Last week the government of Santa Clara County settled out of court with the nonprofit watchdog group First Amendment Coalition, finishing a three year fight over access to the Countyâ€™s electronic maps.Â The County had tried to charge the group what might have amounted to $250,000 for access to the mapping information that is usually provided for free.Â The First Amendment Coalitionâ€™s victory is a major win for groups across the state that use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to hold local governments accountable as other local governments are now less likely to try to withhold or charge for the mapping information.
Per The Mercury News:
“The settlement paid this week to cover the San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition’s legal bills ends a three year court odyssey. In June 2006, the nonprofit watchdog group sued the county for refusing to provide its geographic information systems “basemap” following a California Public Records Act request.
The maps include aerial photographs, jurisdictional boundaries, assessor parcel information, streets and buildings. The information is primarily used by other government agencies, although utility and real estate companies also have an interest in the data.
But Peter Scheer, executive director of the coalition, said the maps have significant journalistic value as well. Reporters and bloggers could analyze them to find geographic disparities in property assessments, emergency responses and even pothole repairs.”