San Diego voters overwhelmingly favored Measure J. Here’s what it took to get there.
A voter walks into the San Ysidro Library to cast a ballot on Nov. 6, 2018. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

San Diego voters overwhelmingly favored Measure J. Here’s what it took to get there.

More than 85 percent of the San Diegans who voted Tuesday on Measure J approved it. That means billions of dollars in city contracts, purchases, sales and leases with private companies will become more transparent. Again.

San Diego voters demanded greater transparency from their government more than 25 years ago. That law never was enforced. Now, they’ve changed the city charter to make sure it happens.

It’s a long story.

Measure J was on the ballot because inewsource spent more than two years reporting that the city was ignoring its own charter — and had been for more than 24 years.

Our first story about this detailed how in 1992 a transparency law passed with more than 86 percent of the vote after the San Diego City Council almost entered into a real estate deal with an alleged mobster. (He also is the alleged godfather to Michael Jackson’s son Blanket, FYI).

The law, called Section 225, mandated every company doing business with the city disclose the name and identity of everyone involved in the transaction, along with the nature of those interests.

It was a way for the city leaders to know exactly who they were doing business with, and a way for taxpayers and journalists to monitor conflicts of interest, self-dealing and other possible malfeasance.

Except the law was never followed.

Through records requests, inewsource obtained the disclosure paperwork behind more than half a billion dollars in city business contracts. None of them had all of the information required under Section 225.

  • We'll do the work. You just read it.
    Sign up for our newsletter.

City officials blamed the language in the charter, telling inewsource it was “too vague” and nearly impossible to enforce. It needed cleaning up. Yet three city attorneys had previously pointed that out and recommended the council do something about it. None ever did.

inewsource asked repeatedly at that time to speak to Mayor Kevin Faulconer and all nine council members about the problem. Only Councilman David Alvarez and then-Council President Sherri Lightner agreed to talk. Lightner sent a memo to the City Attorney’s Office asking for specific recommendations and analyses on the topic.

Jan Goldsmith, the city attorney at the time, did just that. And nothing happened.

So inewsource again published a story. A month later, the San Diego County grand jury issued a report – “Stop Kicking the Can Down the Road: San Diego’s 1992 Transparency Law Must Be Enforced.” A jury member told inewsource our reporting was “a key element” in the grand jury’s research.

Over the next year, Councilwoman Barbara Bry helped shepherd a short-term fix into place, because a full resolution to the problem required adding clarifying language to the city charter, which meant a public vote. That vote – Measure J – passed Tuesday with more than 211,000 people in support.

And more than 36,000 people voted “no” for more transparency. Which seems weird.

If you were one of those “no” votes, we want to hear from you. Was the language confusing? Or did you see the measure as an unnecessary regulation? Email the reporter here.

We’d like to thank our readers and supporters for showing an interest in this series the whole way through, and for emailing and calling their council members, showing up to meetings and making their voices heard in the interests of transparency and good government.

Journalism alone can’t affect change. It also takes you.

P.S. There’s a lot we’re glossing over in the interest of keeping this brief. To see all the stories, radio features, TV appearances and related media in this investigation, go to this page. The overall series also picked up the San Diego Society of Professional Journalists’ First Amendment Award in 2018.

shadow-ornament

We'll let you know when big things happen.

About Brad Racino:

Brad Racino
Brad Racino is a senior reporter and assistant director at inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email bradracino [at] inewsource [dot] org.