Roundtable: Medical Pot, Playhouse Casting, City Auditor
July 27, 2012 1:37 p.m.
Guests: David Ogul, North County Times
Angela Carone, KPBS News Arts Reporter
Matt Clark, UT San Diego
Related Story: Roundtable: Pot Clinics, Multicultural Casting, City Auditor
SAUER: I'm Mark Sauer, it's Friday, July 27th, and this is the Roundtable on KPBS Midday Edition. Joining me are David Ogle of the North County Times.
OGLE: How you doing?
SAUER: Angela Carone, KPBS news arts reporter.
CARONE: Hey, Mark.
SAUER: And UT San Diego watchdog reporter, Matt Clark.
SAUER: We'd love to have you join our conversation. David, there were several developments this week in the medical marijuana saga. The story without end, one federal judge was ready to close down the county's only cooperative, mother earth healing. And a judge stepped in with a reprieve, and a handful of areas with petitions to put guidelines allowing such sales on the November ballot. It's hard, but try to catch us up with the details and all that's happening on this topic.
OGLE: Well, in short, what we're seeing is a concerted effort to force local governments to allow co-ops, pot dispensaries within their borders with limits. Opponents point out with some justification that these dispensaries can and have been cause used to sell pot to potheads. They are -- people do take advantage of them, but there are people with legitimate medical needs. And state law has enabled these dispensaries to open. What's happened within the past week or so in the city of Del Mar, a very reluctant City Council agreed to put a measure on the ballot after citizens for patients' rights, which has been circulating petitions in five San Diego County cities, presented enough signatures over there. Solana beach, another target of Saturdays for patients' rights just a couple days ago agreed to put a measure on the ballot over there. Signatures, petitions were submitted in Encinitas not too long ago. Lemon Grove will be putting -- took up the issue about a week ago, and they will decide early next month, I believe August 8th. La Mesa will be feting petitions.
SAUER: It's not going to be uniform. It's going to be different?
OGLE: When it comes to Solana beach, Del Mar, Lemon Grove, and whenever La Mesa can put it on the ballot, those are an effort by citizens for patients' rights. They were also going to target imperial beach, but there was another group there, Americans for safe access. And they were already moving forward with an initiative and successful over there, and a reluctant imperial beach City Council agreed they had to put a measure on the ballot.
SAUER: What do you think should happen with medical marijuana? Give us a call.
SAUER: So what about the city officials on these jurisdictions? Is there support among some of them? You've got this group getting petitions, that's one force on one side. Are they reluctant in the cities? Are they sympathetic?
OGLE: In Del Mar, they were very reluctant. The assistant city attorney came out with an opinion articulating how this initiative process was flawed and could be kept off the ballot. But the City Council -- and the City Council agreed, but the City Council felt as though its hands were tied. The state election coach said they had to put it on the ballot, so they did. And in imperial beach, the City Council is thinking about adding a competing measure that would outlaw medical marijuana.
SAUER: Now, San Diego tried for a year or more. They had a task force, wide-ranging folk, medical doctors and ministers and legal folks, etc. And council members on the staff, and they worked on it very hard, and it all just went blooey in the end.
[ LAUGHTER ]
OGLE: That's a good way of putting it. San Diego had an interesting development. The City Council came up with a very restrictive ordinance, but it did allow for dispensaries. And I believe it was citizens for patients' rights submitted signatures. They collected about 40,000 signatures which forced the council to take it off -- to nix completely their ordinance. And then they were going to -- they did submit petitions. But they were unsuccessful. So we have no ordinance in San Diego. The city attorney and Laura Duffey the U.S. attorney in this area have been aggressively shutting them down in San Diego.
SAUER: Who is the group, citizens for patients' rights?
OGLE: They are a local group that believe, justifiably, their hearts are in a good place, we have prop 215 that was passed overwhelmingly --
OGLE: Yeah, and we still have -- we still have no dispensaries in San Diego County. Well, the one you mentioned in El Cajon. And they feel the more places they could get medical marijuana dispensaries allowed, the more it will become accepted, and the momentum will pick up.
