Guest Opinion: Michèle Monda

Michèle Monda is a resident with a passion for government transparency, fiscal responsibility and accountability.

With an MBA from Wharton Business School and a career in advertising and marketing for major agencies and companies she uses her talents to build community arts; first resurrecting the Laguna Art Museum store and currently developing ArtStart for our landmark Hotel Laguna. She is married with three grown sons, two grandchildren and a feisty cat.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way; it’s called the California Public Record Act (CPRA)

Currently our Laguna Beach City government is anything but transparent. They provide the least amount of information publicly preferring to have you ask for information rather than just have it available. So how do you get it? Happily, there is a process and it’s called a California Public Record Act request (CPRA). It is an extension of the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), passed in 1967, has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) was enacted in 1968 to (1) safeguard the accountability of government to the public; (2) promote maximum disclosure of the conduct of governmental operations; and (3) explicitly acknowledge the principle that secrecy is antithetical to a democratic system of “government of the people, by the people and for the people”. The CPRA was the culmination of a 15-year effort by the Legislature to create a comprehensive general public records law.

The California Public Records Act defines “public records” as “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.” This includes emails and phone records.

So, let’s say you want to find out how much Laguna Beach has spent on consultants’ studies in the past year. You are entitled to know that information as a member of the public and they have to provide it to you. How do you do that?

Filing a CPRA with the City of Laguna Beach is an arduous multistep process but
actually not complicated. Here’s how it works:
Go on the City website at and click on Government and City Clerk.
Click on Public Records request and search.
Then click on Public records request portal. Agree to go to the external URL.
Click on Public records request which will take you to the form to fill out for your CPRA. When you’ve filled in the form click on submit.

I never said they would make it easy for you. If you’re like me, I get suspicious that they really don’t want you to file a CPRA and give them more work.

The city has 10 days to determine whether the records requested are subject to disclosure under the CPRA. By law they could take another 14 days to determine this but they must inform you of that if they do. Once they inform you if they have records that conform to your request, they will give you an estimate of how long it will take to fulfill that request. And that’s where they can slow walk this all they want. I have found that periodic reminders are a good idea to let them know you are paying attention. I have also found that they take as much time as they can so you have to be patient . . . to an extent.

My personal experience with this process was tortuous. My first CPRA requesting the footage from the City Manager’s traffic stop in November 2022 and attendant records was dismissed outright – they said there was nothing there to produce.

Then I got a First Amendment lawyer involved and used legal verbiage. Magically, while they very much slow walked the release, they decided that there were things that they could publicly release, although not the video. It took many letters to their lawyers, many appearances at City Council meetings and many emails to City Council members to finally get information 3 months later. They finally released a contextualized version of the body cam footage 5 months after my first request. This resulted in the City Manager “retiring” in September 2023, 9 months after my first request. Was it worth it? You bet. Would I do it all over again? Absolutely.

It’s your right to question the government. It’s their obligation to answer you. Use this CPRA process to get the information that you need to determine if they are serving you properly…or serving themselves.

Contact Michele Monda @

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