Escondido, Last Chance. Show Us Your Papers.
SAN DIEGO – Because the City of Escondido failed to provide relevant and necessary documents about its checkpoints and impound program, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties sent a legal demand letter today requesting either that the records be provided or that the City confirm the documents do not exist. Three weeks ago, the San Diego ACLU submitted a Public Records Act (PRA) request for all documents related to the financing of the City’s checkpoints and impound program, but the City instead sent hundreds of pages of uninformative grant applications, blank forms and very few records of substance.
In the 3,200 pages of documents that the City of Escondido provided the San Diego ACLU, there was only a single document that revealed a new revenue source detailing the application fee for tow companies wishing to bid to be preferred contractors. The ACLU had requested official, detailed accounting records, because available records raise serious concerns about potential illegal profit making by the City.
Specifically, the request sought records relating to grants received from the California Office of Traffic Safety, revenue and income generated from activities funded from OTS, any additional applications for OTS grants, explanation of decisions about how fees charged to towing companies for contracts to impound vehicles were reached, and decisions about how much to charge owners to recover impounded vehicles. Significantly, this source data seems likely to have been used in preparing the City’s recent self-audit of its towing program, yet it was not provided to the ACLU as required by the PRA.
After reviewing the documents Escondido did send, the San Diego ACLU concluded that the City either did not maintain records as legally required by state law or for some reason failed to produce the records for the original PRA request. For example, state grants for DUI checkpoints, as mandated by federal regulations, require grantees to maintain a separate account and report revenue from checkpoints to the state. Escondido produced no records indicating it met this requirement.
This morning, following a media briefing, the ACLU allowed members of the San Diego media to review the thousands of pages of irrelevant documents provided by Escondido.
“Residents of Escondido have a right to transparency and accountability,” said Kevin Keenan, executive director of the San Diego ACLU. “Is the City of Escondido violating state transparency laws requiring it to produce public documents or is it violating state accountability laws requiring revenue reporting and prohibiting profit-making?”
If Escondido does not provide the requested documents or confirm that they are not within the City’s possession or control, the ACLU noted in its demand letter that it reserves the right to take appropriate legal action under the California Public Records Act.