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Californians Aware

The Center for Public Forum Rights

The CalAware Mission
Californians Aware (CalAware) is a nonprofit organization established in 2004 to
help taxpayers, public officials and journalists keep Californians aware of what they
need to know to hold government and other powerful institutions accountable for
their actions. Its mission is to support and defend open government, an enquiring
press and a citizenry free to exchange facts and opinions on public issues. In short,
Californians Aware is a center for information, guidance and initiatives in First
Amendment, open meeting and public records laws.

What CalAware Does
• CalAware works to preserve and extend your liberties and protections before speech or civic action
puts them into play by supporting and enforcing strong limitations on the power of government.
• CalAware provides information and experienced guidance to the public on how to deal with
government forces striving to hide information, squelch public criticism or exclude the public from
obtaining full and open access to the operation of government.
• CalAware helps members of the public find an experienced First Amendment, open meetings and
public records act lawyer when legal action is required to defend rights or compel access.

Who CalAware Helps
CalAware is a phone call or email away whenever and wherever violations of First Amendment, open
meetings or public records laws occur. CalAware steps up on request when there is evidence that
public access to governmental information is denied without cause, or when legal risks or threats
occur contrary to law. Here are a few examples of people CalAware can help.

Parents attempting to address a school board or to access relevant information about what the
district did or plans to do.

Reporters attempting to access a news scene, a government file or a court proceeding or document
are denied access without cause, or when legal risks or threats in pursuing a story arise.

Taxpayers who can’t get answers about how public funds were spent or who played a role in changing
or bending the rules that affect their home or business.

Petition signature gatherers or pamphleteers prevented from approaching fellow citizens door to
door, on the street or in a shopping mall.

Condominium owners who want to get messages to neighbors about how their
homeowners’ association is being run — messages embarrassing to management.

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Californians Aware
The Center for Public Forum Rights

College students kept out of meetings of student government that decide how fees are spent or
other important campus issues.

Neighborhood organizers warned to stop criticizing a project development or face a bankrupting

Elected board or council members warned to stop asking inconvenient questions at public
meetings, or questioning staff about a constituent’s neglected concerns.

Watchdog activists ordered to stop videotaping the meeting of a public body.

CalAware Strategies
• CalAware promotes legislation to assure full and open access to governmental information and
to open and robust discourse in the public forum.
• Calaware puts government on written notice of violations of First Amendment, open meetings
and public records violations and encourages correction to avoid legal action.
• When necessary, CalAware brings legal action to compel compliance with the Brown Act, the
California Public Records Act, and the First Amendment.
• CalAware sponsors educational activities and publishes guidebooks and other information to
assure that citizens know their rights and protections and how to use them confidently.

CalAware Achievements

Protection from SLAPP Fees CalAware’s First Amendment/Brown Act challenge in 2007 to a
school board’s retaliation against a trustee’s outspoken criticism was unsuccessful. And it left
CalAware’s co-plaintiff and first president, Richard McKee, compelled to pay the board’s attorney
fees for having the case dismissed by a government SLAPP motion. That threat to Brown Act
enforcement prompted the passage in 2009 of SB 786, making citizens’ unsuccessful suits to
enforce the open government laws immune from such fee shifting consequences.

Withholding VIP Speaker’s Contract CalAware in 2010 won a court decision that California
State University Stanislaus violated its duties under the California Public Records Act and
wrongfully withheld a speaking contract with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Overcharges for Public Records Copies CalAware in 2010 sued the Contra Costa County
Community College District for violating the California Public Records Act in charging $40 per
hour for staff time in compiling copies of public records; the District settled the suit by dropping
the requirement.

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Californians Aware
The Center for Public Forum Rights

Withholding Agenda Calendars CalAware in 2014 sued the City of Salinas for withholding
from the public, as a preliminary draft exempt from disclosure, a “calendar of upcoming events” to
be placed on future city council meeting agendas, although the document was made available to
council members. The city settled the suit by pledging to make future calendars available on

Backstage Serial Signatures CalAware in 2015 sued the Los Angeles County Board of
Supervisors alleging it violated the Brown Act when its members privately and serially signed
letters to the Legislature and the Governor opposing a bill intended to strengthen . . . the Brown
Act. The Board was expected to settle the suit in August 2016 by pledging to announce any future
full board signature correspondence on the open meeting agenda and authorize it by public vote.

