Did you know that in California anyone can request public documents, such as emails, memos, invoices, payment records, etc from a public agency? You don’t even need to state why you’re requesting them. Well, now you know. And we are going to show you how to do it.
This is made possible through the California Public Records Act (CPRA), which allows you to request records/documents and gives agencies a 10-day compliance window. Also known as the California FOIA or Freedom of Information Act, it allows for transparency in governance that anyone can access and utilize at any time.
The link above provides additional information about the act, but below I’ve included a sample request to help you get started on holding your officeholders accountable. You can copy and paste the body of this template, fill in the blanks with your custom information, and then email or send the letter to the clerk of the agency you’re requesting information from.
“California Sample FOIA Request
[City, ST ZIP Code]
[Name of Custodian of Records]
[City, ST ZIP Code]
Dear [custodian of records]:
Under the California Public Records Act § 6250 et seq., I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records that [Describe the records or information sought with enough detail for the public agency to respond. Be as specific as your knowledge of the available records will allow. But it is more important to describe the information you are seeking.]
If there are any fees for searching or copying these records, please inform me if the cost will exceed $______. However, I would also like to request a waiver of all fees in that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest and will contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of ___________ [Here, you can identify yourself as a representative of the news media if applicable and state that your request is related to newsgathering purposes.] This information is not being sought for commercial purposes.
The California Public Records Act requires a response within ten business days. If access to the records I am requesting will take longer, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records.
If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.
Thank you for considering my request.
[Your Phone number]”
The process for requesting public records directly from the State of California (such as from an Assembly or Senate Member) is slightly different. To submit an online request for that, click this link.
Follow this link for State financial reports and audits.
For information on accessing and requesting police records, use this link.
For information on how to request records from LAUSD, click here
Lastly, check your local school district and municipality website for direct instructions to get public records.
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