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How do I obtain a copy of a public record in San Francisco?

To review or receive a copy of a public record, you must first make a request to the City department that has the records you are interested in reviewing. For example, if you are interested in reviewing a copy of a report from the Department of Public Works, you should direct your request to that Department.

Do I have to make my request in writing?

No. You may make an oral or written request, in person or through the mail. However, we recommend that you put your request in writing so there is a clear record of your request. A written request that is clear and concise also helps the custodian to respond to your request in a timely and efficient manner.

What do I need to say in my request?

There is no specific form that must be used to request records, nor is there any language you must use in your request. For your convenience, you may wish to click on the link at the bottom of the page where we have provided a form for making a request. You must provide a reasonable description of the desired records. To expedite processing of your request, you should be as specific as possible.

How long does a City department have to respond to my request?

Generally, the City must respond to a request to inspect or copy records within ten days. In "unusual circumstances," the City may extend its time to respond by an additional fourteen calendar days. The City must inform you in writing of the extension within the initial ten-day period.

"Unusual circumstances" permitting the extension are limited to the need to: (a) search for and collect the requested records from facilities separate from the office processing the request; (b) search for, collect and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records included in a single request; and/or (c) consult with another part of the department or with another department that has a substantial interest in the response to the request.

Under the City's Sunshine Law, however, the City must respond more quickly to "Immediate Disclosure" requests. This deadline applies only if you place the words "Immediate Disclosure Request" across the top of the request and on the envelope, subject line or cover sheet in or with which the request is transmitted. Unless the Department invokes an extension, the Department must respond to an "Immediate Disclosure Request" by the close of business the next day.

A Department may extend its time to respond to an Immediate Disclosure request by an additional fourteen calendar days for the same reasons listed above. The department must inform you by the close of business the day following receipt of the request if it is invoking the extension of time.

How much may the Department charge me for responding to the request?

The Department may not charge any fees to cover the time and costs incurred in searching for, locating or collecting records to respond to your request. The Department may not charge you to view its records.

The Department may charge you for the duplication of copies of records. For routinely produced documents, such as copies of an agenda, the City may charge one cent per page. For documents gathered and copied to your order, the City may charge ten cents per page. The Department may charge you a higher fee only if it prepares and posts an itemized cost analysis establishing that the per page direct cost exceeds ten cents per page. Where you request a copy of a record in other than a paper format, the Department may charge you for the cost of the medium on which the information is duplicated (e.g. a computer disc).

In addition, a Department may charge you for the postage of sending you the records.

Do I have to tell the City why I want the record?

No. You do not have to give the City a reason for reviewing the record. City employees, however, may ask questions relating to your request if it helps them respond to the request or direct you to another Department that may have the records you seek.

What records are public?

The law defines "public record" broadly to include "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 the physical form and characteristics." A document does not have to be in written form to be a public record. A public record may consist of any medium that contains information, such as a computer tape or disc or video or cassette recording.

Every record made or received by the City is presumed to be a public record, unless it is subject to an exemption. Exempt records are those that federal, state or local law prohibits the City from disclosing or permits the City to decline to disclose. For example, the United States and California Constitutions prohibit the City that would violate an individual's right to privacy.

The custodian of records must either give you a copy of the requested record or provide you with a written justification of why the record is not public. The City is not required to create a document in response to a request. Nor is the City required to honor prospective requests.

The City and County of San Francisco maintains an Index of Public Records as required by the Sunshine Ordinance at the following URL:

http://mission.sfgov.org/sunindex/

If the custodian denies the request, is he or she required to give me a written log listing the documents the City is refusing to disclose?

No. Although the City is required to provided a written justification giving the legal reason why the record is not public, the law does not require the City to provide to you a document log.

Is a City official required to answer questions about his or her office?

Each City Department is required to designate an employee who can answer questions regarding departmental operations, plans, policies or positions. That person must respond to all general inquiries, provided that no more than fifteen minutes is required to obtain the information responsive to the inquiry. Other than responding to general inquiries about Department operations, City employees are not required to respond to inquiries from the public.

If a City official denies me access to a record, is there anything I can do?

Yes, the City's Sunshine Law provides for an administrative appeal to either the City Attorney, as Supervisor of Records, or the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force. In addition, under both State and City law you may sue in court.

If you have been denied access to a record that you believe to be public and that the City has improperly withheld, you may petition the Supervisor of Records for a review of the request. You should send your: (1) request for review by the Supervisor of Records, (2) a copy of your original request, and (3) a copy of the Department's response to:

Office of the City Attorney
Attention: Supervisor of Records
City Hall, Room 234
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102

The Supervisor of Records will then review the matter. If the record has been improperly withheld, the Supervisor will order the custodian of records to release the record.

You may also file a complaint with the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force. Send your complaint to:

Sunshine Ordinance Task Force
City Hall, Room 409
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102-4683

Tel. No. (415) 554-7724
Fax. No. (415) 554-7854
TDD/TTY No. 554-5227
You may also submit your complaint online at the following URL:
http://www.sfgov.org/site/sunshine_form.asp?id=18564

The Task Force will review the matter and hold a hearing, if it deems it necessary. If the record has been improperly withheld, the Task Force will order the custodian of records to release the record.

Last updated: 11/19/2013 9:59:48 AM