Abuse of Closed Real Property Talks CalAware in 2012 sued the Los Angeles Memorial
Coliseum Commission and won a court decision that commissioners had violated Brown Act limits
on the scope of real property closed sessions by secretly engaging in wide-ranging discussions of
multiple aspects of a proposed lease to USC.

Abuse of Closed “Security” Talks CalAware in 2012 sued the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors
for holding an unlawful closed session to discuss with Governor Brown the financial burden on
the County of his plan to shift state prisoners to local jails, forcing the Board to settle by pledging
not to repeat the practice.

Abuse of Closed Litigation Talk CalAware in 2014 sued the Board of Trustees of the Pasadena
Area Community College for misrepresenting the facts justifying a closed session to consider
litigation; the court ruled that this violation of the Brown Act voided a $400,000 severance
payment to a departing chancellor.

Withholding Asset Forfeiture Records CalAware in 2016 sued the City of Baldwin Park for
failing to retain records of its application to the U.S. Department of Justice for a share of funds or
property confiscated from citizens on suspicion of criminal involvement; the City settled by
pledging to do so in the future.


Remedy for Perceived Open Meeting Violations Prompted by an appellate court ruling that the
Brown Act provided no remedy for one-off past violations, CalAware co-sponsored a successful 2012
bill, SB 2003, providing a way for local public bodies to avoid litigation by pledging to abandon
meeting-related practices that prompt accusations of Brown Act violations–without conceding that they
are unlawful. It also gives citizens the opportunity to demand and achieve such changes without
having to file a lawsuit.

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Californians Aware
The Center for Public Forum Rights

Public Records Access Enforcement Prompted by its 2006 audit results, CalAware sponsored AB
2927, which among other things would have provided for immediate Attorney General review of every
public agency denial of access to its records, and for a fine of up to $100 per each day a public agency
was found by a court to have withheld access not only incorrectly but willfully. Vetoed by Governor
Schwarzenegger for requiring AG review of access denials by a governor’s office.

Public Records Access Improvement Prompted by Governor Schwarzenegger’s veto of AB 2927,
CalAware sponsored SB 1393, which would have required every state agency, board and commission
with a website to provide on its home page an HTML form allowing people to submit requests for
public records, and called on Attorney General Jerry Brown to convene an expert study group to
recommend which types of records should be routinely posted on state websites to spare citizens from
having to ask for them piecemeal. Vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger as unnecessary.

Access to Records of Auxiliary Organizations Prompted by an appellate court ruling that nonprofit
auxiliary organizations providing funding to public colleges and universities were not subject to the
California Public Records Act, CalAware in 2009 supported a bill that subjects auxiliaries to special
records disclosure requirements.

Protection for Citizens Speaking at Public Meetings Prompted by repeated abuses by local
government bodies, CalAware in 2014 co-sponsored a bill protecting citizens’ rights to address public
officials at open meetings without viewpoint discrimination, interruptions and other frustrations;
Governor Brown vetoed the bill as unnecessary.

Announcement Summarizing Public Officials’ Raises Prompted by other legislation correcting self-
dealing abuses by officials of the City of Bell, CalAware in 2016 supports a bill—SB 1436—to require
local government bodies to provide an oral summary of their rationale for giving their top executives a
raise or benefits improvement.

California Legislature Transparency Act CalAware in 2016 was an early endorser of this citizen
initiative constitutional amendment, which placed on the November ballot Proposition 54, ending last
minute “gut and amend” tactics to escape public awareness, and providing for both official and citizen
video of all hearings and floor action.

Public Records Law Compliance Audits
Executive Branch Agencies, 2006 This audit of 31 leading California state agencies produced such
dismal results that Governor Schwarzenegger issued an executive order (S-03-06) requiring all
executive branch departments, offices, boards and commissions to undergo public records training and
to revise their records access guidelines.