SAUER: We had an overall legalization question on the ballot last time, right?
OGLE: It was I believe in -- 2010 or 2011.
SAUER: Okay. And it was close.
OGLE: It really wasn't that close. But here's the deal. In California, the penalties for using marijuana, even if you're not a medical marijuana patient, it's no more than a $100 fine. It is less of a penalty than a traffic ticket.
SAUER: We're going to take a call now. Russell is on the line with us. Go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, I don't have a problem with people who have a real medical need having access to this. But they give out the prescriptions for that for, like, candy. I work with a young man whose girlfriend has back issues and went to a doctor and he wrote her a prescription. And the doctor turned to him, and he said you want one? And he said no, I can't. I work for the government. Do you have any medical problems? He said, yeah, I've got something with my neck. And he says, well, you're eligible for a prescription. And it was, like, no. I can't. I work for the government. And this doctor was trying to push a prescription on him. And I don't know how you can rein in the doctors that are giving out prescriptions, but I think there's a lot of young people that are using it for recreational purposes.
SAUER: Well, thanks, Russell. And you make a very good point there. I have had conversations several times with police leaders, San Diego police leaders, and you'll ask the question, how many of the co-ops are legitimate, and they'll come right back, none. This is all a front to backdoor medical marijuana. Doctors are pushers, that's another complaint and criticism. What do you note in your report?
OGLE: It's absolutely true. However, there are cancer patients, AIDS patients, and other people that are suffering unimaginable pain that legitimately need to eat or need some of the other benefits that marijuana allegedly provides.
CLARK: Out of curiosity, do the doctors charge by the prescription? Is there a financial incentive for them to sign up as many people as possible?
OGLE: I've not gone to a doctor to seek a prescription. But I imagine it's the same thing as a copayment.
SAUER: Yeah, it's an office visit, so there's at least that much for any reason you come see a doctor, I would imagine. And that's another criticism. The money is there. It's a cash business. It's difficult to regulate, security becomes a problem. All of these issues were dealt with when San Diego tried to --
OGLE: Right, and to get back to the caller, he's absolutely right. His argument is valid. The people who are opposed to the medical marijuana dispensaries, the co-ops opening, this is exactly what they point to. You're basically a pusher. There's 70,000 customers at mother earth healing, the place over in Santee, El Cajon.
SAUER: Well, let's ask some doctors to call in. So what happened with the Obama administration? They came and said they were going to backburner this, are then we've got Laura Duffey in San Diego, other U.S. attorneys in California saying we're going to crack down here, and you guys got to go out of business.
OGLE: I think that part of what prompted Laura Duffey and the U.S. attorney's office was Jan Goldsmith, without an ordinance in San Diego, cracked down. He was enforcing the laws of San Diego. There's zoning ordinances or the lack thereof. And this was one way of doing it. The federal government has been very clear. State and federal law conflict. And marijuana is illegal, it's considered a class 1 drug under federal law. She's enforcing federal law.
SAUER: Right. But there's enforcement objectives and frontburner stuff, and backburner stuff. And this seems like a 180 from what the Obama justice department said when they came in.
OGLE: I've not gotten any calls back from Laura Duffey. I would imagine she would say she's doing what she's supposed to be doing.
>> With the mother earth, you had said 70,000 clients? Why are they bankrupt, and what was with the stay? Why was the stay put on their closure?
OGLE: Well, they were supposed to close down a few days ago, and they went to the bankruptcy court. It had to do with the dispute with -- I don't know if a dispute, but with their landlord. Was it a way to buy time? Perhaps. We'd have to talk to mother earth.
SAUER: So -- oh, go ahead.
CARONE: But if it's -- you know, the bankruptcy law, how much does that really shield them if it's illegal from a federal standpoint -- I read somewhere like a murder for hire company couldn't claim bankruptcy and then not be penalized under federal law.
OGLE: Right. We're talking about federal drug laws and federal bankruptcy laws. Or state bankruptcy laws.
