New law in San Diego firms up government transparency
Illustration by artist Ben Chlapek for inewsource.

New law in San Diego firms up government transparency

The San Diego City Council voted unanimously Monday to fix a vaguely worded law requiring anyone doing business with the city to disclose their identities.

San Diego voters demanded greater transparency from their government more than 25 years ago. Now, they’re finally getting it.

The action follows an inewsource investigation that began 16 months ago that showed the law was being ignored.

“This has been important to me,” said Councilwoman Barbara Bry, “to make sure we have transparency.”

The ordinance the council approved clarifies a decades-old law known as “Mandatory Disclosure of Business Interests,” or Section 225 of the San Diego City Charter. That law came about in 1992 after the city almost entered into a $47 million real estate deal with an alleged mobster.

An inewsource investigation last year found that despite Section 225, the city has more than $3 billion in contracts with more than 1,000 private companies, yet rarely knows the financial interests behind them.

Under Section 225, anyone doing business with the city must make a “full and complete disclosure of the name and identity of any and all persons directly or indirectly involved in the application or proposed transaction and the precise nature of all interests of all persons therein.”

The original wording for the law was vague and never defined “transaction” or “directly or indirectly involved.” It also never said how to establish “identity” or elaborated on what the term “precise interest” meant.

Monday’s vote further defines those terms through an ordinance. It does not change the city charter — that requires a public vote, scheduled for 2018. Once that vote happens, the ordinance approved Monday will be dissolved and superseded by the charter.

inewsource has reached out to other San Diego County cities to determine if they plan to enact a similar law. Officials in La Mesa and Encinitas have said they are “currently evaluating the need for such regulations as they may be useful.”

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More in the series …

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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.

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).