Fix proposed for San Diego’s ignored transparency law
As detailed in a recent inewsource investigation, backroom deals have been a staple in San Diego for decades. Section 225 could force disclosure of hidden interests in billions of dollars of business with the city. Art by Ben Chlapek for inewsource.

Fix proposed for San Diego’s ignored transparency law

The San Diego City Attorney’s Office submitted plans last week for fixing a long-ignored law called Section 225 that requires disclosure of information about contractors.

After an inewsource investigation found San Diego’s transparency lacking, the City Attorney’s Office has recommended a new law to ensure all business is done in the open.

On Oct. 12, the office shared a draft ordinance with the City Council’s Rules Committee containing “several areas where we need policy direction,” and concluded that the “City Council cannot approve legislation that changes the scope or effect of Section 225.” That would be considered an amendment and need voter approval.

The draft ordinance defines who should disclose interest in a transaction, to what extent, to whom, and for which transactions. It’s up to the council to agree.

inewsource recently published a story about the law — how it originated, how it’s been on the books for decades, and how it’s been continuously ignored. Each year, the city does billions in business with more than 1,000 companies for things like land purchases, sales, leases, franchise rights and maintenance. Yet the city rarely knows who is behind those transactions, despite Section 225 requiring the name and identity of everyone involved along with the “precise nature” of those interests.

As detailed in the August story, this started in 1992 when the city nearly entered into a $47 million real estate detail with an alleged mobster. To make sure that never happened again, voters overwhelmingly approved adding a section to the City Charter — San Diego’s “constitution” — called Mandatory Disclosure of Business Interests.

Over the summer, inewsource requested the disclosures behind 38 contractors that account for more than half a billion dollars in city business. Only four contractors disclosed the names of their board members or corporate officers. Not one of the 38 disclosed all of the information required under Section 225.

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Former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre told inewsource in July that the lack of enforcement may stem from the culture of the city itself. “Secrecy and concealment are the mode and method of doing business in San Diego,” Aguirre said. “It’s buzzkill if you show up and say, ‘Let’s drill down and find out who everybody is.’”

To be fair, a major problem with enforcing the law has a lot to do with the way that it was written, which left ambiguity in key spots like: What level of “identification” is required? How much “interest” does someone need to have to require disclosure? And who’s responsible for enforcing this thing?

Since the law came to be, three city attorneys have sent recommendations to the City Council for clearing up the mess, but to no avail. After inewsource spoke with Council President Sherri Lightner and Councilman David Alvarez in July about the lack of enforcement, both resolved to fix the problem, with Lightner taking the lead.

The Rules Committee is slated to discuss the issue at 9 a.m. Oct. 26.

More in the series …

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.

Section 225
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.

Chlapek money
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.

Petco Park
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.

Rolls Royce
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.

Chlapek Delaware
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.


We'll let you know when big things happen.

About Brad Racino:

Brad Racino
Brad Racino is a senior investigative reporter and assistant director at inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email bradracino [at] inewsource [dot] org. You can contact him securely on Signal (845-553-4170).