When the state auditor examined San Diego County’s response to 2017’s deadly hepatitis A outbreak, it determined that its limited sharing of information was one of the biggest black marks.
“The county’s limited sharing of information specific to the city about the status of the outbreak also hindered the city’s full recognition of the seriousness of the outbreak and the need to implement sanitation measures quickly,” auditors wrote. “Had the county shared information with the city about the concentration of cases earlier, the city might have more quickly implemented the necessary sanitation measures.”
The conclusion is simple: Sharing more information farther and wider would have saved lives.
Part of the purpose of the audit was to identify ways the county could improve the next time it faced a dire public health crisis. No one could have predicted just how soon and just how dire that next crisis would come.
But now we’re in it, and yet our attempts to get detailed information from San Diego County officials about where and how coronavirus outbreaks are occurring have been met with a promise to … start looking into it once this whole thing blows over.
Not only does that approach fly in the face of the very lesson the county was urged to learn – it violates the law.
The California Public Records Act does indeed lay out instances in which it’s acceptable for a government agency to withhold records. The problem is: the county, along with UCSD and Solana Beach, haven’t used any of those legally allowable justifications.
Instead, they’re all going with some version of a blanket “nah.” So we’re suing them.
UCSD is making the truly wild contention that its employees’ emails are not public records. That, I think, would be news to literally anyone with a passing familiarity of the law, including the California Supreme Court, which in 2017 determined that the public has such a vested interested in understanding what their government is doing that even employees’ private email accounts are subject to the Public Records Act.
Solana Beach acknowledged it already deleted some of its emails even after we requested them.
Underlying all of these entities’ responses to our requests is a fundamental misunderstanding of the centrality of public records to public servants’ roles. Many public agencies view public records as a kind of “Goldilocks” obligation – they’ll fulfill requests if the circumstances are just right: If it’s not too onerous or time-consuming, if they don’t have anything else to do, if doing so won’t embarrass them or uncover wrongdoing.
That’s not just now how the law works, it’s a betrayal of their roles.
Imagine if a food service worker said they simply didn’t have time to follow hand-washing laws. Imagine if a pilot told you it was too burdensome to complete the requisite safety checks before a flight.
Giving the public a window into how the government is operating isn’t some fringe, side requirement for public workers. It’s the whole ballgame.
What VOSD Learned This Week
I love this line Assemblywoman Shirley Weber wrote in an op-ed this week: “The pandemic shows us that we might be in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat.”
Our reporting drove that home this week as well: Maya Srikrishnan laid out how existing disparities collided to create the perfect storm for Latinos facing COVID-19. Families in rural parts of the county are struggling, meanwhile, to access devices and broadband internet before the school year begins. (One school district has stayed open over the summer, and so far things have been fine.)
San Diego GOP Chairman Tony Krvaric has been railing against the dangers of mail voting for weeks, but has himself voted by mail in 22 straight elections. It’s more evidence that despite the recent rhetoric, the party has both harnessed and benefited from the power of mail voting.
The Republican Party is crossing its fingers that Supervisor Kristin Gaspar will win re-election in November and help the party maintain its majority on the Board of Supervisors. But that race will also likely have another major impact: whose vision will win out at SANDAG.
If you’ve only followed the 101 Ash St. scandal in bits and pieces, here’s the definitive narrative of how it all went down.
What I’m Reading
- Our window of opportunity to beat back the coronavirus is closing. (Stat News)
- One Arizona police department is filled with substandard cops with long records of misconduct. (ABC 15)
- You can believe that Black Lives Matter, or you can believe that your neighborhood should exclusively maintain single-family zoning – but you can’t believe both. (New York Times)
- The death of the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen, one of the most beloved places on the internet, was completely, utterly avoidable. (Gizmodo)
Line of the Week
“Stephen, 34, and Katie, 28, had fallen in love—as young people do—while figuring out how to separate children from their parents at the border.” – This is a beautiful tale of how two racists found each other.