The city of San Diego’s audit committee has decided it would be too much work and too costly to reconcile the tax bills for people who pay special assessments called Mello-Roos. Instead, the committee recommends notifying people of potential errors in their bills.
Mello-Roos taxes are special assessments added to property taxes in new developments.
An audit, prompted by an inewsource investigation, found problems with the way the city records square footage on building permits. The mistakes could lead to some people paying too much or too little in Mello-Roos taxes.
Auditors looked at one neighborhood in the northeastern section of the city called Del Sur. Of the 306 homes reviewed, the square footage the city recorded did not match San Diego County assessor records in 252 cases. That’s more than 80 percent of the time.
In most of those instances, the audit found the discrepancies were not enough to affect the tax assessment. In 22 instances, however, homeowners overpaid by as much as $1,000 or underpaid by $1,800.
Committee members said the error rate – about seven percent – was not big enough to justify checking all Mello Roos bills. About 33,000 taxpayers in San Diego pay the special tax, according to an inewsource analysis.
The audit committee’s recommendation now goes to council for final approval.
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inewsource is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to improving lives in the San Diego region and beyond through impactful, data-based investigative and accountability journalism.
Betrayals of the public trust are revealed and rectified, wrongdoing is deterred, and inequities are illuminated thanks to inewsource’s deep, dogged, fact-based reporting.
Truth: Above all else, we value the importance of a free and credible press. Truth is the cornerstone of democracy and the core value for inewsource.
Transparency: We build trust with our readers by adhering to the highest standards and ethics, and to reporting with facts, precision and context.
Collaboration: Our newsroom prioritizes collaboration over competition. We regularly partner with media outlets on reporting projects and to share content.
Community: Our reporting serves the San Diego region, and we strive to build relationships with our audience by getting out into the community to listen and engage.
inewsource will conduct its business with the highest standards of decency, fairness and accuracy. These standards shall apply equally to inewsource employees, freelancers and all others engaged in gathering information on behalf of inewsource. All receive a copy of these ethical standards.
In the course of our reporting, we will consistently:
● Identify our organization and ourselves fully and avoid false representations of any kind to any source.
● Obtain consent from all parties before electronically recording any interview or conversation except in extraordinary cases authorized by the Managing Editor and Editor. If a source refuses to be taped, that must be honored; no recordings are to be made without consent.
● Respect the individual’s right to privacy. inewsource will never manipulate or barter private, personal, health, financial or other extraneous information in the course of preparing its reports.
● Any source we describe or write about in any significant manner must be contacted. The employee should document all efforts to contact the source, and if unsuccessful, should summarize these efforts at contact in the body of his/her writing.
In addition, inewsource follows the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists. The latest version, revised in 2014, can be found here.
Editorial Independence Policy
We subscribe to standards of editorial independence adopted by the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) as follows:
Our organization retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic and business interests of our organization. We will maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and sources of all revenue. Acceptance of financial support does not constitute implied or actual endorsement of donors or their products, services or opinions.
We accept gifts, grants and sponsorships from individuals and organizations for the general support of our activities, but our news judgments are made independently and not on the basis of donor support. Our organization also may consider donations to support the coverage of particular topics, but our organization maintains editorial control of the coverage. We will cede no right of review or influence of editorial content, nor of unauthorized distribution of editorial content.
Our organization will make public all donors who give a total of $1,000 or more. We will accept anonymous donations for general support only if it is clear that sufficient safeguards have been put into place that the expenditure of that donation is made independently by our organization and in compliance with INN’s Membership Standards.
Inclusiveness is at the heart of thinking and acting as journalists, and it supports the educational mandate of inewsource. Race, class, generation, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and geography all affect point of view. inewsource believes that reflecting societal differences in reporting leads to better, more nuanced stories and a better-informed community.
inewsource is committed to employment equity and diversity.
Diverse Staffing Report
Below is a breakdown of staffing data at inewsource. We determine the composition of our staff by asking them to self-identify. It is based on a newsroom of 11 and a total staff of 15 as of August 2020. Percentages are based on 15 total survey responses. The numbers include full-time and part-time staff, full-time fellows and full-time and part-time interns.
