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Circumventing public records laws with phone app

 May 25, 2022 at 5:00 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Wednesday, May 25th>>>>

An app to circumvent public records lawsMore on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….


The San Diego city council unanimously passed a resolution tuesday declaring San Diego a safe city for access to abortion.

The vote is in response to a leaked draft opinion from the US supreme court that indicates the high court plans to overturn Roe vs Wade.

The court’s decision is expected later this summer.

Also on tuesday, the San Diego county board of supervisors voted 3-1 in favor of calling on California to add abortion rights to the state constitution.


San Diego county is expanding its free menstrual products program following a year long pilot program..

Free 4 Menstrual Equity was launched last May to provide free pads and tampons in dispensers at county-owned facilities, including community centers and libraries.

Under the pilot, 24 dispensers were installed.

The county plans to install more dispensers at additional county sites.

A recent study showed that nearly one in four US students struggle to afford menstrual hygiene products.


Point La Jolla and boomer beach are closing down for the annual sea lion pupping season.

The pupping season runs May through the end of october.

The San Diego city council approved the closures on Tuesday, which was authorized by the California Coastal Commission in early april.

The closure is intended to ensure the safety and health of both visitors and the sea lions.


From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.
Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

If you need to communicate with someone online but want to keep it secret, an app called Signal is a good bet. It’s fully encrypted, meaning messages can’t be downloaded or shared.

But what happens when government employees start using it?

KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser examines how officials might be using Signal to circumvent the public’s right to know.

Just after noon on a Monday last June, two city council staffers had a text exchange.

“So nice to meet you today! I'm shocked your a campaign person,” Jared Miller-Sclar wrote to Kaitlyn Willoughby.

“I know I am young but if I am following in your footsteps that is definitely a great sign because you have done some great things,” Willoughby responded.

Then Miller-Sclar gave his junior colleague some advice: download the messaging app Signal.

“Def download signal, its preferable for me for communicating about campaign/work stuff, or of course just the tea,” he wrote.

The California Public Records Act says most communications about government business must be available to the public.

So if Miller-Sclar is sending work messages via Signal, those messages are very likely public records. But when KPBS asked to see them, he said he didn’t have any.

Shaila Nathu

“There should be policies in place preventing them from using Signal to connect government business.”

This raises bright red flags for Shaila Nathu (SHAY-lah NATH-uu), a lawyer with the open government advocacy group Californians Aware.

“It's a means of avoiding disclosure to the public under the CPRA, it kind of flies in the face of transparency and government accountability.

She’s also deeply troubled by a Signal setting that permanently deletes messages after 30 seconds.

“After they're deleted, there's no record of that communication on either the actual device or on the server, and that renders a search for public records impossible.”

KPBS: “Does anyone in your office use the messaging app Signal?”

Miller-Sclar: “Yes, for personal use.”

Miller-Sclar wouldn’t do an interview. In a written statement, he said people in his office do use Signal, but not for government business and not during work hours.

However, in his texts to Willoughby, Miller-Sclar specifically mentions “work stuff.” And he sent those messages just after noon on a Monday.

Records show other staffers in Campillo’s office also use Signal—they frequently wrote things like, "Just texted you on signal," "yea i'll send t to you on signal," or once…"putting this here to send on Signal because good lord this was wild."

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher’s office also uses Signal constantly for communication about government business… from a staffer asking for the office key code to talking points for Fletcher’s State of the County speech.

Fletcher’s office provided all of those Signal messages in a response to a KPBS public records request.

David Loy

First Amendment Coalition

“They could have a clear, bright line which says, if you're doing public business do it on the public agency's own system

David Loy is the legal director of the First Amendment Coalition.

He’s troubled by the widespread use of Signal by Fletcher’s team, even though they are open about it. But he’s even more concerned by Campillo’s office.

“The execution and operation of the Public Records Act does depend to a large degree on an agency's good faith. The California Supreme Court presumed the agencies would act in good faith. And if they are not, that undermines and defeats the purpose of the entire system of open government.”

A bigger issue is the public wouldn’t know about government Signal use without evidence like what KPBS obtained—emails and text messages that specifically mention the app. Nathu with Californians Aware joked it’s like Fight Club.

“I feel like the first rule of using Signal as a public official should be, don't mention that you use Signal.”

To see more examples of messages, go to kpbs dot org.


San Diego is eliminating two of the five proposals to redevelop the Sports Arena property in the Midway District.

KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen says the City Council signed off on that decision Monday.

AB: City officials already have a favorite proposal for the 48-acre property just north of downtown: Midway Rising, led by Encinitas-based developer Zephyr. It would build the most low-income housing, which state law says has to be the priority. Councilmember Joe LaCava says that project still needs a full vetting.

JL: We need to call the list so that we can focus the limited time and dollars that we have available to really figure out whether these top three really have the wherewithal to pull off the projects that they have so enticed us with.

AB: The city hopes to select a winning bidder before the end of this year. Andrew Bowen, KPBS news.


The San Diego board of supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to create a 10-million dollar grant program that’s aimed to help cities build homeless shelters.

The county will provide behavioral health services for any new shelters .. Officials say they want to move quickly and fund projects that are ready to go. Supervisor Terra Lawson Remer says it’s an unprecedented step at a time when more and more people are becoming unsheltered.

“I just want to uplift this as a really important initiative. I think the point in time count numbers last week reinforce what we already know -- that we’re in a dire homeless situation across our region.”

Data from the point in time count shows over the last two years homelessness has increased by at least 10 percent… now at a total of 8,400 people. Just under half that number aren’t in a shelter or any type of supportive housing.


Coming up.... San Diego’s largest school district has new indoor masking policies.
We’ll have that story and more, next, just after the break.

San Diego's largest school district is trying to decide if it's time to bring back masks as local COVID cases rise.

Kpbs’ Jacob Aere has more on how that decision might be made.

Starting May 25, indoor masking may be required at certain San Diego Unified schools or throughout the entire district … depending on newly added COVID-19 case count scenarios.

School Board Trustee Richard Barrera says the district is aiming for a balanced plan to keep students safe and healthy, but also in-person for learning.

“It's important to say that we are not anticipating in any school right now that the indoor mask mandate would be in place. We think it’s not likely that we're going to see it happen before the end of the school year, which is in three weeks.”

SDUSD says that families will be notified if their schools or the district reach those certain levels. The new rules would apply for the rest of this school year as well as summer school. Jacob Aere, KPBS News.


A new report is out showing which car companies are sued most often using California’s lemon law. KPBS reporter John Carroll talked to one San Diegan about her own “lemon horror story.”

The report from three public interest research groups shows between 2018 and 2021 General Motors was sued the most… one lawsuit for every 78-cars sold in the state. Toyota was sued the least… one suit for every two-thousand-29 vehicles sold here. Clairemont resident Kim Lane and her husband felt filing a lemon lawsuit was their only option after their 2018 Dodge Ram pickup kept having electrical problem after electrical problem. They had to hire a lawyer and the whole thing took more than a year to resolve.

“These auto manufacturers are taking advantage of this misfortune with people to punish them for speaking out and that’s not right, it’s not fair.”

That’s it for the podcast today. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

Ways To Subscribe
Records show staffers for local office holders use the encrypted messaging app Signal. Experts say this circumvents California’s public records law because there’s no way to check whether records that should be made public are actually disclosed. Meanwhile, schools within the San Diego Unified School District have new rules on when to bring back indoor masking. Also, a new report shows which car companies have been sued the most under California’s Lemon Law.