Open Government: Guide to Government Transparency in California

How to Get Records and Documents to Ensure Government Accountability

This guide is specific to California. For more on this topic, see our Guide to Open Government in the U.S.

Does the public have the right to access government information? 

You can obtain public records held by state agencies or cities in California, with some exceptions. The government must provide records you request within 10 days.1California Public Records Act starting at Government Code Sec 6250, particularly 6253.

You also have the right to attend any meeting of any “state body” or “legislative body of a local agency,” with some exceptions.2Bagley-Keene Act and Brown Act See more at Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

How do I do a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request in California?

There is a standard process for requesting information from the government, often known as freedom of information requests, or FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests.

For the federal government, each agency generally has its own Freedom of Information (aka FOIA) department, which you can find here.

For California state government, check the relevant agency’s website, or see the website for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Are births, deaths, and marriages public information in California?

In general, the public may access birth records and death records. Marriage records are available to the public unless the couple has chosen to have a confidential marriage.3Family Code Section 500

Are people allowed to legally change their name in California?

Yes, generally you must get a court order to legally change your name.

Are people allowed to change the gender on their birth certificate in California?

Yes, it may be changed to male, female, or non binary. No surgery is necessary.4Gender Recognition Act (SB179 (2017), codified in part in the Health and Safety Code Sec 103425

Further Reading

Guide to Legal Basics

Guide to Government Actions


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