SAUER: But it gave them a reprieve of 45 days.
OGLE: It did.
SAUER: So at least that much, it's bought them some time. What do you think about the chances of the initiatives in the counties, cities actually passing?
OGLE: As anybody who was with me at golden hall, in the June primaries know, whenever I pick a winner, the other guy wins. The
SAUER: So what do you think?
[ LAUGHTER ]
OGLE: The reason why citizens for patients' rights picked these cities is because those were the cities in San Diego County that had the highest percentage of people voting in favor of legalizing marijuana when the California initiative came up a couple years ago.
SAUER: John from La Jolla, go ahead with the panel.
NEW SPEAKER: Thanks for taking my call. I heard some remarks that -- the dispensaries were pushing the drugs. Well, I have to take issue with that because I am a medical marijuana card holder. And you have to run the gamut of being checked. They're not just selling the marijuana to just anybody. The doctors, you got to go through an examination. It's not an in-depth examination, but you do need to have a legitimate reason. Now, I'm not a cancer sufferer, but it helps me are relax at night, and that's why I smoke the marijuana.
SAUER: Okay. Well, your experience has been different from that of Russell. Thank you very much. We'll go to another caller now. Chris Mira Mesa.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thank you. I really just want to point out the fact that marijuana in a medical form should not be considered as federally illegal at all because we voted on it as a state. And the 10th amendment, I sure hope I'm getting my amendments right, but I'm pretty sure the 10th amendment is the amendment that allows us as a state to vote on our own issues. And as a state, we did vote it in, so it should be 100% legal for people like myself with nerve damage from a car accident in 2006 to seek the medical aid that I know and that I've had a panel of doctors approve that actually works for me. And I should be able to do this, and so should everyone else in our state because we voted on it. For the federal government to deny us our 10th amendment right, they're the criminals.
SAUER: Thanks, Chris. What about that point?
OGLE: It's an interesting point.
SAUER: And it's not just California. There's many states.
OGLE: No. Look, many states, a number of conservatives states make that same argument. Libertarians will make that same argument. It's fascinating. What's more fascinating, the last time the Supreme Court ruled on this issue, they said that on medical marijuana, even if you're growing it for yourself, I think it was a case that came up, a rule just a few years ago, that the interstate commerce clause enabled the federal government to ban it. And just recently, the interstate commerce clause was basically wiped out in the Americans for affordable --
SAUER: The healthcare --
SAUER: To use a pejorative term. Nico from point loma, go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: I just wanted to point out that there's two separate issues that we're talking about as one thing. The first is that dispensaries are providing in California a legal service to people that have a recommendation from their doctors. And the second issue is that doctors are handing out these prescriptions that you're claiming in some cases are fraudulent. And in some cases, I'm sure they are. But we're not going after doctors. All the controversy has nothing to do with doctors. It's rarely mentioned. People are going after the dispensaries. If somebody files a fraudulent claim for Xanax, they're don't go to CVS and shut them down. They go to the doctor, and talk to the doctor, hey, why did you give this person this medicine? And wee not doing that. We're going after the people that are legally providing something.
SAUER: Okay, all right, very good. Thanks very much. They have gone after the distribution point. Distribution is a big problem anyway in terms of yes, you can have this, you have a card, you're entitled to this, but without a co-op, go and try and grow it yourself. That's one of the big problems since it passed in 1996.
OGLE: True. And doctors have -- some doctors have been threatened. They were threatened early on. The federal government said if you do recommend marijuana, if you do provide a prescription, we will go after you. How many have actually been followed through with that? I don't know the exact answer.
SAUER: Right, right. One other question I had, what liability is there for these city officials if they say we're going to champion this and get this on a ballot here and the feds turn around and say hey, wait a minute, we'll prosecute you. That seems far fetched.
OGLE: It's interesting that you ask that. In a letter from Laura Duffey to the Del Mar city attorney, they said "individuals and organizations that participate in the unlawful cultivation and distribution of marijuana could be subject to civil and criminal remedies. State and city employees who conduct activities mandated by the ordinance are not immune from liability under the controlled substances act."
