Shi Jing 9 a.m., Feb. 22
City accused of not releasing public documents, sued for violating public records act
SCI Consulting filed lawsuit on Superior Court alleging the City witheld public information.
The bad blood between the City of San Diego and a maintenance assessment consulting firm it once hired is flowing heavier and hotter than ever.
The consulting firm has filed a new lawsuit against the City accusing officials in the City Attorney's Office of ignoring public records requests and refusing to disclose public documents as it sees fit.
The firm SCI Consulting was responsible in manufacturing the engineer's report in both the Greater Golden Hill Maintenance Assessment District and downtown's Property-based Business Improvement District. Both assessment districts have resulted in long drawn out legal battles.
The first lawsuit began due to an improperly weighted vote in Golden Hill and South Park. It turned into a last ditch effort by the City to defend the legality of maintenance assessment districts and the debate over general benefits and those benefits received by property owners. The City lost that fight, after years of court hearings and hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, in legal fees-- in prior emails the City Attorney has refused to disclose the number of hours or cost to defend the case.
The other legal battle was sparked by errant assessments that resulted in residents getting overtaxed. According to recent court documents, the two sides are close to a settlement. The exact terms, however, are not available at this time.
On April 16, a new lawsuit emerged in the San Diego County Superior Court. Lawyers for SCI Consulting, accuse the City Attorney's Office of violating the California Public Records Act (CPRA) by withholding public documents on two separate occasions.
In August of last year, Joel Shackelford, the attorney representing SCI Consulting, requested numerous documents from the City, including emails and memos between city officials and SCI, communications regarding maintenance assessment districts, and documents pertaining to the Hillcrest Commercial Core Maintenance Assessment District, and the Greater Golden Hill MAD.
One month later, without any word from the City Attorney's Office, Shackelford wrote a letter to Deputy City Attorney Carmen Brock. The letter was the beginning of a nasty back and forth between the two attorneys.
"Here, the 10-day time limit as to the request has come and gone. During. that time, our office received no communication from the City requesting an extension, nor any indication as to why an extension would be needed. Given· this, we expect immediate production of the requested document, and will reserve the right to seek adjudicative assistance on this matter to the extent the requested documents are not promptly produced," Shackelford wrote to Brock on September 5.
Brock responded, saying the request was too broad, too voluminous, and violated attorney-client privilege.
One week later, the exchange grew more heated.
Your tone is noted. I'd expect more professionalism from a Deputy City Attorney, and will expect the same as this matter proceeds...
I'm more than well aware of the time requirements with PRRs. I can appreciate what cities have to go through to produce the requested records. That aside, there are strict time requirements that must be followed pursuant to the PRA (and which are not being followed by the City of San Diego here). We are willing to work with you to the extent we receive the documents promptly, but our concerns must be noted here as they will be noted to the court if needed.
Brock fired back.
Regarding the "tone" of my email, emails are notorious for having their "tone" infused by the reader and misunderstanding occurring thereby. .I find it interesting, however, that you are quick to jump on the "lack of professionalism" accusation without ever having met me, or any member of the City staff (who are all working diligently to process your PRA request). We will let you know by September 10th when you can expect the documents you have requested to be ready for review.
Three days later, the City Attorney's Office concluded that Shackelford's CPRA request was "vague, overbroad, and not sufficiently specific to allow the City to locate the requested records with reasonable effort."
In all, out of 32 items requested, the City Attorney's Office produced only 86 pages.
Then on March 14, the attorney for SCI submitted a similar request.
He received a similar response from Brock at the City Attorney's Office.
"Your requests have been reviewed and the majority has been found to be overbroad, vague, and burdensome."
Enter the latest lawsuit, accusing the City Attorney of witholding information from the public.
"To date, Respondent has not produced any documents with respect to the categories of documents it improperly objects to as to the August 17, 2012 Request and the March 13, 2013 Request. Indeed, the City has responded with the exact same objections to both Requests despite the same that the March 13, 2013 Request asks for additional documents which are reasonably particulruized in the demand. Petitioner has gone out of its way, without any obligation to do so, tc accommodate the City in producing the requested documents. Despite this, the City, time and again, has been unresponsive and has utterly failed to abide by the CPRA thus forcing Petitioner to file this writ petition."
You can read the entire complaint and view the emails at the link below: