Ask The County Law Librarian – Requesting Documents From Government
Q. I moved to an apartment that is near the railroad tracks in Mid-Town. Trains blow their horns day and night. I understand that the City has applied for a Quiet Zone for that stretch of track. I was trying to get the application and other relevant documents from the City but I am not sure how to do it. Any suggestions? Todd
A. Hi Todd,
The California Public Records Act (CPRA) guarantees that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies in California (CA Gov. Code section 6250 et. seq.) It allows inspection and/or disclosure of governmental records to the public upon request, unless exempted by law. The California legislature prefaced the legislation by stating, “…access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.”
The law is similar to the Federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. Section 552 et seq which provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions of them) are protected from public disclosure by one of nine exemptions or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions.
Before sending a request to an agency, you should determine which agency is likely to have the records you are seeking. In your case it may be the City of Sacramento Department of Public Works, County of Sacramento, California Public Utilities Commission and probably the Federal Railroad Administration as a start.
There is no specific form that must be used to make a request. The request simply must be in writing, reasonably describe the information you seek, and comply with specific agency requirements which may include paying for copies or just allowing you to review documents on site. Visit http://www.ag.ca.gov/publications/summary_public_records_act.pdf for a very comprehensive report on the CPRA.
I hope this helps!
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