SAUER: So that's pretty chilling right there.
SAUER: I'm Mark Sauer. My guests are David Ogle of the North County Times, Angela Carone of KPBS news, and Matt Clark of UT San Diego. Angela, it must have been quite a scene last Sunday at the La Jolla playhouse. A rare time, a time for a hefty serving of humble pie, it turned out.
CARONE: Yeah, there was a forum held. The playhouse set it up, and it was held to discuss a casting controversy that has taken up around the musical the nightingale. And there was sort of a firestorm that started brewing online in blogs and social media, coming from a lot of Asian-American actors about the casting of the nightingale, which is a play set in a version of ancient China, and there are only two Asian-Americans in the cast of 12.
SAUER: So the controversy speaks for itself. A lot of give and take there. Tell us about Christopher Ashley and why he made this extraordinary apology this week.
CARONE: Well, Christopher Ashley is the artistic director at the playhouse. And I think they felt the need to address this controversy it had become -- and I think they recognize it, they said over and over again in this the forum that this is a very important discussion to be happening in American theatre right now. What Ashley did was apologize to the group that convened for any hurt feelings over the casting of the show. It was a packed house, made up mostly of people in the theatre community.
SAUER: How many folks?
CARONE: It was in one of the smaller theatres. 200 probably. Then on the panel itself were Kaufman who's the director, and some of the people from the creative team, and then members of a group called the Asian-American performers action coalition, an advocacy group based in New York for Asian-American actor, and people in the theatre community. It was a very healthy honest discussion. It was very heated at times, for sure. The members of the creative team described their reasoning behind the casting and where their creative vision was coming from, emphasized quite often throughout that this is a workshop production. I mean, it should be said that page-to-stage is a program at the playhouse where creatives can come and develop a story. The nightingale is very much a play, a musical in workshop status. So oftentimes before a page-to-stage, someone from the theatre will come out and say you may see an actor come out with a page of the script. You may hear someone call for a line. They've just actually received new lines right before they went on stage. The play is in flux. And as part of their process of finding their story and developing the work on stage is this ability to have the design resources, for example the technical resources, the dramaturgical support of the playhouse to help them find their story. It's not open to critical review. It's very much a workshop. Now, the creatives have said that their vision for this was a mystical fable version of ancient China.
CARONE: And that's key. Because the multicultural cast they assembled they see as very important in putting that vision across.
SAUER: Okay. We've got a caller. Robert from San Diego.
NEW SPEAKER: I did some acting, and I think the roles should go to whoever performs them the best. And if costume or makeup can put an actor into that category that the play is about, then so be it. But I don't feel that you have to have so many of a certain group in a play if you could get that playoff with the best possible actors and actresses that you have at hand.
SAUER: Okay, thank you. Did that point of view come up?
CARONE: It came up, sure. It was a minority point of view in that forum, for sure, because again these were Asian-American actors predominantly in the audience from the theatre community, and they have an excellent point, which is they are very underrepresented in the entertainment industry as a whole. The Apack did a study over Broadway, and over the last five years, Asian-Americans have only received 2% of all roles on Broadway. 80% went to white actors, something like 13% to African Americans. So very underrepresented.
SAUER: And in that discussion last week, the question I had was how was it explained about how they decided on this casting? What was the thought that went into it? Did they explain?
CARONE: They did reference the workshop status of the show quite a bit. But this notion of realizing their creative vision of a mystical, multiculture ral world, that was key to them. And the way that they did that was through the casting. There's the young emperor, played by a white male. But the mother, his mother is played by an African American. So the casting was part of that. But there are also design elements. There are Chinese lanterns on the stage, there's some puppetry that references Chinese. There are also -- this is Moises Kaufman explaining there, there are Moroccan hangings, and Brazilian fishmongers. But not everyone in the audience has the cultural references and sophistication to recognize all of those references. And so Moises Kaufman admitted that, look, we failed in our attempt to realize this multicultural mythical world.
