Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, September 16, 2011


Page 3


S.C. to Decide Whether GIS Database Exempt From Public Records Act




The California Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a public agency that maintains a geographic information system database is required to make the database accessible to the public under the California Public Records Act.

The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco Wednesday, unanimously granted review in Sierra Club v. Superior Court (County of Orange), 195 Cal. App. 4th 1537.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal, Div. Three, ruled May 31 that the OC Landbase— a parcel-level digital basemap identifying over 640,000 parcels of land, with their boundaries, assessor numbers, and street addresses, with links to the names and addresses of the owners and other information—is not covered by the CPRA.

Because the act does not require disclosure, the court said, the county can make the database available to users for a fee and impose restrictions on its disclosure and distribution. If the database were a public record, the county would have to make it available to anyone willing to pay the costs of duplication, which in the case of computer data is minimal, and could not restrict the uses that the party obtaining it makes of it.

The Orange County Register reported on its OC Watchdog blog last year that the county charges $1 per parcel for Landbase data, up to 100,000 parcels, and a lesser amount for the remaining data. The Sierra Club told the newspaper that the county asked $375,000 for a license to the  entire Landbase system, though the Orange County Fire Authority was apparently able to obtain a copy for $75,000.

The Sierra Club’s request that the county produce the database as a public record was rejected under Government Code Sec. 6254.9, the CPRA exemption for “computer software developed by a state or local agency,” including “computer mapping systems.” Orange Superior Court Judge James J. Di Cesare ruled that the exemption applied and denied the group’s writ petition.

Justice Raymond Ikola, writing for the Court of Appeal, cited legislative history and said the county was correct. The current wording of the exemption, he noted, was enacted in 1988 specifically to permit the City of San Jose to recoup the cost of developing its computer graphing systems.

The Sierra Club’s contrary argument, that the OC Landbase isn’t a computer mapping system because it contains no programs, would render the 1988 amendment both meaningless and superfluous, Ikola said.

In other conference action, the justices sent the case of two former Riverside County hospital officials back to the Fourth District’s Div. Three for reconsideration.

The court ruled two years ago in People v. Aldana (2009) 174 Cal App 4th 1025 that there was insufficient evidence that Daniel Aldana, the former chief of pediatrics at Riverside County Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley hospital, had control of public funds or personally falsified his time records, or that Donna Matney, the former hospital administrator, acted negligently or with criminal intent by preparing erroneous time records for Aldana.

The high court, however, granted review and deferred briefing pending its ruling in People v. Stark (2011) 52 Cal.4th 368. The court held Aug. 1 that a conviction under Penal Code Sec. 424, proscribing the misappropriation of public funds, does not require proof of specific intent, but does require proof “that the defendant knew generally that a nonpenal law required or prohibited his conduct.”


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