Statewide and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2007 From the Attorney General’s office to the
smallest local police station, almost all of the more than 200 agencies audited failed to comply with
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Californians Aware
The Center for Public Forum Rights

their most basic disclosure obligations. As a result, CalAware developed a model policy statement,
“Your Rights to Know about Our Department.”

Statewide and Local Education Agencies, 2012 From the University of California to small rural
school districts, this audit of more than 250 public education agencies statewide found community
colleges performing better than other government agencies in recent years, and also better than most
school districts and campuses of UC.

Statewide and Local Court Administrations, 2013 In contrast to previous audits, CalAware found
the state’s courts at all levels generally prompt and forthcoming in disclosing basic information about
how they are administered, including specifics about the pay, benefits, and outside financial interests
of judges and key executives.

The CalAware Guide to Open Meetings in California, 2005 (second edition 2015), 305 pages
This second edition of the guide to all California law on access to government meetings focuses on the Ralph
M. Brown Act (local government councils, boards and commissions), with parallel coverage of the Bagley-
Keene Open Meeting Act (state government councils, boards and commissions) as well as special rules for
meetings of the state legislature, the California Judicial Council, the Commissions on Judicial Appointments
and Judicial Performance, the University of California Board of Regents, the Board of Governors of the State
Bar, Student Government Bodies at California State University campuses, local school site Parent Advisory
Committees, Homeowners Association Governing Boards, and locally adopted sunshine ordinances.

The CalAware Guide to Public Records and Private Information in California, 2012, 517 pages
This guide to all California law providing or restricting access to government and judicial records focuses on
the California Public Records Act (records of state executive branch officials, boards and departments and
local government agencies) but also covers the statutes providing access to records of the state Legislature,
case and administrative records of the trial and appellate courts, records of the California Judicial Council,
the Commissions on Judicial Appointments and Judicial Performance, and the State Bar.

The CalAware Guide to Journalism Law in California, 2006 (second edition 2013), 396 pages
This guide to all law affecting journalism in California covers both the rights of access to people, places and
information afforded reporters and photojournalists as well as the protection for news accounts, editorial
opinions and art, and post-publication encounters with legal challenges. Issues addressed in the guide
include access to government meetings and records, court proceedings and records at both the local and
federal levels; cameras and recording in the courtroom; information on hospital patients ; avoiding liability
for trespass, intrusion, secret eavesdropping and recording; California's unique paparazzi laws; avoiding
libel, slander and invasion of privacy; and protection from subpoenas and pretrial discovery. Chapters on the
rights of student journalists cover California laws providing freedom from censorship and punitive discipline,
as well as a primer on the libel and privacy laws most relevant to student newspapers and other media.

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Californians Aware
The Center for Public Forum Rights

CalAware Leadership
Our leadership is a board of 12 volunteer directors representing three sectors of the community concerned
with open government and First Amendment rights: citizen activists, journalists and public officials.

Tim Crews, President (Weekly Newspaper Editor and Publisher), Willows, CA
Robert Stern, Vice President (Public Interest Attorney, Government Ethics Veteran), Malibu, CA
Kelly Aviles, Vice President/Open Government Compliance (Public Interest Attorney), LaVerne, CA
JW August, San Diego, President Emeritus (Broadcast News Producer)
Donna Frye, San Diego, President Emerita (Citizen Activist)

Julie Hayward Biggs (Local Government Attorney)
Heather Hopkins (Legislative Chief of Staff)
Dan Laidman (Media Attorney)
Toni Momberger (City Council Member)

Executive Director Emelyn Rodriguez
General Counsel Terry Francke

CalAware Asks Your Generous Support
CalAware is supported by donations from the public, membership fees, book sales, and occasional limited
project-specific grants. It is an IRS 501(c) (3) public benefit organization, ID#1008855, gifts to which
qualify, in our experience, as charitable deductions for federal income tax purposes.

Join online at or by mailing your check to CalAware at the
address below (use memo line to designate membership category you select from the list at

Contribute online at or by mailing a check to CalAware at
the address below.

Include a devise or bequest to CalAware in your will to make its support for informed democracy part
of your legacy.

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