2013 18th Annual Goldens

Grand Golden Watchdog Award:

County of San Diego: San Diego County Multi-Discipline Graffiti Abatement Program
Despite San Diego's reputation as one of the most beautiful cities in the country, its buildings, parks and transit stops have continued to be vandalized by graffiti. In 2011, the County of San Diego spent $16 million to clean up 618,851 square feet of graffiti through implementation of a new Graffiti Tracker program. This innovative program allows for law enforcement or public works staff of various partnering agencies to take pictures of graffiti with a GPS-enabled camera, and upload the photographs to a database. By centralizing graffiti "tags" from a multitude of public agencies in a single database, law enforcement can link pieces of graffiti throughout the county to specific individuals. In the program's first year, restitution for graffiti cases rose from $170,626 in 2010 to $783,412 in 2011, more than enough to cover the $346,800 cost to operate the software. The program not only prosecutes repeat offenders, but also deters potential criminals — helping the region to maintain public safety and community values for both residents and tourists alike.


Regional Golden Watchdog Award:

San Diego County Office of Education: Regional Technology Hosting Program
There are 42 school districts in the county providing a lot of the same types of services to students, like Internet access. Over half of these districts have fewer than 5,000 students while two-thirds have less than 10,000 students. This means technology systems and other related upgrades are easier for larger districts to finance. The San Diego County Office of Education decided to use technology and economies of scale to save taxpayers an estimated $14 million this past year by providing smaller districts a broad range of technology services like on-and off-premise technical support; Internet connectivity; Internet filtering services; student information system services; accounts management and data hosting. This program is a great service, especially at a time when districts are attempting to balance budgets.


Metro Golden Watchdog Award:

City of Escondido: Reforming Paramedic Services
In 2008 the City of Escondido opened its newest fire station but could not afford to fully staff it due to the economic downturn. Nearly five years later, the city is now moving forward with hiring the staff necessary to fully operate its newest fire station, but not in the traditional sense. Fire department officials spent time reviewing 20 years worth of emergency calls to determine the true needs of the city. Officials determined that rather than cross-training paramedics as firefighters, new staff would primarily focus on medical emergencies. This new model of providing emergency services to Escondido residents will save over $2 million compared to the city electing to operate under the norm. It's out-of-the-box thinking like this that we hope catches on with other cities across the county.


Public-Private Partnership Award:

City of Chula Vista and General Growth Properties: Otay Ranch Town Center Library Project
SHHHH – this is a library! But not just any library…it's a product of a collaborative partnership between the City of Chula Vista and General Growth Properties at the Otay Ranch Town Center. General Growth Properties offered the City of Chula Vista a rent-free opportunity to open a new library branch in the Town Center's Food Pavilion, allowing the library to remain open five days a week and provide the community with a close, convenient branch. The city was able to obtain $250,000, mostly through grants, to complete construction of the new library.By capitalizing on grant opportunities as well as available space at the mall, this project was able to meet the needs of residents in a period when the city has had to consistently cut its budget. This partnership demonstrates how public and private organizations can come together to create innovative solutions for taxpayers, despite difficult economic times.


Media Watchdog Award:


Will Carless & Wendy Fry, Voice of San Diego and NBC San DiegoStories on School District Use of Capital Appreciation Bonds and Campaign Contributions to School Bond Elections


Mitch Blacher, 10News: "Metropolitan Water District Spending Questioned"


It's Really, Really Good You Finally Did This Award:

Port of San Diego: Revisions to Travel and Business Expense Reimbursement Policy
How many first class flights does it take before a public agency realizes it needs to change its travel policy? Following the release of reports detailing the cost of commissioner and executive travel expenses, combined with some pressure from the community, the Port decided to take a closer look at its policies guiding travel and business expense reimbursement. Gone, for example, are the days of flying business class in North America. Port officials, however, can still fly in style when going overseas. We understand the need for these officials to travel for business, and do agree that changes are needed. We applaud those who called for reforms and the Port for heeding those calls.


Grand Golden Fleece Award:

Poway Unified School District: Sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds & All That Followed
By now most people know that in 2011 the Poway Unified School District issued $105 million in Capital Appreciation Bonds that will ultimately cost taxpayers $1 billion in principal and interest payments. Disbelief, outrage and a media frenzy continued as additional layers of this bond deal were peeled back…like the fact that the District really borrowed $126 million, squeezing an extra $21 million in upfront cash known as a "bond premium." Borrowing this extra cash, which is almost ten times what was needed to cover the cost of issuance, will cost taxpayers another $190 million. But the fun didn't stop there. Once the story picked up steam, the District promised openness and transparency, and went so far as to pay for an investigation of the deal. Six months and $190,000 later, the "investigation" praised the District for the deal and even stated it could end up saving taxpayer dollars! But when asked for a copy of the contract with the investigating firm…crickets.


Regional Golden Fleece Award:

San Diego Unified School District – Gold Plated iPads
Technology is important, but common sense is too. You can buy a new iPad for $400. But if you finance that device so that you don't pay a penny for 20 years, and then stretch out the payments for another 20 years, you spend at least $2,500. San Diego Unified chose the "at least $2,500" option. If you ask the Voice of San Diego, they'd say it's actually as much as $4,077. By the time taxpayers finish paying off these iPads, they probably will have been thrown away 37 years ago, today's fifth-graders will qualify for AARP, and telling the story about how nobody used tablets before 2010 will only sound odd because those under 40 won't know what a tablet is!


Metro Golden Fleece Award:

City of El Cajon – Investment in Microbrew
Not all craft brew operations in San Diego are created equal. In 2009, the City of El Cajon decided it would get involved in San Diego's emerging craft brew scene by investing $345,000 in a new local brewery. Before the brewery opened for business, another $300,000 was needed. A year after its doors opened, the brewery filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and has now closed its doors. With only some beer equipment estimated to be worth less than half of their investment, over half a million in taxpayer dollars is at risk because the city decided to take a gamble in the restaurant business at taxpayer expense. On the bright side, the city is optimistic a new brew business will come in, set up shop, and even pay off past debts. We have a feeling this is just the tip of the ice-cold-beer-berg, but until then…bottoms up, taxpayers!