SAUER: Right. Okay. We've got another caller joining us. Charles from San Diego.
NEW SPEAKER: I have to admit I missed the first part of this conversation. I just came in on the tailend of it. But I did just want to comment, I have been a season ticket holder for a number of years at the La Jolla Playhouse, and I did see the play recently. And honestly, I didn't even know there was a controversy until I just tuned in. It didn't register with me. I did note obviously the different races in the play itself. I found the Asian actress just hysterical she played her part to perfection. Upon the same with the black mother, and once the play moved into it and you began to suspend your belief, the races didn't matter to me. I completely blocked them out. So it was surprising to me to find out that there was a controversy at all.
SAUER: Great, well, thank you for that call.
CARONE: I think that to represent the other side of that argument, I think people would say this is a play that looks like it's Chinese, that looks like it's set in China. One of the questions that was posed at the forum they thought was really interesting and tried to situate this whole thing in modern race politics, someone asked the creatives if this was a play set in a mythical version of ancient Africa, would you today cast the African king as white? And that was never answered. And I think it was talked about that African American visibility on American stages is in a very different stage than it is for Asian-Americans.
SAUER: Shane from San Diego. Go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: I was wondering what is the ethnic makeup of the rest of the cast? I do understand there are two Asian-Americans.
CARONE: There are five roles that are played by white actors, and then there are I think three or four by African Americans, and I'm not sure of the exact decent of everybody else.
SAUER: And the controversy is about the male actors mostly?
CARONE: The controversy -- no, the controversy is in general that there are only two Asian-Americans in a play that looks to be set in some version of China.
SAUER: Okay. One of the playwrights said the casting was meant to reflect the multicultural world he lives in. Did he ever indicate he could have done it better?
CARONE: Well, he spoke sort of spontaneously from the crowd. Moises Kaufman was on the panel and was the one who said we didn't realize -- we owe everyone an apology because we didn't realize our version of this world. Slater said that he addressed -- which I thought was interesting, an earlier workshop version. Again, this has gone through a number of workshops, right? And this earlier version did have an all-Asian cast. And he said that that didn't work for him for a couple of reasons. He wouldn't presume as I'm assuming to be able to speak for Asia, and to know Asia in that way. And secondly, his vision is squarely in this mystical multiethnic world that he wanted to reference the multiethnic experience that he has in the everyday world but make it this mystical fantastical version.
SAUER: Reggie from Coronado. Go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I just wanted to make a comment. I think it shows that Asian is the fastest growing minority in America. And especially in the bay area and in California, when I do watch TV, I see that they're very underrepresented on TV and on the sitcoms, and even in the movies. And I think if you're going to cast a play that is based on their culture, I think first you should go and find or try to find someone of that ethnic background, or contribute more and represent them in a better light. Thank you so much.
SAUER: All right, thank you very much for that comment. What about in popular culture in general? We've talked a little bit about that, but Lost had a couple of wonderful, attractive Asian characters. That was a pretty multiethnic cast or diverse cast in some ways.
CARONE: Yeah, I think there aren't a lot of roles. You've mentioned Lost, there are a few others. There's a role on Community.
SAUER: Go back to Bruce Lee and those movies.
CARONE: There's not a lot, there really isn't. So it's a problem. As I said, there's a point there. There's an excellent point to be made.
OGLE: I just had a question. I was wondering if you saw this controversy affecting any change. I remember back in the day, I don't want to give away my age, when Natally wood played the lead role in west side story, and my favorite when Mel brooks played the Indian chief in blazing Saddles.
SAUER: And several other roles. Good point.
[ LAUGHTER ]
SAUER: Lee from Vista. Go ahead.
NEW SPEAKER: I'm of Asian decent, and I heard the other guy say Bruce Lee. Well, there's no American males that are famous in our media, and it's always some Asian woman I notice like oh, who would you name? Like Lucy liU or something, and since they're all casted by mainly white men, I always notice it's an Asian woman who gets the role, never an Asian man.
