To outsource or not to outsource seems to be the question for new GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer, generally a privatization proponent, in the wake of a report by the city auditor's office on failures in the city's graffiti-control program.
According to the March 5 audit report:
The City of San Diego’s Graffiti Control Program, which encompasses graffiti abatement, law enforcement, and community outreach efforts, has undergone significant downsizing and restructuring in recent years.
To address these issues, we recommend that the City centralize responsibility for graffiti abatement report intake, routing, and field abatement in the Street Division.
While this may include the use of a third-party vendor to provide field abatement services, the City has never formally studied whether graffiti abatement in the field can be most efficiently and effectively performed by a vendor or City crews.
The report goes on to suggest that taxpayers may not be getting their money's worth from its current outsourcing deal.
The City’s oversight and management of the graffiti abatement vendor’s contract is limited, and the City cannot ensure that the vendor is fulfilling performance obligations or reporting accurate performance statistics.
We recommend that the City enhance contract oversight and management to guarantee vendor performance.
According to the audit, the anti-graffiti contractor, Urban Corps, "is only required to provide monthly totals of graffiti abatement work completed by source of complaint and property type. These reports contain only aggregate numbers, and do not contain information about individual work orders completed, which makes it impossible to determine response times."
"Furthermore, we found that the graffiti abatement totals reported by Urban Corps...were consistently higher than the totals reflected in the log forms."
Threatening to make matters worse, the auditors say, is a new contract being negotiated with Urban Corps that waters down city oversight even more.
The City’s 2006 contract with Urban Corps contained quantifiable performance measures, including a requirement for the vendor to remove graffiti within three working days after receiving a service request, and to remove any obscene, racist, or extremely threatening graffiti within 24 hours.
However, the City is in the process of finalizing a new contract with Urban Corps that eliminates these performance standards, and only states that graffiti removal should be completed “in a timely and efficient manner.”
In addition, several other requirements from the 2006 contract have been eliminated in the new contract. Specifically, while the 2006 contract required Urban Corps to maintain a 24/7 reporting hotline that is staffed by a live operator from noon to 4pm, Monday through Friday, the new contract does not require the hotline to be staffed.
Those aren’t the only problems, the auditors assert, saying, "The City dedicates fewer resources to graffiti control efforts in comparison to other jurisdictions. As a result, the City may not be able to employ adequate outreach efforts or abate graffiti as quickly as possible."
Since FY 2008, budgeted expenses for graffiti control have declined by nearly 50 percent, and staffing has declined by approximately 40 percent during that time.
Other jurisdictions tend to allocate significantly more resources per capita to graffiti control than the City of San Diego — with San Francisco and Riverside spending approximately seven times as much.
Given that the City’s goal is to abate graffiti to avoid its detrimental impact and to prevent more graffiti from appearing, the City may need to consider bolstering the resources it provides for graffiti control.
"We found that in many cases customers reporting graffiti over the phone cannot speak to a live operator," the auditors say, adding that callers to a "graffiti hotline listen to a lengthy message before leaving a voicemail with their complaint information."
In a March 4 memo to city auditor Eduardo Luna, Tony Heinrichs, the city's deputy chief operating officer for Infrastructure/Public Works generally agreed with the auditors' findings, mapping out an eight-month to two-year timeline for action to address the many problems cited by the report.
"Final recommendations may vary depending on the results of the Graffiti Study, Graffiti Pilot Program and recommendations and proposal presented by the Graffiti Task Force."