Chlapek money
Illustration by artist Ben Chlapek for inewsource.

As a direct result of an inewsource investigation, the City Attorney’s Office will reiterate its recommendations that San Diego’s mayor and city council enforce a long-ignored policy requiring the disclosure of billions of dollars in city sales, purchases, leases and contracts.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith told inewsource in an email that he’s pleased Council President Sherri Lightner is interested in clarifying the policy mandated by the city charter. Goldsmith said he hopes something can be done before Lightner leaves office in December.

Goldsmith, like two past city attorneys, has recommended that the city clarify the law called Section 225. Each time — over more than 20 years — elected officials have ignored those recommendations.

Lightner intends to docket a discussion of the disclosure law at a Rules Committee meeting on Oct. 26. She asked for Goldsmith’s advice, and he told inewsource, “we will reiterate our office’s prior analyses.”

“We will state that the Mayor and City Council should adopt policies that ensure [the law] is implemented as it was intended and fill in where it is a bit vague or incomplete. We will also ask our attorneys in the contracting unit to review the policies suggested in the earlier memo for any updates or additional ideas they may have.”

Section 225 requires every company doing business with the city to disclose the name and identity of everyone involved in the transaction — whether directly or indirectly — along with the “precise nature” of those interests. More than 86 percent of voters approved it during the 1992 primary election after San Diego almost entered into a $47 million real estate deal with an alleged mobster.

It’s never been enforced.

The concern is that the city may be engaging in business with entities — such as organized crime, foreign governments, or even local politicians — who can take advantage of corporate laws that allow anonymity, essentially masking their involvement. It wouldn’t be the first time that has happened in a city known for backroom deals and hidden interests.
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To check on the implementation of the law, inewsource requested the mandatory disclosures for more than $500 million in city purchases, sales, leases and contracts over the past two years. The request involved 38 companies — big ones such as Burtech Pipeline Inc., which has more than $126 million in contracts with the city, and small ones, such as EHOF La Jolla LLC, which purchased $7,500 worth of vacant land last year.

Out of the 38, only four contractors disclosed the names of their board members or corporate officers. Not one disclosed all of the information required under the San Diego law.

What’s likely to happen

Section 225 is vague and city officials have had a hard time understanding it over the years. As a result, the City Attorney’s Office has offered clarification and proposed council policies or charter updates on three occasions, and each time they’ve been ignored. Goldsmith’s office plans to send the council the same recommendations and await their questions. Here’s a brief rundown of what he and his predecessors have proposed:

  • Define the term “person” as any natural person, joint venture, joint stock company, partnership, association, firm, club, company, corporation, business trust, organization or entity.
  • Establish thresholds for what “financial interest” means as any person owning more than 5 percent of the entity or benefiting to the tune of $10,000 or more from the contract.
  • In the case of individuals who don’t have that level of ownership interest but who may reasonably anticipate benefiting to the extent of $10,000 or more from the deal, they will provide their full name and city and state, or country, as well as an explanation of the financial interest in the contract.
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities. For example, the city manager shall pass this information along to the council during each meeting.

In an interview with inewsource in July, Goldsmith said the best thing the city can do is to listen to its legal advisers.

“As a lawyer, I would agree with John Witt in 1992, and Mike Aguirre in 2005, and again, our lawyers in 2014 — interpret the thing. Clarify it. Make it clear so all the contractors and others who are doing business with the city know exactly what needs to be disclosed.”

Lightner plans to docket a discussion on Section 225 during a meeting of the Rules Committee on Oct. 26.

More in the series …

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[one_third]Chlapek-Main-Section225 [/one_third]

[two_third_last]Long-ignored transparency law would reveal who’s doing billions in business with San Diego
August 2, 2016
A law that’s been on the books since 1992 can help reveal the people behind the companies doing billions of dollars in business with the city each year — if someone would only enforce the thing.[/two_third_last]

[divider style=”4″]

[one_third]Section 225 [/one_third]

[two_third_last]Fix proposed for San Diego’s ignored transparency law
Oct. 22, 2016
After an inewsource investigation found San Diego’s transparency lacking, the City Attorney has recommended a new law to ensure all business is done in the open.

[divider style=”4″]

[one_third]Chlapek money [/one_third]

[two_third_last]City Attorney’s Office will weigh in (again) on San Diego disclosure law
Aug. 5, 2016
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith told inewsource his office will basically reiterate its predecessors. This will be the fourth time the office has weighed in on Section 225 since its inception.

[divider style=”4″]

[one_third]Petco Park [/one_third]

[two_third_last]Financial interests behind San Diego deals worth billions still undisclosed
March 13, 2017
Despite overwhelming voter approval in 1992, three separate city attorney recommendations and an inewsource investigation, the city of San Diego is still not following a law mandating government transparency.

[divider style=”4″]

[one_third]Rolls Royce[/one_third]

[two_third_last]Stop ignoring transparency law, Grand Jury warns San Diego
April 13, 2017
The San Diego County Grand Jury issued a report on the long-ignored transparency law, called Section 225, that’s been the subject of inewsource scrutiny.

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[one_third]Chlapek Delaware[/one_third]

[two_third_last]Fix to San Diego’s long-ignored transparency law to go on November 2018 ballot
June 9, 2017
San Diego’s most-ignored law has a fix in site. In the meantime, the city is working on an ordinance to jumpstart the process.

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Brad Racino was the assistant editor and senior investigative reporter at inewsource. He's a big fan of transparency, whistleblowers and government agencies forgetting to redact key information from FOIA requests. Brad received his master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in...