SAUER: Good point.
CARONE: Yeah, I can't speak to all productions. In this case, that is what happened. There aren't any Asian men on stage. Of it's true. But I think that one of the things that when you think about what burdens a -- well, not burdens, it's not true. But when you think when artists have the opportunity to sort of realize their vision, right? Should they be sort of burdened with political correctness? We don't want plays that are just proselytizing and preaching. But at the same time there are consequences for every decision you make. And if you're going to set a play in a culturally specific time or place, then you have to consider what your blindspots may be. And there are correctives for those kinds of blindspots. You bring people of certain ethnicities to your creative team. I think that the forum that was held last Sunday is one of those correctives. I heard over and over again from the creative team this is -- we are learning from this, this is -- the LA Times interviewed Steven Slater afterwards, and he said my head is spinning from everything I've heard. Will this change anything? I don't know. But I think it was a very important conversation to be had. It was high-profile, and I think it could change something.
SAUER: Fernando from Lemon Grove. Go ahead, please.
NEW SPEAKER: I just wanted to comment, I read a poem in the late 90s. It goes like this, 52 associate artists are all white, but what is hardest is that all 12 maintenance workers are all brown. I would love to be an actor, but this policy is a factor. Guess I'll have to drive a tractor into town. Thank you very much!
SAUER: Thank you very much! .
CARONE: Is that the first time we've ever had a poem recited on editors' Roundtable?
SAUER: Maybe I'll write some poetry for next week's show. That was terrific!
[ LAUGHTER ]
SAUER: Any other poets in the audience? Please give us a call.
CARONE: Can I say one more thing about multiculture ral casting? This is something that is used quite a bit right now. There's a version of street car named desire, predominantly African American, and that is based on everything I've read, tugging at all kinds of interesting threads in the Tennessee Williams play. This can be used to great effect. I think the problem that's been brought up is that when it's used for a culturally specific role to cast a white person, then it can be problematic.
SAUER: We have had some great callers on this topic. I want to thank everybody. It was a terrific discussion.
SAUER: I'm Mark Sauer, and this is the Roundtable on KPBS Midday Edition. David Ogle of the North County Times, KPBS arts reporter, average haCarone, andat Clark of UT San Diego. Matt, who is Eduardo Luna, and why is he saying all these nasty things about San Diego City department heads?
CLARK: Well, he is the independent city auditor. He has been raising some concerns getting pushback he's saying he's getting from department heads at the city in trying to do his audits. They've restricted access to computer systems to his auditors, briefly, recently development services, the head of development services when the draft report of that audit came out, he said I'm not going to respond to this, I'm not going to tell you what's wrong with the draft, report, you're just going to have to give it to counsel and then we're going to point out the errors in it. Development services head denies that. Eduardo Luna says that's what happened. But that's the kind of things he's saying he's experiencing.
SAUER: All right. So off we went on that. If you've had trouble with the city's development services office or a dispute about permit fees, give us a call. So these days in this situation at City Hall, the city auditor is appointed by the City Council and the mayor's office. In the old days, we had a city manager and all. What kinds of things is he supposed to audit?
CLARK: Well, the performance audit is the bread and butter of his work right now. Going into a department and looking at a particular aspect of that department, trying to find efficiencies, ways that that department can improve. And it's supposed to be a win-win, right? Here comes an outside agency who can bring fresh ideas to a department and really make it better.
SAUER: We have had a long history of financial trouble here, and a lot of this stuff came about because we were under the sea. But it seems to me it's a little like the internal affairs department with the police. It's as in evil, they're not liked by these folks.
CLARK: Right, well, the idea was to get an independent city auditor. Eduardo Luna, he's in there for ten years, and that's the end of the story he want can't be fired because he releases a report that politically people don't like. There are laws in the municipal code in the City of San Diego that say you need to cooperate with the auditor and give him information so he can do his audits.
