North County Report: Why We're Suing Solana Beach - Voice of San Diego

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North County Report: Why We're Suing Solana Beach

The city deletes emails it doesn’t think are important after 100 days but may soon voluntarily dismantle that policy. Plus the Oceanside mayor’s race is all set and more in our biweekly roundup of North County news.

A Porsche stops at the corner of Valley Avenue and Genevieve Street in the Eden Gardens neighborhood in Solana Beach. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Solana Beach has one of the shortest records-retention policies around. The city destroys emails it doesn’t think are important after 100 days, even though the California Public Records Act requires that all communications be kept for a minimum of two years.

In the interest of holding municipalities accountable to state law, Voice of San Diego recently filed suit against Solana Beach and learned in the process that city officials had already destroyed some of the coronavirus-related records that a reporter sought.

As a result of that legal effort, though, Solana Beach could soon become the second city in North County to voluntarily get rid of its illegal email retention policy.

Neighboring cities, like Carlsbad, Escondido and Oceanside, have long argued that emails should be exempt from the state’s two-year minimum, so they also destroy emails on an earlier time table. Until last year, Encinitas was making a similar argument, but the City Council voted to get rid of its 30-day email deletion policy while under fire from Felix Tinkov, an attorney who specializes in public records law. (Disclosure: Tinkov represents Voice of San Diego in public records disputes.) Poway also rewrote and extended its email retention policy in 2018 to two years.

Solana Beach’s email retention policy came back on our radar after Voice of San Diego reporter Ashly McGlone filed a public records request on March 20 for the first 100 communications that included one of several COVID-19 related terms. She wanted to understand how local governments had reacted in the early days  of the pandemic and beyond. (A similar request with the North County Transit District revealed how that agency had tried to sound an early alarm.) Ten days later, McGlone got a legally required acknowledgement from Solana Beach City Clerk Angela Ivey, but Ivey cited the pandemic as the reason for not immediately providing records.

But when she didn’t receive records back by May, we began to worry that Solana Beach would destroy the records we sought because of its short email retention policy. After multiple attempts to reach city officials and urge them not to delete the records we sought, Ivey said she was working on the request. But two months later, still without a single record in our possession, we filed a lawsuit with the mutual goals of getting the emails and dismantling the city’s 100-day retention policy.

Both the county and Escondido have short email retention policies as well, but leaders there decided to suspend their policies because of the pandemic.

Because Solana Beach waited months to even initiate McGlone’s request, some of the emails she sought were deleted on the city’s server. After we filed suit last month, an attorney for the city confirmed to Tinkov those records were likely unrecoverable.

Last week, Solana Beach attempted to provide more recent emails that fit McGlone’s original request, but the city’s California Public Records Act website appears to be malfunctioning, so Tinkov has asked the city attorney to provide the records to him directly. McGlone has some of those email communications from February and March in hand now.

Tinkov expects that we’ll have all of the records shortly and if all goes as planned, the city attorney will advise the Solana Beach City Council of our litigation in closed session on Aug. 26 and will ask whether the city will rescind its 100-day email deletion policy. In exchange, Tinkov would begin negotiations with the city attorney to end the litigation.

If not, the lawsuit carries on.

Oceanside Mayor’s Race Is All Set

The final candidate list for the jam-packed mayoral race is in and one dozen candidates qualified for the race. Perry Alvarez, Rocky Chavez, Jack Feller, Fernando Garcia, Rob Howard, Ruben Major, Fabio Marchi, Alvin McGee, Christopher Rodriguez, Esther Sanchez, Lou Uridel and David Turgeon will vie for the highest percentage of votes in the North County coastal city.

I’ll be talking to the candidates over the next few weeks to find out more about their campaign platforms and plans for Oceanside. Have questions for the candidates? Send them my way.

Oceanside voters will also decide on City Council seats for District 3 and 4, city clerk, city treasurer and three measures in the November election: a referendum on the North River Farms development (Measure L), an initiative that could limit Council members and the mayor to three four-year teams (Measure K) and the addition of a new cannabis business tax (Measure M).

What We’re Working On

  • School started in many districts in the region this week yet 20 percent of students in San Diego County – many who live in rural, underserved communities like Bonsall, Borrego Springs, Rainbow and elsewhere – are still struggling to connect students and teachers with laptops and broadband internet, a reality that threatens to widen the achievement gap. I talked to district superintendents who are frustrated by the lack of supply of computers and lack of infrastructure to get their students and teachers connected to the internet for distance learning.
  • Meanwhile, as the school year begins, high school students in Poway Unified and other districts in the county are taking a lead role in pushing their schools to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement.
  • The outcome of the District 3 Board of Supervisors race won’t just determine the partisan majority at the county; it could go a long way toward establishing control over SANDAG, the regional planning agency, Jesse Marx reports. Earlier this year, SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata donated $850 to Terra Lawson-Remer’s campaign.
  • The coronavirus’ disproportionate impact on Latinos has exposed chronic disparities in health, housing and income throughout the county, Maya Srikrishnan reports. “Latinos are also more likely than the county as a whole to live in crowded households. During COVID times, that means when one person in a household gets sick, the disease can spread because family members can’t isolate in a room,” Srikrishnan wrote.

In Other News

  • On Saturday in Carlsbad, about 200 protesters called on state and local officials to reopen all small businesses and schools. (Union-Tribune)
  • A suicide at the Vista Detention Facility is the county’s second jail death this year. The man had talked about suicide repeatedly, family members said, but it is not clear if jail officials had him under special observation. (Union-Tribune)
  • There’s still potential for a homeless shelter at the Del Mar fairgrounds after one developer withdrew a proposal for the idea. Staffers are exploring options relating to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order asking for an assessment of whether state properties could house short-term emergency shelters despite neighboring Del Mar residents’ opposition to hosting a shelter at the fairgrounds. (Union-Tribune)
  • The state Coastal Commission said the tracks in Del Mar need to move inland and away from the crumbling bluffs. The fifth and sixth phases of bluff stabilization projects are expected to be completed in the next four to five years, but a tunnel could take at least a decade to fund, a SANDAG official told a Union-Tribune reporter.
  • And finally, in the latest push for racial justice in schools, a group calling itself Encinitas 4 Equality and members of the San Dieguito Union High School district community are protesting racial inequity ahead of the district’s next school board meeting. (Coast News)
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