The California Public Records Act, or CPRA, is a crucial reporting tool for reporters trying to hold government agencies and officials accountable.
But sometimes, the only way to enforce it is with a lawyer.
VOSD’s Andrew Keatts detailed his 78-day push to obtain internal communications from the San Diego Association of Governments. He had proven that SANDAG was collecting far less than anticipated from a 2004 tax hike and had equally unrealistic estimates in a projection of what a new sales tax increase would provide for local highways, transit and open space.
SANDAG would later admit he was right about it. But we wanted to know if they knew this before going to voters with the pledges of what the new tax would fund.
SANDAG claimed that the amount of time staff would waste to go through the emails that were responsive to Keatts’ request would outweigh the public service of releasing the information.
Eventually our lawyer got involved and threatened to take the agency to court. SANDAG finally gave up roughly 2,000 e-mails, which included the “WTF” and “OMG” emails that revealed the agency knew of its revenue shortfall and still misled voters.
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When I think of SANDAG, I picture the board, those mayors and councilpersons, and perhaps Executive Director Gallegos; those are the public face of the agency.
Mr. Keatts' excellent investigative work indicates that at least some of the staff knew, and seems that “top SANDAG officials” knew about the likely shortfall, but these are not identified. It seems that the board did not know. Yet, you continually refer to SANDAG as if it were a single entity.
Until actual culprits are identified, I think it is very important to differentiate elements when writing about this scandal.