The California Public Records Act is a series of laws that are collectively called “Sunshine Laws.” These laws were designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies. In fact, in writing the legislation, the California Legislature reiterated, “Access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.”
The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power was sued April 4 for failing to release public documents as required by state law. LADWP officials stonewalled the San Diego County Water Authority for five months, turning over a very small number of documents that were mostly not relevant to the request. The Water Authority had no choice but to file the suit to compel LADWP to follow the law and turn over the documents.
The lawsuit alleges that the records produced by other public agencies “paint a startling portrait of a shadow government with its hands on virtually every major important policy decision to be presented to the MWD Board, including the setting of MWD’s water rates and charges. Those documents also confirm that employees of LADWP played an especially active role in this MWD Member Agency Managers Working Group, the formal name for the Secret Society. LADWP frequently communicated with other members of the Secret Society and its paid consultants about the group’s activities.”
To read the documents filed with the court, click here.
On October 28, 2011, the Water Authority sent Public Records Act requests to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and several of its member agencies, including LADWP. The Water Authority wanted to learn more about the meetings of a group of MWD member agency managers believed to be meeting secretly and coordinating votes of the MWD board of directors.
Several of the agencies that responded to the Water Authority’s request produced tens of thousands of pages of documents, including documents that evidenced the existence of a Secret Society that has been in place since 2009.
The records produced by other agencies also showed that LADWP had spent water ratepayer money to pay consultants and fund a clandestine economic study of the Water Authority’s water rates and water transfer agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District.
The Water Authority is represented in this lawsuit by attorney Kelly A. Aviles. Aviles’ legal practice specializes in the requirements of the California Public Records Act and the Ralph M. Brown Act. She often serves as litigation counsel to Californians Aware, a nonprofit organization established to help the public understand what they need to know in order to hold government and other powerful institutions accountable for their actions.
In addition to Aviles, the Water Authority is also represented in this matter by Dennis A. Winston, an attorney who also specializes in litigation involving open meetings, public records and the First Amendment. Winston is also the current president of Californians Aware.