MCA supports the comments submitted by the First Amendment Coalition on this item, and calls for the repeal of Mendocino County Ordinance 4507.
Mendocino Cannabis Alliance,
Dear Honorable Supervisors,
I am writing on behalf of the First Amendment Coalition, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for government transparency across California, to comment on Mendocino County Ordinance 4507 and related memorandum by County Counsel Christian Curtis dated Feb. 2, 2023.
We reiterate our opposition* to the ordinance, as it erects fee barriers that deprive the public of their rights under the California Public Records Act and California Constitution to access information. We urge the county to take this opportunity to begin the process of rescinding the ordinance.
As County Counsel’s memorandum on the ordinance’s implementation makes clear, the goal is to deter Public Records Act Requests, thereby chilling public access to information. Deterring public access to information should never be the goal of the government.
The memo asserts that that county’s "burdens" increased in recent years due to both increase in volume and complexity of requests. Following implementation of the ordinance, limited data available shows the ordinance has had a possible moderate deterrent effect on requests, the memo states. The memo concludes by saying “some of the preliminary results suggest that the ordinance is effective in mitigating costs related to abusive and commercial requests.” However, the Public Records Act prohibits the government from discriminating between requests based on their purpose, and the government may not deem some requests more worthy than others.
Rather than adopting policies aimed at curbing public access to information, the county could instead address to the asserted “significant burden” of responding to requests for information by proactively making more information available online, and by putting effort into finding other ways to improve efficiencies and support county staff in fulfilling their important role as public servants.
Chilling access to public information should never be the goal of government. And that’s the clear goal of this fee ordinance.
We urge the county to halt the practice of impost fees on members of the public who seek access to records to which they are entitled, and we encourage the Board of Supervisors to take appropriate actions to begin the process of rescinding the ordinance.
Thank you for your consideration as you review this latest report from staff.
Programs & Outreach Director
First Amendment Coalition