Percentages are based on 15 total survey responses. The numbers include full-time and part-time staff, full-time fellows and full-time and part-time interns.
Percentages are based on 15 completed survey responses to this question.
Percentages are based on 15 completed survey responses to this question.
|Gender Identity||Gender Identity||Gender Identity|
|Sexual Orientation||Sexual Orientation||Sexual Orientation|
|Not specified||7%||Not specified||7%|
|Speak a language beyond English at home||33%||Speak a language beyond English at home||18%||Speak a language beyond English at home||75%|
|Hispanic or Latinx||20%||Two or more races||18%||Hispanic or Latinx||50%|
|Two or more races||13%||Hispanic or Latinx||9%|
|60 or older||13%||60 or older||9%||60 or older||25%|
* The percentages in the charts have been rounded and may not add up to 100.
Ownership Structure, Funding and Grants
inewsource is a nonprofit organization, whose legal name is Investigative Newsource. It does business as inewsource. The business was incorporated on Aug. 4, 2009 in the state of California. Tax-exempt status as a 501c3 was granted by the IRS on Sept. 15, 2010. inewsource is funded primarily by individual contributions and foundation grants. We are guided by a board of directors.
Editorial independence: Journalists employed by inewsource take no editorial direction from donors whose contributions may support the organization. inewsource will not hesitate to report on its donors when events warrant. Our Editorial Independence Policy details the firewall between journalism and revenue.
To be transparent with the public, inewsource lists its donors on its website. In cases where a donor is the subject of an inewsource story, additional disclosure will be made.
We do our due diligence to earn your trust in our reporting, as well as in our governance and financial sustainability. All of our financial documents are made available to view so that our supporters can trust we are sound stewards of your philanthropy. Review our IRS Form 990s, audited financial statements and annual reports:
Transparency is one of our core values. Today, there is a need to build trust with our audience because new media and ways of communicating spread lies and slanted news faster than “real” news. At the same time, this era of new technologies makes it easier than ever for news organizations to be transparent. People don’t just have to believe us, they can investigate our investigations with our source materials.
Transparency is key to building credibility.
inewsource reporters have primary responsibility for reporting, writing, and fact-checking their stories. But before a story is published, the reporter reviews all facts and sources with an editor or another reporter. Facts must be traced to a primary source.
In addition, we “transparify” certain investigative stories. This process involves publishing a version of the web story with hyperlinks to all the story’s facts. This is proof that all facts have been documented with primary evidence. We do this to build trust with our readers and to be as transparent as we hope the public figures and institutions that we hold accountable will be.
Not all sources are created equal. Some sources cannot speak authoritatively, provide proper analysis or speak specifically to every inquiry placed before them. To maintain the integrity of our reporting, inewsource reporters must select sources who can speak with validity to the topic at hand, and avoid presenting unqualified or underqualified sources as experts.
If an interviewed source has a conflict of interest, or whose qualifications may be tangential or limited, reporters will note that within the context of the story.
It is incumbent upon reporters to fully background their sources to uncover conflicts of interest or slant prior to using them in a story.
Unless discussed prior to an interview, all subjects talking to inewsource journalists are on the record. Specifically, the source is identified by name and title, and their exact or paraphrased words are attributed to them for publication. If journalists speak with sources who are not politicians, public figures or those not commonly interviewed by journalists, staff should explain clearly that information discussed will be on the record and for publication.
If inewsource publishes information from an anonymous source, inewsource will explain to readers, in as much detail as possible, why we agreed to anonymity.
inewsource strives for accuracy in everything we do, which is why we are committed to fact checking our content. But sometimes we make errors. When that happens, we correct them. We also clarify stories when something we’ve written is confusing or could be misinterpreted.
We endeavor to always be transparent about our commitment to correcting errors and clarifying misperceptions. When staffers see, hear or read about a possible issue with the accuracy of any inewsource content, they are expected to bring it to the attention of an editor and the web producer so it can be evaluated to determine how to proceed.
