A few weeks ago, the Davis City Council approved a new wireless ordinance. The city was warned by City Attorney Inder Khalsa that they had limited room for maneuver and any effort to attempt to block the installation of small cell facilities would simply open the city to litigation that would prove costly and likely be unsuccessful.
However, the limits put on the council did not stop around two dozen residents from coming forward, as they have now for months, urging the city not to allow 5G deployment in Davis.
According to the staff report, the ordinance would “ensure to the greatest extent possible that wireless facilities are located, designed, installed, constructed, maintained and operated in a manner that meets the aesthetic and public health and safety requirements of the city.”
The council was also frustrated over the loss of local control.
“I share a lot of the frustration that I’m sensing in the room tonight,” said Councilmember Will Arnold. “As an elected policy maker and lifelong resident of our community, the fact that our power to regulate something so important to folks has been taken away … I don’t like that. I don’t like being told what factors I can and cannot … consider when making decisions for my community. That bothers me.”
But the community members believed that Ms. Khalsa was wrong about the law, and some urged the council to seek additional legal advice while others urged the council to step up to the FCC in order to protect the community and its health.
The opposition went further. During the meeting, Ms. Khalsa indicated that the city had spent nearly $50,000 just responding to public records requests.
That seemed like an extremely high total. So the Vanguard requested the invoices from the city. For a five-month period from August to December 2019, the city spent a total of $48,849.50 simply in response to public records requests regarding the Telecom Ordinance.
That comes to around 256.7 hours of work, billed on average $190.30 per hour (which is actually a fairly low rate for legal expenses).
For the month of November, for example, the bill came to $12,439 for 64.40 hours of work.
Public records requests are a vital part of both reporting as well as activism. It is a way to get hold of documents and records that are disclosable to the public. But not all records requests are the same.
Some require quick searches of emails or other documents. But others require great scrutiny.
The expenses come into play when the records require an attorney to go through and redact information that is sensitive or privileged. Or to determine whether a record is disclosable or exempt. And of course to figure out the nature of the request.
For instance, there is a brief line from June 2019, “E-MAIL CORRESPONDENCE TO MS. KHALSA
REGARDING RECORDS EXEMPT FROM DISCLOSURE UNDER THE CPRA.”
But that only took 20 minutes or so and was charged $49.
On August 13, there was a line: “REVIEW PRA REQUEST REGARDING WIRELESS TELECOM ORDINANCE; E-MAIL CORRESPONDENCE AND CONFER WITH MR. JAIMES AND PLANNING STAFF REGARDING LETTER OF DETERMINATION AND REVIEW OF RESPONSIVE RECORDS.”
That one cost the city $196.
On August 19, there was: “E-MAIL CORRESPONDENCE WITH MR. JAIMES 0REGARDING PRA REQUEST FOR RECORDS RELATED TO WIRELESS TELECOM ORDINANCE; DRAFT LETTER OF DETERMINATION REGARDING THE SAME; E-MAIL CORRESPONDENCE WITH MR. MACALA REGARDING REVIEW OF RECORDS.”
Then there was: “BEGIN AND FINALIZE REVIEW OF HARRIET STEINER’S ELECTRONIC MESSAGES POTENTIALLY RESPONSIVE TO MS. PU’S PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST.”
There was also: “BEGIN REVIEW OF JOE KROVOZA’S ELECTRONIC MESSAGES POTENTIALLY RESPONSIVE TO MS. PU’S PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST.”
That one cost $140.
Assessing Joe Krovoza’s records apparently was complicated: “CONTINUE REVIEW OF JOE KROVOZA’S ELECTRONIC MESSAGES POTENTIALLY RESPONSIVE TO MS. PU’S PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST.”
That one was $577.50.
Then there was: “CONFERENCE WITH MS. PACHECO REGARDING STATUS OF REVIEW OF CITY’S RECORDS POTENTIALLY RESPONSIVE TO MS. PU’S PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST.”
And: “CONTINUE REVIEW OF JOE KROVOZA’S ELECTRONIC MESSAGES POTENTIALLY RESPONSIVE TO MS. PU’S PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST.”
That was $770.
And this one: “E-MAIL CORRESPONDENCE WITH MR. MACALA REGARDING RESPONSIVE RECORDS FOR WIRELESS TELECOM ORDINANCE PRA REQUEST; REVIEW RESPONSIVE RECORDS; E-MAIL CORRESPONDENCE WITH MR. JAIMES REGARDING THE SAME.”
That was $318.50.
And: “BEGIN REVIEW OF ELECTRONIC MESSAGES FROM THE ANNE BURNETTE – ANTENNA FOLDER REGARDING POTENTIALLY RESPONSIVE RECORDS TO MS. PU’S PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST.”
That was $717.50.
The 49 hours of requests in August alone cost the city $9600. Request after request. Week after week. Month after month. Add them all up and they come to just shy of $50,000.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
See the invoices for yourself: