Tips for the public

Getting public records begins with knowing what you are entitled to and how to go about getting help. Here are some places to start:
California Public Records Act Pocket Guide (PDF)
Primer on California Open Records (PDF)
California public records sample request letter
Federal Open Government Guide
Automated letter generator

Open government advocates provide tips and even support to the public. Some of the places to look:
California First Amendment Coalition
Californians Aware, the Center for Public Forum Rights
Open Government
Common Cause
Society of Professional Journalist: Open Doors
Sunshine Week

Public Eye Team
Tom KnudsonTom Knudson covers the environment and Sierra Nevada.
tknudson@sacbee.com
Twitter: @tomsplace
Marjie LundstromMarjie Lundstrom, an investigative reporter, specializes in stories involving the criminal justice and child welfare systems. She writes frequently about social justice issues and vulnerable populations, including the poor and the elderly.
mlundstrom@sacbee.com
916-321-1055
Charles PillerCharles Piller, an investigative reporter, has covered a wide range of topics, including corruption in the military, malfeasance by county prosecutors and conditions in California prisons. Recently he has focused on lapses involving transportation construction projects - most notably the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
cpiller@sacbee.com
Twitter: @cpiller
916-321-1113
Phillip ReesePhillip Reese, a data reporting specialist, serves a multi-faceted role: writing stories rich in data analysis, teaming with fellow reporters on database research, and maintaining an online data center that highlights trends in the Sacramento region.
preese@sacbee.com
Twitter: @PhillipHReese
916-321-1137
FEATURED INVESTIGATION:

Inside a government warehouse along a noisy freeway in West Sacramento is a set of metal shelves holding more than 100 carefully labeled cardboard boxes. Inside those boxes are tens of thousands of state records that could help scientists and water policy specialists better understand and protect California groundwater.

OTHER INVESTIGATIONS:
The Self-Anchored Suspension Span (SAS) of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge taken from Treasure Island
Caltrans allowed cracks in the roadway of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, contrary to the welding code, and officials neglected to study the impact of a major earthquake on the cracks. A new analysis suggests the cracks pose a threat to public safety.
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As California public schools climb out of a recessionary hole, Sacramento-area districts have ramped up spending for employee travel and conferences, including trips outside the state and stays at luxury hotels.
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The fight over the secrecy of crude oil rail shipments in California intensified Monday. Responding to a federal order, the BNSF Railway Co. acknowledged in a report to state safety officials it is transporting the flammable Bakken crude oil in California, but it continued its vehement fight against releasing information about the shipments to the general public, saying it’s a trade secret that only fire responders should be allowed to know.
Aerial photos of the Oakland span of the new Bay Bridge taken
Caltrans’ decision to hire an inexperienced Chinese company, unaccustomed to the rigor of American construction rules, to fabricate the suspension span’s signature tower and roadway partly explains why costs ballooned to $6.5 billion and misgivings about the quality of the bridge persist. Caltrans continued to bet on ZPMC by relaxing U.S. standards when the company couldn’t finish the job fast enough.
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As part of a national shift in shipping practices, several oil companies are laying plans to haul hundreds of train cars a day of flammable crude through the region on the way to coastal and Valley refineries, passing through neighborhoods and downtowns, and crossing the region’s two major rivers. Saying they have been told little about the transport projects, area leaders are scrambling to gather information so they can advocate for local safety interests as several of the rail shipment proposals move forward.
The Public Eye
School districts usually pay to fix up schools and build new ones by floating bonds and repaying them over a long period, often as much as 25 years. Now the San Juan District is considering repaying its debts much faster to save on interest costs.
The Public Eye
Sacramento County started work on an expansion project at Mather Airport before receiving an environmental review required under state law, angering elected officials in El Dorado County, Folsom and Sacramento County itself.
GSK286R4T.3Multimedia Photojournalist
The California Department of Transportation released today its long-promised assessment of maintenance issues facing the new $6.5 billion San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge – concluding that apart from ongoing tests of anchor rods, no concerns exist.

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