SPJ/LA Letter to UC Board of Regents

Society of Professional Journalists
Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter
Post Office Box 572632
Tarzana, CA 91357

 

March 5, 2019

To the UC Board of Regents:
Maria Anguiano
Richard C. Blum
Laphonza Butler
Michael Cohen
Gareth Elliott
Cecilia Estolano
Devon Graves
Howard “Peter” Guber
George Kieffer
Sherry L. Lansing
Richard Leib
Hadi Makarechian
Eloy Ortiz Oakley
Lark Park
John A. Pérez
Richard Sherman
Jonathan “Jay” Sures
Ellen Tauscher
Charlene Zettel

Ex Officio Regents
Gavin Newsom
Eleni Kounalakis
Anthony Rendon
Tony Thurmond
Janet Napolitano
Darin Anderson
Jason Morimoto

Dear Members:

I am writing on behalf of the Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ/LA) to call to your attention what we believe to be a willful violation by UCLA of the California Public Records Act. We have been seeking some very specific information from UCLA without success for the past year, and UCLA has honored neither the letter nor the spirit of the law in failing to provide it, or even in providing any explanation or justification for their failure to provide it.

On February 26, 2018, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin delivered a lecture on the UCLA campus at the invitation of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations. It is the longstanding practice of the Center to post the video and podcast of such appearances its website; these are, after all, public appearances by public figures on a publicly funded college campus, open to the general public.

Nevertheless, because hecklers at one point briefly disrupted his presentation, Secretary Mnuchin retroactively withdrew his permission to post the video, and UCLA complied. After SPJ/LA and other organizations publicly complained that UCLA had no right to censor the video of this public event, and after internal consultations with its own lawyers, UCLA quickly reversed its position and one day later, posted the video and podcast of Mnuchin’s appearance.

SPJ/LA has repeatedly asked for an explanation and background material behind both UCLA’s initial decision to withhold publication of the video, and its reversal to allow the posting. Because UCLA declined to voluntarily provide the requested information, we were initially advised by Peggy McInerney, Director of Communications for the Burkle Center, on March 5, 2018 that we would have to submit a formal CPRA request to the office of UCLA Information Practices. That letter of request is attached. We received a boiler-plate letter 10 days later, on 3/16/18 (also attached), designating our request as PRR #18-5461

Since that time, we have received nothing but auto-generated emails every two months, not signed by any individual, telling us they have to revise the timetable because they “have not completed the requisite review.” It seems quite obvious to us that UCLA has no intention ever of completing it, and are hoping that we will simply give up and go away.

In September, we publicly complained after six months of total inaction by UCLA on our request.

In November, we contacted a prominent First Amendment and government transparency attorney who told us that UCLA, in functionally ignoring our CPRA request, “is grossly and unlawfully delinquent in its foot-dragging.”

He cited the pertinent Government Code Section in the CPRA as 6253 (c):

Each agency, upon a request for a copy of records, shall, within 10 days from receipt of the request, determine whether the request, in whole or in part, seeks copies of disclosable public records in the possession of the agency and shall promptly notify the person making the request of the determination and the reasons therefor.

In unusual circumstances, the time limit prescribed in this section may be extended by written notice by the head of the agency or his or her designee to the person making the request, setting forth the reasons for the extension and the date on which a determination is expected to be dispatched. No notice shall specify a date that would result in an extension for more than 14 days.

When the agency dispatches the determination, and if the agency determines that the request seeks disclosable public records, the agency shall state the estimated date and time when the records will be made available.

As used in this section, “unusual circumstances” means the following, but only to the extent reasonably necessary to the proper processing of the particular request:
(1) The need to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or other establishments that are separate from the office processing the request.
(2) The need to search for, collect, and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records that are demanded in a single request.
(3) The need for consultation, which shall be conducted with all practicable speed, with another agency having substantial interest in the determination of the request or among two or more components of the agency having substantial subject matter interest therein.
(4) The need to compile data, to write programming language or a computer program, or to construct a computer report to extract data.
(d) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to permit an agency to delay or obstruct the inspection or copying of public records.

We have just received yet another robot email, dated 2/28/19, advising us that “we must revise the estimated availability date regarding your attached request, as the requisite review has not yet been completed.”

Our efforts to appeal to UCLA have been unavailing, and our patience is exhausted. We are now appealing to you, as the UC governing body, and to our local law enforcement agencies, the Los Angeles City Attorney and the Los Angeles District Attorney, in an effort to force UCLA to meet its statutory obligations to comply with the California Public Records Act and turn over the requested information without further delay.

Thank you for assistance and your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Joel Bellman
Ethics Committee Chair and Board Member
Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter, Society of Professional Journalists

Attachments: SPJ/LA CPRA Request 3/5/18
UCLA Response 3/16/18

cc: Strefan Fauble, Deputy City Attorney, Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney
Alan Yochelson, Head Deputy, Public Integrity Division Los Angeles County District
Attorney’s Office

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