SAUER: Okay. And I wanted to ask you a question about drilling deeper in the specific issues and the permits here. There was a widerange of what people are getting charged, are they not? And it's kind of permit seeker beware.
>> Sure. This audit of the development services department, which is the entity responsible for doing all the building inspections and issuing all the permits in San Diego had a lot of findings. . The one you're referencing is Luna looked at billings for permits at two different stages of the permitting process and found one out of every five of them had errors, going as low as, I think it was $34,000, and as high as $345,000 in overcharges. So either undercharging and the city loses money, or overcharging and the customers going into to the city to do business are paying more money than they should be paying.
SAUER: What's behind that? Is it simply errors, or is there a stake in going low or high?
CLARK: Luna recommended things that the department could do to fix that issue. And the department is aware of it. Reorganizing staff, which is something they're already doing. One of the issues is there's 500 different kinds of permits, and you have this department that's self-funded and they're not taking any money out of the general fund for most of their operations. And because of the decline in the housing market, they've lost a lot of their staff. So each staff member has become a generalist in all 500 different permits, some of the calculations for which, determining the price, are rather complicated. There's also issues with the computer system, things like the square footage, you have to enter it ten different times. And if you have to do that, I'm just throwing out a number there, then it increases the chance you're going to have an error in the square footage, and if you do, you're going to have an error in your fee.
SAUER: Uh-huh, uh-huh. So it's obviously permitting and these enormous developments can be -- and everything you have to deal with with CEQA, and the city regulations, state regulations, are you on a watershed, it gets very, very complicated, just from my own experience. Go ahead, David.
OGLE: Is the issue with Mr. Luna and the development services solely with the billing or is it with the development services department, their services? The reason why I ask that is I believe your editor has had some issues with the city's development services, and quite frankly, I think we all know people if not our own experiences who have had issues with the city and development services department, whether it's an add had-on or getting the correct permit or what have you. I'm wondering how far that goes, the audit.
CLARK: Well, this particular audit was solely focused on the development services computer system. That billing error issue came as a result of looking at the computer system. There was also some other issues found with the computer system as well. Essentially he found that there's no audit trail. When people make changes to the computer, to the billing records and different permit projects, it's not -- the changes that are made are not recorded so there's no audit trail to know what people are changing. He also found that most or many of the development services department employees have more access to this computer system than they likely should have. So there's a theory in the audit that if you got a friend at City Hall, you can go down there, and he'll be able to change the permit bill that you're facing for your project.
SAUER: And nobody is the wiser.
CLARK: And nobody is the wiser.
CARONE: So how did the department head respond to that part of it?
CLARK: He said no, we're fine, we tried to point out the ways in which the weaknesses in the audit could lead to fraud, and we can't see a way that could happen. It essentially would have to go through multiple people, and multiple people would have to not notice that something was changed in order for that to get through to be successful.
SAUER: Is this, some of this a function of the transition from the city's massive old computer system which everybody criticized to now they have a new computer system, new oversight of that? Or has that been online long enough that this report comes in? This whole history thing and who has access?
CLARK: This computer system, this software, is separate from the big ERP project that -- 1 SD it was called. This was developed in-house. And over time it's grown into this beast that handles 1 millions transactions per year.
SAUER: Who's going to referee this? Is this going to be a real public fight when it hits the council floor?
CLARK: Well, everything was laid bare at the audit committee meeting where they discussed this audit. The chair of the audit committee, Kevin Faulconer Faulconer said this is the first disagreement we've ever seen on a performance audit. Essentially the development services director disagreed with most of the recommendations and findings that were in the report. His criticism was that this is not an area that we would want to see audited. We think there's many areas that would be much better for your team to come in and audit. This took up a bunch of our time. We've done three audits in the past. And other very another member of the committee, Carl DeMaio, said we don't want to see this in the future. This is really concerning to me, because right now we have all this disagreement, and this is threatening the performance audit process. In the future, we don't want to see this happen. And Mr. Luna, you need to tone down your audits and in some cases come back and say the department is doing fine and let the public hear that.
