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Public Records Requests FAQs

What is a public record?

“Public records” includes any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics. [California Public Records Act, Gov. Code 6252 (e)]

“Writing ”means any handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, photocopying, transmitting by electronic mail or facsimile, and every other means of recording upon any form of communication or representation, including letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combinations thereof. [California Public Records Act, Gov. Code 6252 (g)]

 

How can I request a public record?

You can make a request for a public record orally or in writing (in person/by phone/fax or by electronic/snail mail). However, we recommend that whenever possible, the requests are submitted through the City's online public records request system.

 

Why is it better to use the online database tracking system?

1. You will get a tracking number to follow up on your request.

2. The system allows you to search for previous public records requests and access previously produced records that may be responsive to your request.

3. Using the system provides accountability and allows for a more efficient process for responding.

 

How soon shall I expect a response to my public records request?

For public record requests that are not “immediate disclosure requests,” the Agency Representative should provide a response to the requestor as soon as reasonably possible but no later than ten (10) calendar days from the date of receipt.  Under exceptional circumstances, the City may extend its time to respond by 14 additional calendar days. Requestor shall receive in writing a letter of extension, including the reasons for the extension and the estimated date of the City’s further response. Exceptional circumstances are limited to:

  • The need to search for and collect the requested records from a facility separate from the office processing the request
  • The need to search for, collect, and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records that have been asked for in a single request
  • The need for consultation with another department or another agency that has a substantial interest in the response to the request
  • The need to compile data, to write programming language or a computer program, or to construct a computer report to extract data [California Public Records Act, 6253.1 (c)]

 

What if I have concerns or don’t receive any response after 10 days?

You can contact the City Attorney's Open Government Coordinator at (510) 238-2965 with any question or concern about public records requests.

To follow up on a request with a specific City department, contact that department's public records liaison.

 

What if I am not sure of what records to request?

The public records liaison shall, to the extent possible, assist requestors in making focused and effective requests, by either:
(1) Assisting with the identification of records and information that are responsive to the request or to the purpose of the request, if stated.
(2) Describing the information technology and physical location in which the records exist, and
(3) Providing suggestions for overcoming any practical basis for denying access to the request. [California Public Records Act, 6253.1. (a)]

 

Are all records disclosable?

All records are disclosable unless a legal exception applies. There are certain categories of documents that are generally not subject to disclosure. These include, but are not limited to:

  1. Preliminary drafts of documents that are not retained by the City in the normal course of business
  2. Records related to pending or ongoing litigation
  3. Attorney-client communications
  4. Personnel records, medical information, or other records the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy
  5. Corporate financial and proprietary information, including trade secrets
  6. Records protected by State and Federal law
  7. Records not yet in existence (an agency is not required to create a record, list or a compilation -- requests for future-generated records are not permitted)

When appropriate, words or other portions of a document may be redacted (blanked out or otherwise obscured from vision) and the remainder of the document may be disclosed.

If it is determined, after consultation with the City Attorney’s Office, that the records sought are not subject to disclosure either in whole or in part, then the Department shall advise the requestor in writing that the records will not be made available and include the reasons why access is being denied, stating the legal statute or authority for denial.

 

When can I inspect public records?

A Requestor may ask to inspect, and not copy, the records.  It is highly recommended to contact the public records liaison to schedule an appointment to view the records, to ensure that the records are available rather than being used by City staff, located off site, or need to be redacted. If the Requestor walks into the City Agency and asks to inspect a record, the Agency should so allow unless:

Inspection at that time will disrupt the Agency staff person’s immediate work.  The Agency staff person then may ask the Requestor to wait a few minutes, come back later in the day, or schedule an appointment.

The request is for a voluminous amount of records.

The request requires review for privilege or confidentiality.

The Agency has a concern that the records may be altered unless the inspection is supervised.  If supervision of an inspection is required, the Agency may ask the requestor to schedule an appointment.  

Inspection of any video or audio recording must be provided free of charge on a device made available by the local agency or body responding to the request.

 

How much does it cost to have copies of the records?

A department may charge for the “direct cost” of duplication, which is the cost of running the copy machine, and also the expense of the person operating it. There is no charge for staff time used to locate or collect records.

There is no charge for staff time used to redact non-disclosable information.

There is no charge fee for staff time used for supervision during inspection of records.  With the exception of fees specified by State law, the following fees shall apply to requests for records:

 

 

Review of documents only

 

Free

 

A single copy of a current meeting agenda

 

Free

 

Agenda Subscription

 

See Master Fee Schedule

 

Documents copied

 

See Master Fee Schedule

 

Documents faxed

 

Same as copying rate

Any documents, if the Agency decides to send the document to a commercial copier.

Vendor’s rate

 

Documents stored in electronic form

 

See Master Fee Schedule.  Usually the cost of the media and any staff time for programming. There’s no fee for copying electronic files into any media. 

 

A single copy of an EIRs/EISs currently under review

 

Free - Provided by the Planning Director

 

What if I don’t have computer access? 

Call the City Attorney’s Open Government Coordinator at (510) 238-2965 or the City Clerk’s Office (510) 238-6833.

 

What are the laws relating to open government in California?

Brown Act

The California State Legislature adopted the Ralph M. Brown Act in 1953. By adopting the Act, the Legislature found and declared that public commissions, boards, councils and other local public agencies in the state exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. The intent was that actions taken would be taken openly, and that deliberations held would be held openly as well.

California Public Records Act

The California State Legislature adopted the Public Records Act (click on California Law, Government Code, Sections 6250 - 6277) in 1975 and included all records of the state and local agencies written on or after January 6 of that year. The Public Records Act is designed to give the public access to information in possession of public agencies. The Act also provides that public records shall be open for inspection during regular office hours of the agency. The public can inspect any record unless the record is exempted from disclosure under the Act, and the agency bears the burden of justifying why the records cannot be disclosed and is responsible for required redactions.

Sunshine Ordinance

The Oakland City Council adopted the Sunshine Ordinance (Title 2, Chapter 2.20) in 1997 as a declaration that it is a government's duty to serve the public, and in reaching its decisions, to accommodate those who wish to obtain information about or participate in the process. The ordinance is intended to assure that the deliberations of commissions, boards, councils, advisory bodies and other agencies of the City and the City’s operations are open to the public. (Ord. 11957 § 00.1)

Open Government Bill of Rights

Read the Open Government Bill of Rights, which details the rights of Oakland citizens to have access to city government.