How to Make a Public Records Request

by on October 6, 2023 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Geoff Page

Here is a brief explanation about how to make a Public Records Request. It is actually very easy.

The city’s website for Public Records Requests is here.  There you will find some explanations and links and the one you want is the “Public Records Portal.”

As a shortcut, you can go directly to the portal here.  That will send you to a page that provides two options, “Search” or “Make Request.” Hit make Request and you will see this next:

The first thing you do is write up what you want. Be as specific and as complete as you can. They will only provide exactly what you request.

Once that is done, there are boxes below this. The first box allows you to upload, and attach any files you may want, to your request.

Right below that box is another that allows you to identify the department you are making the request of. Clicking on the box brings up a dropdown menu of all city departments. This is optional, they will read it and make sure it gets to the correct department, but if you know it, select one.

Below this are a series of boxes where you have to provide personal information, email, name, phone number, and address. The information is kept confidential. There is a link under the section title where you can read more about how personal information is handled.

Then hit “Make Request.” You will very quickly get an email confirming the request with a request number.

The California Public Records Act requires an entity to provide what is requested within 10 business days. If the request is complicated, the entity may take an additional 14 days to fulfill the request. Rest assured that most requests go for 10 days at which time an email will arrive saying they need another 14 days. And, inexplicably, they will take additional delays with no justification.

The system works pretty well but it is being abused by the city. It is now policy that any document the public wants must go through a request like this. The city is using the PRR system to track and control all documentation leaving the city. That was never the intent of the PRR system.

To add insult to injury, the city put the Communications Department in charge of the PRR system. Instead of requests going to people directly in the relevant departments, they go to a “media contact.” We are now paying for 20 people in the Communications Department, handling 31 city departments, in order for the city to deliver information exactly as they want it delivered.

More on that later…

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mateo October 6, 2023 at 1:18 pm

Thank you Geoff. “Good government demands the intelligent interest of every citizen.” Thank you for responsibly informing the readers of the Rag how they can become more deeply involved!

Some heads up regarding PRR on the State level; Rob Bonta’s office will send you acknowledgemnet of the receipt of Public Records Requests and then sandbag you. Seek like minded activist groups relevant to your records request, there is strength in numbers. Also decide if your issues reach up to the federal level. If so regarding FOIA advice:

MuckRock is a non-profit, collaborative news site that brings together journalists, researchers, activists, and regular citizens to request, analyze, and share government documents, making politics more transparent and democracies more informed.

The site provides a repository of hundreds of thousands of pages of original government materials, information on how to file requests, and tools to make the requesting process easier. In addition, MuckRock staff and outside contributors are using these primary source documents received through the site to create original investigative reporting and analysis.

To be clear you can file FOIA requests with federal agencies for free.

FYI, MuckRock is a non-profit that $20 in support of MuckRock will get you 4 FOIA requests, and a whole lot of support, know how, but most importantly acess to a national repository. MuckRock is a non-profit collaborative news site that gives you the tools to keep our government transparent and accountable. Something to consider for a little more than the cost of a combination plate.


Geoff Page October 16, 2023 at 7:20 am

Thanks for adding that information, Mateo, very helpful.


nostalgic October 15, 2023 at 9:32 am

Not for the faint-hearted. You can also search other PRA requests via the City Web Site using Nextrequest:
Here is a sample answer:
The records requested must be obtained by following a different process.
November 25, 2022


Geoff Page October 16, 2023 at 7:23 am

That is actually the same site as the one in this article, nostalgic.


nostalgic October 16, 2023 at 8:51 am

I understand. I thought it might be helpful for people to look at prior requests to get examples of wording that works and wording that does not result in the desired information.


Geoff Page October 16, 2023 at 9:27 am

Great point, nostalgic, I did not think of that. Yes, you can go on the site and read as many previous requests as you want to see how people word them.


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