Including the web producer is key because inewsource is a multimedia news organization and shares its content with multiple partners on multiple platforms. The web producer must alert these partners about corrections and clarifications.
Corrections and clarifications should be included at the bottom of stories and dated.
Actionable Feedback and Newsroom Contacts
Our audiences know the region we cover and have a stake in maintaining and improving the quality of life in San Diego and Imperial counties. We know your knowledge and insights can help shape what we cover and how we cover it. We invite your comments and complaints on news stories, suggestions for issues to cover or sources to consult. We rely on you to tell us when we get it right and when we need to keep pushing.
Your comments, questions and suggestions can be sent to the team as a whole at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can contact a specific member of our staff.
CEO, Editor and Founder: Lorie Hearn, email@example.com
Lorie Hearn is the chief executive officer, editor and founder of inewsource. She founded inewsource in the summer of 2009, following a successful reporting and editing career in newspapers. She retired from The San Diego Union-Tribune, where she had been a reporter, Metro Editor and finally the senior editor for Metro and Watchdog Journalism. In addition to department oversight, Hearn personally managed a four-person watchdog team, composed of two data specialists and two investigative reporters. Hearn was a Nieman Foundation fellow at Harvard University in 1994-95. She focused on juvenile justice and drug control policy, a natural course to follow her years as a courts and legal affairs reporter at the San Diego Union and then the Union-Tribune.
Hearn became Metro Editor in 1999 and oversaw regional and city news coverage, which included the city of San Diego’s financial debacle and near bankruptcy. Reporters and editors on Metro during her tenure were part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning stories that exposed Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham and led to his imprisonment.
Hearn began her journalism career as a reporter for the Bucks County Courier Times, a small daily outside of Philadelphia, shortly after graduating from the University of Delaware. During the decades following, she moved through countless beats at five newspapers on both coasts.
High-profile coverage included the historic state Supreme Court election in 1986, when three sitting justices were ousted from the bench, and the 1992 execution of Robert Alton Harris. That gas chamber execution was the first time the death penalty was carried out in California in 25 years.
In her nine years as Metro Editor at the Union-Tribune, Hearn made watchdog reporting a priority. Her reporters produced award-winning investigations covering large and small local governments. The depth and breadth of their public service work was most evident in coverage of the wildfires of 2003 and then 2007, when more than half a million people were evacuated from their homes.
Managing Editor: Mark J. Rochester, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark J. Rochester began as inewsource managing editor in April 2021, having served as editor in chief at Type Investigations, a nonprofit investigative newsroom in Manhattan. He was previously senior news director for investigations at the Detroit Free Press. Both newsrooms, he notes, shared a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and their investigative journalism often received national recognition for exposing problems impacting communities of color.
His family looks forward to returning to California, having spent more than seven years in San Francisco where Rochester was a senior manager for the Associated Press. While with the news cooperative, he led computer-assisted reporting training efforts around the West, both inside and outside of AP, and conducted a widely used analysis of the $74 million in campaign contributions that went toward the California gay marriage ballot initiative in 2008. The AP analyzed who gave and why and then made the data available to member newspapers. The resulting series of stories based on the data was AP’s 2009 Pulitzer nomination for Local Reporting.
Rochester, who served as a Pulitzer Prize jurist in 2017, also has held senior leadership positions at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Denver Post, Newsday and The Indianapolis Star. Rochester is vice president of Investigative Reporters & Editors Inc., the 6,000+ member international organization dedicated to improving investigative journalism. He also serves on the national advisory board of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University in Washington, D.C.
Most of our articles carry a byline to identify the author. In some cases, inewsource will use a brand byline such as “Staff” or “inewsource” for internal or editorial information about the newsroom. In these instances, inewsource‘s Editor and Managing Editor are responsible for content that uses a brand byline.
inewsource is proud to be a member of The Trust Project and support efforts to increase transparency in journalism by displaying the 8 Trust Indicators on our stories. We launched the Trust Indicators on Sep. 16, 2020.
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