If you’re in Riverside County and you want copies of public records, then you might have to break open your piggy bank, as Supervisors are considering a fee of $50 an hour for fulfilling all such retrieval requests. The motivation for the proposal is to help the county recover the costs of duplication, including the amount of time that many requests involve, which takes county workers away from other duties. But should access to public records be contingent upon a fee? Open government advocates would likely disagree and opponents may argue that the potential ordinance is a violation of state public records law. Under the terms of the proposal, the first hour spent on a public records request would be free. Advocates for greater transparency fear that public inspection of public documents will be less likely if a fee is in place. The Press Enterprise reports that Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware, an open-government advocacy group, commented the following: “If you have no idea what the access is going to cost, then I think you are going to be hesitant to even make a request. If the county does approve this, we would think seriously about filing suit challenging it.”
If a resident faces financial hardship, then under the ordinance they would be able to have the fee waived, but in the end, the citizen would be forced to jump through hoops. Supervisors are scheduled to discuss the proposal at their meeting on Tuesday. Supporters argue that the county’s tight budgetary times make the ordinance necessary. Info on the order initiating the ordinance can be seen here.
And in other Riverside-related news, Supervisors are also considering a solar development fee. The county currently has the largest solar energy plants in the state, but in light of the effect that massive plants can have on the county and development, officials are weighing a 2% levy on solar developers’ annual revenue. Riverside has proven to be an attractive location for solar energy plants, and critics of the fee argue that it will slow down renewable energy in the region. Riverside County Supervisor John J. Benoit supports the fee and commented, “We're just saying that when we're left with all the impacts of development, give us a little something back for the imposition on our county.”