: County Ignores My Requests For Public Records

Q: I have had a long-running battle with the county’s Community Development Agency on them altering Tax Assessor real estate records in order to approve an out-of-proportion large new house construction. CDA rules dictate new houses have to be average to the neighborhood. What CDA did was inflate the neighborhood average size, the part that is taxed, to make their project appear average. It took my California Public Records Act requests to expose some of their doing, but they are now refusing to provide any more. I have submitted requests to the County Administrator and Board of Supervisors. The county

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A&A: How can I access to the Zodiac Killer police files since law enforcement agencies are stonewalling?

Q: I have been conducting academic research in the “Zodiac Killer” case from the late 1960s and early 1970s. As part of my research, I have made several requests for police files and records from that time in relation to that case. However, I have found the local law enforcement to be uncooperative and often uncommunicative. In a number of my public records requests, they have used legal semantics and a vague interpretation of the California Public Records Act to stonewall my attempts at finding information. At this point, I fear a retaliatory lawsuit if I continue to pursue these

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A&A: Can we submit a Public Records Act request for a California elected official’s personal emails, text messages?

Q: We believe that one of our city council members has been using her personal emails, text messages and Facebook to discuss city-related business and spread rumors, false information to local residents in order to sway public opinion and silence public record requests. It is our belief that she is specifically choosing to use her personal email when having these discussions in order to circumvent the ability to have these discussions of city business with a sitting city council member fall into the public domain. How do we successfully, if we can submit a PRA to access these emails and

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A&A: What recourse do individuals with disabilities have to access land use proposals during COVID-19?

SUBMITTED | APRIL 15, 2020 Q: Across California and in my backyard developers are putting in plans, and cities have been starting public comment time clocks without the public’s ability to assemble and easily read the documents. This is especially true for those whoa re disabled, without internet access or who don’t have the skill to load and read hundreds of pages of small print documents and drawings on the internet. Per the 2015 census, homeownership over age of 55 is more than the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s in total. The same for homeowners over 65. However many cities in

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A&A: The public is severely limited in county meeting participation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Is this a Brown Act violation?

SUBMITTED | APRIL 20, 2020 Q: I am writing on behalf of many people in my community who believe that county government is violating the COVID-19 shelter-in-place directives of California Gov. Newsom and the local county Health officer, and the intent of the Brown Act. We seek any help, resources, or pressure you can provide to remedy the problem, as quickly as possible. Many of us have requested in writing and in phone-in comments that the county stop all nonessential planning review until the COVID-19 SIPs are lifted. The county has ignored these complaints stating they are “in compliance” with

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A&A: Has the public comment requirement changed due to Gov. Newsom’s executive order amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

SUBMITTED | MAY 5, 2020 Q: Has the public comment requirement (Gov. Code, § 54954.3 subd. (a).) changed after Governor Newsom’s executive order? A: In March, Governor Newsom issued executive orders N-25-20 and N-29-20, which temporarily suspended any Brown Act requirements “expressly or impliedly requiring the physical presence of members, the clerk or other personnel of the body, or of the public as a condition of participation in or quorum for a public meeting” during the COVID-19 crisis. Order N-29-20 also states:  “A local . . . body . . . that holds a meeting via teleconferencing and allows members of the public to observe and address the meeting

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