Shasta County repeals public records fee law

The Shasta County Board of Supervisors recently repealed Ordinance No. 755, a local law that imposed illegal fees for copies of public records that could run into the thousands of dollars. This is the latest victory in the First Amendment Coalition’s campaign with the ACLU of Northern California against such fees.

Last year FAC revealed eight California counties that have used dubious legal arguments to justify egregiously high fees for copies of public records, with one county estimating it would cost nearly $70,000 to access records sought by a single California Public Records Act request.

Few can afford that. If only the wealthy can afford access to public records, access becomes largely meaningless, local governments become unaccountable and democracy itself suffers.

So, FAC reports that since the work began to identify and oppose these unlawful local laws, five of the eight counties have now abandoned this unlawful practice.

First, they worked to ensure Mendocino County would no longer charge unlawful fees for access to public records. Shasta County was up next. In this letter, FAC, joined by the ACLU and local news organizations Shasta Scout and the Redding Record Searchlight, told the county it must repeal or FAC would sue.

Citing our advocacy on the issue in Mendocino, nearby Siskiyou County voted to repeal a similar fee regime in December. FAC also turned its attention to Tuolumne County, investigating whether the county was enforcing its version of such a law. To its credit, the county promptly took up a measure to strike its lawfrom the books.

Moving south, FAC set its sights on Ventura County. While researching how Ventura was enforcing its fee ordinance, lawmakers took notice of counties’ actions up north and decided to be proactive as well and repealed its fee law.

Three other counties — Los Angeles, Calaveras, and Santa Cruz — still have similar laws on the books. However, the FAC investigation found no indication those counties are actively enforcing them.

This work to combat these transparency taxes is about ensuring public records are available to everyone, not just those who can afford it. Access limited by wealth is access denied. And that’s not good for anyone.