PUBLIC RECORDS SHANGHAIED!

March 18, 2008

COW regularly looks up documents or makes public records requests of the Town of Woodside, the County of San Mateo and other public agencies so that we can obtain copies of documents that are the basis of our stories. Our stories are carefully researched and based on documented facts. When a governmental agency resists letting us copy certain documents, it raises our suspicions.

The Public Records Act does have a few limited exceptions. For example, it is not possible to copy the official plans maintained by the Building Department without the written permission of the professional who signed the plans. Even so, the Building Official cannot just deny the request. There is a procedure that the Building Official must follow to help you get that permission. There is a good reason for this exception – it protects the architect from liability for the misuse of the plans.

But we were very taken aback when we were allowed to see, but not keep a copy, of a stamped letter from a geologist. Grading and soil documents are not like architectural drawings. The law is very clear that grading documents, geology reports, compaction reports, and soils reports are public documents. We were looking to see if everyone is treated equally. Under what circumstances are such reports required and when are they not required? So why were we not allowed to keep a copy of the document? Either staff is hiding something or once again the Town Attorney needs to spend time training them on the Public Records Act.

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