CPRA primer

A brief guide to California’s public records law

CPRA primer

A brief guide to California’s public records law

Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966, the Freedom of Information Act, commonly known as FOIA, is the federal open-government law that gives people the right to access federal government agency records that are not exempt from disclosure. Classified material related to national security, for example, is one type of record that feds deem exempt.

Each state has its own version of FOIA, and in the Golden State, it’s the California Public Records Act, or CPRA, which was signed into law in 1968 by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan.

The first sentence of CPRA states, in part: “the Legislature, mindful of the right of individuals to privacy, finds and declares that access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.”

Any person—including you, regardless of your place of residency—can access California public records, granted they are not exempt. Here are some particulars you should know:

• A public record is any writing or form of communication “prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.”

• A person may inspect a record in-person during regular business hours free of charge.

• A person may request public records verbally, in writing or via electronic communication.

• Within 10 days of receiving a request, each agency “shall promptly notify the person making the request” whether or not the record shall or shall not be disclosed and why.

• The agency may only charge “fees covering direct costs of duplication.”

• If you believe the agency is illegally withholding a record, you may sue for the record, and if you prevail, you can be awarded “court costs and reasonable attorney fees” by the agency.

—Gabriel Sandoval