Councilman Mike Bonin Fails to Release Electronic Emails

By Sue Pascoe

The Palisades News, through attorney Frank Angel, asked for email records from City Planning, Councilman Mike Bonin’s office and Tricia Keane (Bonin’s planning director) on July 15.

Through the California Public Information Act, the News requested emails or other documents related to the City Attorney’s Office dismissal of four members of the Pacific Palisades Design Review Board on Feb. 29.

When these four members (Barbara Kohn, Kelly Comras, Stuart Muller and Donna Vaccarino) of the seven-member DRB were dismissed (for disputed reasons) just two days before the board was scheduled to vote on its final recommendations related to Caruso Affiliated’s architectural and landscaping plans—the DRB was left without a quorum. 

Councilman Mike Bonin Photo: Bart Bartholomew
Councilman Mike Bonin
Photo: Bart Bartholomew

Typically, design plans for commercial buildings in Pacific Palisades must go first to the DRB (the members were appointed by Councilman Bonin), and then to the City Planning Department. Because the DRB was rendered inoperative, Caruso’s Palisades Village plans went directly to the city, without local review.

The Planning Department has thus far produced one email, but neither Bonin nor Keane have complied with the Act’s provision that specifies a reply within 10 days (and/or an extension of 14 days).

On Aug. 2, Angel received an email from Beatrice Pacheco, the city’s Custodian of Records, who said: “The Department of City Planning has determined it has one email, dated March 1, that might be responsive to your request. . . .” and could not be provided in its native format because “a portion of it needed to be redacted as it was attorney-client privileged.” The email was from Lisa Webber and went to Debbie Lawrence, Michelle Levy, Faisal Roble, Tricia Keane and Kakisha Hull. It read:

“Pacific Palisades DRB-URGENT! Again … for planning staff…don’t do a thing until we receive specific instructions from council office . . . conversations are still underway. Just hold tight for now.”

Despite repeated email requests to Keane and Bonin’s offices, no further DRB-related emails have been produced.

When Angel initially requested the information, he wrote: “Pursuant to Government Code section 6253.9, we request that all responsive writings created in an electronic format be provided in the native format they were created in, including embedded descriptive metadata, with ‘from,’ ‘to,’ ‘cc,’ ‘bcc,’ ‘subject,’ ‘date sent’ and ‘time sent’ email metadata fields.”

According to the People’s Business: A Guide to the California Public Records Act: “Electronic records may include ‘metadata,’ or data about data contained in a record that is not visible in the text. For example, metadata may describe how, when or by whom particular data was collected, and contain information about document authors, other documents, or commentary or notes.”

The News also requested “all evidence preservation measures be taken immediately to protect the integrity of and preserve all responsive writings.”

On July 26, Council District 11 Chief of Staff Chad Molnar wrote:

“Please be advised that this office is gath- ering relevant documents and the total number of pages is yet to be determined. Some documents in our possession, however, may be exempt from disclosure under the Government Code Section 6255, and therefore withheld either in whole or in part, because disclosure would reveal the Councilmember’s deliberative process or privileged and confidential attorney-client communications.”

Even though Angel had requested electronic records, Molnar told him that the cost of printed copies was 10 cents a page and a check could be made payable to the City of Los Angeles—but the number of pages was not specified.

On Aug. 18, Angel wrote Tricia Keane:

“The Palisades News is still awaiting the public records we requested.”

Hard copies of correspondence were offered to the editor of the News at the Oct. 13 Pacific Palisades Community Council meeting. The copies were refused because electronic copies had been requested to ensure metadata fields.

Keene spoke to Angel on Oct. 17 and once again offered to deliver 318 hard copies. He declined because “of not wanting to waive the right to have all responsive elec- tronical stored information (ESI) produced in electronic format, including the embedded descriptive metadata, as specified.”

In a subsequent letter to the city, Angel pointed out that more than three months had passed since the first CPRA request and asked that all records be presented by Oct. 25.

Tricia Keane responded on Oct. 25 that “the city currently operates using a Google cloud-based email system. This Google email system does not allow the end user to export electronic versions of emails in any electronic file format.”

Angel, with the advice of a forensic com- puter expert, replied on Oct. 27, “Actually, you can access the ESI within the scope of our CPRA requests from your and Councilmember Bonin’s devices without creating new files. Since the LA GEECS system (Google Enterprise Email and Collaboration System) integrates the Google cloud service

with internal applications using email, the emails within the scope of our CPRA requests, once downloaded, are stored locally on your and Councilmember Bonin’s devices in electronic formats (a common format is mbox), including the metadata.”

Angel concluded: “My office, for many years, has been requesting electronic public records from myriads of governmental agencies. I must say, I have never experi- enced similar resistance to compliance with Government Code section 6253.9. This is somewhat puzzling since given the e-discovery needs of a major city such as Los Angeles, LA GEECS was designed to offer search functionality based on content, sender, recipient, date range, and metadata, and the ability to store search results with metadata. In short, in addition to users being able to easily export email messages, the city’s use of Google Apps email tech- nology allows for well-known and easy to employ electronic information retrieval and production tools.”

Deputy City Attorney Kimberly Miera responded that the city would provide a response no later than November 16. As of Dec. 1, nothing had been received.

Bonin spokesman David Graham-Caso was asked on Dec. 1 why electronic versions had not yet been provided.

Angel received an email the following day from Deputy City Attorney Mike Dundas, who told the attorney that “Council District 11 does not have access to, nor does it control the Vault database, which you reference in your communications. That system is maintained and operated by the City’s Information Technology Agency (ITA), which receives and processes its own CPRA requests.”

Angel was told if he didn’t want paper copies, that he would have to withdraw his request from Council District 11 and make a California Public Record Act request to ITA.

“Please be advised that, because of the large number of CPRA requests received by ITA for searches of the Vault system, there is currently a queue for responses,” Dudas said.

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