Guidelines for Public Records Act Requests

Guidelines for Public Records Act Requests

It is the goal of the Building Services Department to respond to public record requests in compliance with federal and state laws. These guidelines are intended to clarify the process for the public for inspecting or copying records under the California Public Records Act (the "Act") and to establish clear procedures in implementing the Act.[1]   Procedures for inspection, copying and a description of the types of records generally not subject to disclosure are outlined. The guidelines apply only to the Department and are not intended to establish procedures for the entire County or to supersede any requirements of state law. 

Any person may request to inspect a public record or request a copy of the record. Most Department records are subject to disclosure, although some records are exempt from disclosure, including Code Enforcement, based on limited exceptions. Disclosure of records is the rule, and non-disclosure is the exception. Additional information on the California Public Records Act is available from the First Amendment Project.

Inspection of Public Records
Public records are open to inspection by advance appointment during normal business hours, and every person has a right to inspect any public record except for those records or portions of records which are exempt from disclosure under state law (Section 6253(a).  The term "inspection" essentially means reviewing the record.

Copies of Records
Under the Act, a person may also request a copy of records upon payment of fees covering direct cost of duplication, or a statutory fee if applicable. (Section 6253(b) and (c))  The request for a copy of a record must reasonably describe an identifiable record or records.  If Department staff does not understand the request, he/she must make a reasonable effort to elicit additional clarifying information from the requestor that will help identify the records being sought. (Section 6253.1) The official copies of building plans are open to inspection, but there are restrictions on copying the plans (see discussion below.)

Electronic Records
If the Department keeps the records in an electronic format, the public may request the records in an electronic format, and within certain limitations enumerated by state law, the Department must provide the records in electronic format.  (Section 6253.9.) The Department requires payment of the copy fee prior to provision of the copies. $5.00 per CD-ROM

Records Available On-line
Beyond records held by the Building Services Department, there may be additional related records held by the Planning Department.  The following list summarizes examples of public records available in electronic format on the Planning website: (www.co.monterey.ca.us/planning):

  • Ordinances
  • Text of Land Use Plans
  • Text of Area Plans
  • Text of General Plan
  • Permit Resolutions (since 2001)
  • Hearing Agendas and Minutes
  • Environmental Impact Reports
  • Recent Environmental Documents
  • Planning Permits Approved
  • Active Planning Projects

Procedures and Time Limits for Making Records Available
If a member of the public requests to inspect a record, they should complete the form provided and submit.  Depending on the size of the request, the type of records requested, and staff availability, staff will make the record(s) available for inspection as soon as feasible within the ten day legal requirement or staff will notify the requestor that additional time will be necessary.  Some records are maintained off-site and may require additional time for retrieval. 

RECORDS EXEMPT FROM DISCLOSURE
State law recognizes that certain categories of documents may be exempt from disclosure (Section 6254 and 6275 et seq.). The Department may need to seek legal advice from County Counsel in determining that a record is exempt from disclosure. Examples of categories of documents that the County may exempt from disclosure include the following[2]:  

  1. Drafts: memos, notes, preliminary drafts that are not normally kept by the Department in the ordinary course of business, provided the public interest in non-disclosure clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
     
  2. Records containing or seeking advice of counsel:  These are protected by attorney client and attorney work-product privilege.  This includes notations on documents by legal counsel.
     
  3. Litigation:  Documents specifically prepared for use in litigation if the Department is a party to the litigation.
     
  4. Investigatory records such as those involving code enforcement files are exempt under the California Public Record Act.  Therefore, any decision to disclose a specific document from those records will be made at the discretion of the Records Team staff in consultation with their managers and County Counsel. Records for which the Department can demonstrate that the public interest in non-disclosure clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

OFFICIAL COPIES OF BUILDING PLANS
The Department is required by law to keep on file "an official copy of the plans of every building, during the life of the building, for which the department issued a building permit." (hereafter "official building plan".)  (Health and Safety Code Section 19850.)  

Building Plans Include:
The "official building plan" includes any blueprint, report or other document wet-stamped by a licensed professional submitted to the Department as part of a Building or Grading permit. The official building plan may be maintained as an official copy, which may be on microfilm or other type of photographic copy of every building, during the life of the building, for which the department issued a building permit[3].