SAUER: Now, that's Carl DeMaio. Obviously the candidate for mayor. And he's the taxpayers' friend, the watchdog, Mr. City efficient government. That's a surprising response from him.
>> What he said during the meeting is the taxpayers expect performance audits. They don't expect disagreements that don't get anything done, right? That this audit has resulted in a bunch of recommendations that the department completely disagrees with. They're frustrated and upset over all the staff time that's been taken to do this.
SAUER: Does he sound like he's landing on the side of the department heads and not the auditor, the watchdog?
CLARK: It's hard to say. But in terms of what the administration has said, there are some similarities. It seemed one of the things that councilman DeMaio was saying is we need to reduce the scope of the audits and not let them come down every rabbit hole they come long. It was supposed to be narrow, just a computer system, and it ended up being one of the biggest audits of the year. The administration feels the same way, that we need to narrow the scope, and Luna needs to work harder on narrowing the scope of his audits to what the department heads want to see done.
SAUER: Do you happen to know the aspects of his contract? Is he that fiercely independent that he's locked in
CLARK: My understanding is that it's basically like a ten-year type of situation. That -- I don't know the specifics, I'm sure there's some reason why he could be dismissed, criminal activity or something. But he's independent, he's there, and he's going to be staying for that ten-year period.
SAUER: When does this -- you mentioned that was in committee, and Mr. DeMaio was responding in commit E. What's the process now?
CLARK: The audit committee tabled the audit. That is not something that in the people we talked to, not something in their memory that has ever happened before. Because there was so much disagreement, they didn't know what to do. At a didn't know who was right and who was wrong. So they said you guys got to work together. And they asked Luna's office, and development service, to go back and work together and get more information. They wanted to know exactly what are the weaknesses, just how about are the weaknesses? Development services department says we've got to have collusion to have this occur. Well, how much? They also want to know what it's going to take to get a new computer software system in there.
SAUER: And there was also an issue with the real estate department, right?
CLARK: Right. There's an ongoing audit of the real estate development office, that part of the office that is responsible for assigning city office space. And Luna's office is doing this audit, and they get a letter that says you've got to move to this other office that is much bigger than what you need, it needs repairs, you're going to have to pay for the move and pay for the repairs. And Luna's response is, well, this seems a little -- yeah, his response was not this seems a little suspicious, although that's what the administration is saying, that he said this was retaliation. His response was I don't want to be moving to that space, you never discussed it with me, and I don't think I should have to pay for repairs. If you're gone have me move in the middle of the audit, I have to note that in the audit. I have to repeal to the public you asked me to move so people understand there was this conflict that occurred while I was auditing you. The administration took that and said that's Luna again saying I'm the independent auditor, and you can't do anything to me. And the administration just feels like he's being kind of -- he's throwing out the minis pal code and saying you're virtualing the rules and getting away far more easily than he should be.
SAUER: And jay goldstone weighed in. What did he have to say?
CLARK: He noted that in the past, performance audits have been very successful. There have not been these kind of disagreements we're seeing with this audit. But he also feels that yeah, Luna is jumping very quickly to saying you're obstructing the auditor, and that's a violation of the municipal code, and that it's kind of threatening. Luna denies that. He's saying I'm justice trying to get done with some audits here. And when we have a department head, as Luna alleges, refusing to respond to an audit and explain what the errors are in the audit, that very much obstructs the auditor from doing his job. If that was happening, the City Council would get a report that had errors in it.
SAUER: Right. You mentioned earlier on the high and the low and how the rather startling range of these permit costs and all. What about the complaints from the other side? The developers and the permit seekers? Are they lining up at City Hall saying what is going on? Is that an impetus for all the of these questions?
CLARK: I did not get an onslaught of people saying they misbilled me for this and that. A lot of the reader complaints I'm getting have to do with staffing issues, customer service issues. You didn't get to do my inspection on time. Or there are -- errors that are being made with the projects --
SAUER: All right, we'll have to leave it there.