A voter walks into the San Ysidro Library to cast a ballot on Nov. 6, 2018.
A voter walks into the San Ysidro Library to cast a ballot on Nov. 6, 2018. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

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.

Why this matters

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.

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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.


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.

San Diego business transparency measure to go on November ballot
August 1, 2018
A San Diego City council committee voted to revise a vaguely worded and long-ignored transparency law requiring anyone doing business with the city to disclose their identities.

We’ll let you know when big things happen.

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...