Building Plans DO NOT Include:
Under State law, the Department is not required to have or maintain on file plans for[4]:

1.    Single or multiple dwellings not more than two stories and a basement in height (Interpretation: RESIDENCES: one and two story,  single or multifamily dwellings do not require maintenance of building plans regardless of whether they have a basement);

2.     Garages and other structures appurtenant to buildings described in (1) above;

3.      Farm or ranch structure; or

4.     Any one-story structure (except steel frame or concrete structures) where the span between bearing walls does not exceed 25 feet. 

Copies of Building Plans:
Any member of the public may obtain copies of building plans only if they follow specific procedures required by State law. Under Health and Safety Code Section 19851, an official building plan may not be duplicated in whole or in part except: 

  1. With written permission, which permission shall not be unreasonably withheld, of the certified, licensed or registered professional or his or her successor, if any, who signed the original documents and the written permission of the original or current owner of the building;[5] OR

  2. By court order or upon the request of any state agency.

If a member of the public desires a copy of an official building plan, he/she will need to complete a Public Records Request Form for an affidavit requesting a copy of the plans.  This form of affidavit shall be provided by the Department upon receipt of payment in the amount of $294.61 certifying, among other things, that the plans "shall only be used for the maintenance, operation, and use of the building." (Health and Safety Code section 19851 (c) (1).  The Department will then submit the signed affidavit to gain permission from the certified, licensed or registered professional or his or her successor, if any, who signed the original documents and the written permission of the original or current owner of the building.

Any member of the public has the right to inspect the official building plans without paying a fee; however the inspection must occur on the premises of the Department during normal business hours and will require completion of a Public Records Request form and a scheduled appointment with the records staff.  

Making a  Request for Public Records
The Department prefers that the public complete a Public Records Request Form to ensure that the most complete and accurate records available are obtained for the Requestor.  Records may be requested in person, by mail, FAX, e-mail, on-line or on the phone. The Request form is also available at the Permit Center.  Requests made over the phone will be prepared by staff.

The Request Form can be submitted in person, by e-mail, FAX, or mail to the following location:

Building Services Department-2nd Floor
168 W Alisal St
Salinas CA 93901
Phone: (831) 755-5027
FAX: (831) 757-9516

Requests Made Via E-mail
The Public Records Request Form may be submitted by e-mail in writing or using the Form (preferred): 299-recordsrequest@co.monterey.ca.us

NOTE TO MAC USERS: There is a known problem of compatibility between Preview (the default program for viewing PDF on the Mac operating system) and Acrobat forms. PDF forms filled out in Preview do not display all form data when opened in Adobe Acrobat Reader. You MUST use Adobe Acrobat Reader to fill out forms when using a Mac computer. (Steps to take to ensure that your form will accept and save your data.)

1. Download the Public Records Request Form from the Department Website and complete all required information.

2.  Attach the document and send to the Department email address above.

3.  Staff will confirm electronically that the request was received w/in one workday and advise when the records can be reviewed.

Charges For Copies:
Pursuant to the Monterey County Code, the Department charges a fee for copies based on the direct costs of duplication.  Current charges are:

  • $0.12 per photocopied page (8.5" x 11", 8.5" x 14" and 11" x 17")
  • $0.20 per printed page for microfilmed records
  • $5.00 per CD-ROM
  • Actual duplication costs for blue prints or other oversized or irregularly shaped documents
  • Records that require computer data compilation, extraction or programming will be charged based on the fully burdened labor rate of $140.00 per hour, prorated for actual time spent

The Department requires payment of the copy fee prior to provision of the copies. 


Footnotes:

[1]  The California Public Records Act is codified at section 6250 through 6270 of the California Government Code, as periodically amended.  All citations to section numbers in these guidelines are to the California Government Code, unless otherwise indicated..  In the event of any inconsistency between these guidelines and the Public Records Act, the Act shall control.    

[2] This list is not exhaustive. State law exempts other categories of records from disclosure.

[3] Examples of documents that are wet stamped by a licensed professional and may require an affidavit to be reproduced include, but are not limited to:

1.        Building Site or Office (stamped) copies of Approved Building Plans

2.        Foundation plans and details

3.        Roof framing plans and details

4.        Wood-Soil separation and protection plans

5.        Post, beam, joist and floor decking details

6.        Floor and framing plans

7.        Fireplace and Chimney Details

8.        Energy Forms (Title 24)

9.        Truss Calculations

10.      Landscape plans and details  

 [4] This exception does not apply to plans of a common interest development as defined in Section 1351 of the Civil Code or plans for steel frame or concrete buildings. If the Department has such plans, however, disclosure would be subject to the procedures for official building plans.

[5] Other regulations apply if the building is a common interest development.