Supreme Court sides with public on cost-of-records case

July 8, 2013 10:36am

•  Says county’s GIS property database not exempt

•  “Such databases are public records”

Orange County’s attempt to get more money from people trying to access its database of information about land parcels is contrary to the law, the California Supreme Court says.

Using the proper software, a person could access what the county calls its “OC Landbase,” and create a layered digital map containing information for over 640,000 specific parcels of land in Orange County, including geographic boundaries, assessor parcel numbers, street addresses, and links to additional information on the parcel owners.

When the county tried to charge it a fee higher than what would normally be permitted under the state’s public records law, the Sierra Club sued and Monday the state’s highest court agreed with the environmental group.

“We hold that although GIS mapping software falls within the ambit of … statutory exclusion, a GIS-formatted database like the OC Landbase does not. Accordingly, such databases are public records that, unless otherwise exempt, must be produced upon request at the actual cost of duplication,” says the opinion.

And the high court notes that the format of information is “not generally determinative of the public record status of government information,” noting that the Legislature more than a dozen years ago amended the Public Records Act making “electronic data available in whatever format it is normally maintained by the agency.”

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