Homeowners in San Diego County paid almost $1 billion in Mello-Roos taxes during the past five years. Even so, we know surprisingly little about how the taxes are charged or used.
[one_half] [box type=”shadow this-matters”]Understanding Mello-Roos tax districts lets residents hold government agencies accountable for how they spend taxpayer money.[/box][/one_half]
The cities, school districts and assorted other government agencies that have these special taxes possess documents that can shed light on how each Mello-Roos district works. Documents list how properties should be taxed, how the money is supposed to be spent and — if you’re a homeowner — where the money has gone.
inewsource is exploring these issues. But with 246 Mello-Roos districts in the county, we need your help with a crowdsourcing effort.
Help us request documents from the nearly 30 government agencies with Mello-Roos taxes so we can shed light on how you’re taxed and how your money is spent.
We’ll verify the information and make it public on the Mello-Roos map inewsource created.
Here’s how you can help:
1. Find a district
Go to our interactive Mello-Roos map and search your address. There, you’ll see the Mello-Roos district — or districts — you pay into, as well as contact information for the government agency managing them.
If you don’t live in a Mello-Roos district, don’t worry. You can still help. Go to our list of active Mello-Roos districts in the county and pick one you think sounds interesting. We’ll also update that list once someone submits the documents for that district.
2. What to ask for
You’ll need two different documents to help answer these important questions. Anyone, whether you live in that Mello-Roos district or not, can request these.
Rate and Method of Apportionment: This document explains how a Mello-Roos tax is levied — by square foot, type of housing or even by number of bedrooms. It’ll also list the base tax amount when the Mello-Roos district was created, as well as how long the tax will last.
Resolution of Formation: This document tells you what the money should be used for — parks or schools or street lights. It’ll also explain how those things will be paid for, either in cash, through bonds or a combination of the two.
If the government agency asks you for a California public records request, you can use this template to create one.
Once you’ve received the documents, if you have a Google account then upload them through this form, and let us know how it goes. Make sure to include an email so we can contact you about updates on this project. You can also email the files directly to us.
Then, go out there and get more documents. There are hundreds of Mello-Roos districts, help us understand them all.
If you have any questions, concerns or ideas, email the reporter directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you own a house in a relatively new neighborhood, chances are good you pay Mello-Roos taxes. Those are additional property taxes intended to pay for specific capital projects, like schools and roads.
- Editorial Standards Page
- Ethics Policy
- Diversity Statement
- Diversity Staffing Report
- Corrections Policy
- Ownership Structure, Funding
- Founding Date
- Mission Statement with Coverage Priorities
- Fact-checking Standards
- Unnamed Sources Policy
Editorial Standards Page
- Our Mission
- Ethics Policy
- Ownership Structure, Funding and Grants
- Financial Documents
- Fact-checking and Verification Standards
- Unnamed Sources
- Corrections and Clarifications
- Actionable Feedback and Newsroom Contacts
- Byline Policy
- The Trust Project
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 email@example.com or you can contact a specific member of our staff.
CEO, Editor and Founder: Lorie Hearn, firstname.lastname@example.org
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, email@example.com
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.
Like many site operators, we collect information that your browser sends whenever you visit our site (“Log Data”).
This Log Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol (“IP”) address, browser type, browser version, the pages of our site that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages and other statistics.
Cookies are files with small amount of data, which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a web site and stored on your computer or mobile device.
Like many sites, we use “cookies” to collect information. You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our site.
Certain pages on our site may set other third party cookies. For example, we may embed content, such as videos, from another site that sets a cookie. While we try to minimize these third party cookies, we can’t always control what cookies this third party content sets.
Additionally, we may use third party services — such as those that provide social media conveniences, measure traffic, send newsletters and facilitate donations — that may place cookies on your computer. We don’t have any way of knowing how such services handle the resulting data internally. inewsource makes no claim, nor takes liability for the insecure submission of information via these applications.
Here are the services whose cookies you can find on inewsource.org:
- Sharing buttons for Facebook and Twitter. These use the standard scripts provided by each company.
- Google Analytics, which we use to measure site traffic. Google Analytics gathers certain non-personally identifying information over time, such as your IP address, browser type, internet service provider, referring and exit pages, time stamp, and similar data. We also use Facebook Pixel to measure, optimize and build audiences for advertising campaigns served on Facebook. In particular it enables us to see how our users move between devices when accessing our website and Facebook, to ensure that our Facebook advertising is seen by our users most likely to be interested in such advertising by analyzing which content a user has viewed and interacted with on our website.
- Stripe, which allows us to accept donations through our website.
- Salesforce to manage newsletter subscriber, donor, and other identifiable user data.
- Mailchimp, to manage newsletter distributions. We collect your email address if you choose to subscribe to one of our email newsletters or email news alerts. Other optional information that you enter when subscribing – such as your first and last names or city are simply so that we can deliver more personalized email newsletters. We DO NOT sell, rent or market your information to any other parties. We retain your information only as long as necessary to provide your service. When we send emails, it collects some data about which users open the emails and which links are clicked. We use this information to optimize our email newsletters and, as aggregate information, to explain what percentage of our users open and interact with our newsletters.
We only collect personally identifiable information such as your name and email address when you sign up for a newsletter, donate to our organization, or otherwise submit it to us voluntarily. We do not share your personal data with any third parties other than some common service providers, whose products use your information to help us improve our site, deliver newsletters, or allow us to offer donation opportunities.
inewsource limits access to all user data for the purposes of newsletter, fundraising, and customer service only. User data is not sold to or otherwise shared with anyone not working with or for the inewsource.
You may unsubscribe or opt-out of our email and mail communications at any time by hitting the “unsubscribe” button in any email you receive from inewsource, or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling us at 619-594-5100.
The identities of all donors will be listed on our website. inewsource does not share, trade, sell, or otherwise release donors’ personal information to any third parties.
If you encounter errors when donating on the website, please contact us at email@example.com. For example, if you submit a donation for an incorrect amount or make a duplicate transaction please email us immediately so we can reverse the charges.
Cancellation of Recurring Donations
You can cancel your monthly recurring donations free of charge by notifying us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Links to Other Websites
Our site may contain links to documents, resources or other websites that we think may be of interest to you. We have no control over these other sites or their content. You should be aware when you leave our site for another, and remember that other sites are governed by their own user agreements and privacy policies, which should be available to you to read.
Disclaimers and Limitation of Liability
Although we take reasonable steps to prevent the introduction of viruses, worms, “Trojan Horses” or other destructive materials to our site, we do not guarantee or warrant that our site or materials that may be downloaded from our site are free from such destructive features. We are not liable for any damages or harm attributable to such features. We are not liable for any claim, loss or injust based on errors, omissions, interruptions or other inaccuracies on our site, nor for any claim, loss or injust that results from your use of this site or your breach of any provision of this User Agreement.