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Emails, memos, and other communication explaining the San Diego's Police Department's reasoning for allowing some special events to be exempt from the city's alcohol ban must be turned over to the nonprofit anti-booze-ban group FreePB, ruled superior-court judge Joel R. Wohlfeil in an April 10 decision.

Wohlfeil said the city violated the California Public Records Act by refusing to respond to a request made by FreePB.org's treasurer, Robert Rynearson.

The issue goes back to February 2013. It was then that FreePB applied for a special-events permit for their "Leisure Olympics" at Crown Point Shores on Mission Bay; if granted, the permit would have been similar to one granted annually to the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club for their Over the Line tournament on Fiesta Island.

Leisure Olympics organizers asked for an exception to the San Diego Police Department's "Alcohol Management Permit Conditions,” to allow olympians to drink beer anyplace inside the venue. The police department denied the request.

In an April 24, 2013, memorandum to the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, staffers for then–police chief William Lansdowne stated the chief had granted only three exceptions to the beach-and-bay alcohol ban:

"Only the Chief of Police can modify these requirements. There have only been three known instances in which the Chief of Police has authorized a deviation from the [San Diego Police Department] Alcohol Conditions. In each instance, among other considerations, a longstanding, multi-decade recurring event in the San Diego community was involved and an entity with a strong, successful track record of alcohol management was organizing it."

Members of FreePB wanted to know which events those were and why they were given the green light by Lansdowne and the city. FreePB's treasurer, Rynearson, submitted a public records request to see how the chief and others decided which event would have open alcohol consumption and which ones would be dry, except for in designated areas; that request was denied for being far-reaching and in violation of the "deliberative process privilege." FreePB responded by filing a lawsuit, saying the city and its police department had no right to withhold the documents.

On April 10, Judge Wohlfeil agreed.

"Officer Jericho Salvador's June 7, 2013, letter does not constitute a sufficient response to the PRA request for two reasons. First, it is unintelligible. The second sentence within the first paragraph provides: 'Under the rules of CPRA we are hereby making responsive documents in our possession available for your review, except for records which may be exempt from disclosure under the Act.' However, the next substantive sentence (after quoting the request) states: 'The Police Department is unable to honor your request for several reasons.' Thus, no reasonable requestor would be able to determine if any records will, or will not, be made available."

Wohlfeil added that at no time did the city ask to work with Rynearson to refine his request.

"There is no express admission that some of the records are subject to inspection. The City relies on the statement: ‘Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.’ This is a generic statement often placed at the end of letters as a matter of course, not an offer to work with the requestor, or an admission that responsive documents exist."

The defeat is yet another black mark on the city's tarnished record in regard to public records and open government. Currently there are several lawsuits alleging the city and elected officials have violated the state's public records act — all of which filed by FreePB's attorney and San Diegans for Open Government counsel Cory Briggs.

Now, the city must turn over the documents.

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Comments

HonestGovernment April 12, 2014 @ 7:18 p.m.

Not being a big fan of use of alcohol in public spaces, I'm sort of ... meh.

But, excellent, really great and cogent legal reporting.

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