Assemblymember Gloria Announces Results of State Audit on San Diego Air Pollution Control District

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Audit Finds Local Air Pollution Control District is Failing to Protect Public from Air Pollution, Fully Investigate Pollution Complaints

SAN DIEGO, CA – As the USS Bonhomme Richard burns for the fifth day raising concerns about air quality in nearby communities, a state audit requested by California State Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) has found the San Diego Air Pollution Control District (APCD) is failing to protect the public from air pollution. The audit, released today, determined the APCD is neglecting to charge appropriate fees to regulate air pollution, ensure complaints about polluters are fully investigated, and properly inform and engage the public on air quality issues.

This audit confirms that the Air Pollution Control District is not doing enough to protect San Diegans from the harmful effects of air pollution,” said Assemblymember Gloria. “I have long been concerned about the poor air quality in San Diego and particularly in communities like Barrio Logan and Logan Heights. This audit proves the Air Pollution Control District can and should do more, and I intend to make sure they do. This is a matter of public health and the District must do better.” 

Charged with regulating stationary and mobile (vehicular) sources of air pollution, auditors found the APCD is using vehicle registration fees to subsidize its permitting program for stationary sources of air pollution rather than raising the permitting fees to cover actual costs. This means less money toward addressing harmful emissions from mobile sources. In 2019, stationary sources only produced four tons of pollutants in San Diego County while cars, trucks, and buses accounted for 82 tons daily. This information has even prompted the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to change the level of ozone causing pollutants in San Diego from moderate to severe.  

As the county agency with authority to investigate air pollution complaints, the audit determined the APCD cannot ensure all complaints are properly investigated or addressed. In reviewing a sample of 10 complaints submitted to the APCD, auditors found one had not been investigated at all despite being received 48 days previously. Auditors also found that complaint data the APCD did have, tended to be incomplete and not easily accessible.

The audit also found the APCD has not taken appropriate steps to engage with and inform the public on San Diego air quality matters. Auditors noted that similarly situated Air District Boards in Sacramento and the Bay Area have adopted public participation plans as part of their public outreach and emphasized social media as part of its public engagement. The APCD has done neither.

Further, the audit found a significant lack of oversight with the APCD’s advisory committee – the body that recommends actions to the APCD’s Board, which is the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. According to auditors, the committee did not have a legally-required quorum in any of the 13 meetings from fiscal year 2016-2017 through December 2019. The Board also failed to ensure seats on the committee were filled. One seat, for members nominated by environmental organizations, had not been filled in almost 30 years. Another has been vacant for 24 years.

Environmental Health Coalition appreciates the leadership of Assemblymember Gloria to request this investigation and thanks the Auditor’s office for its comprehensive research. This report validates the experiences of residents who live in the communities most impacted by poor air quality,” said Diane Takvorian, Executive Director of the Environmental Health Coalition. “Their voices have not been heard as complaints languish for months, monies have not been spent appropriately to reduce pollution and San Diego’s air quality is worsening.  EHC looks forward to working with the new Air Pollution Control Board to rectify these problems.”

The full state audit can be accessed here.

Assemblymember Gloria officially requested the state audit of the San Diego Air Pollution Control District last year. His request came at the same time as he was authoring state legislation to restructure the San Diego Air Pollution Control District Board. The legislation sought to add representatives from smaller cities as well as public members to the Board, increasing diversity and representation. The bill was signed into law by Governor Brown.

The San Diego Air Pollution Control District represents three million people across 18 cities. Within its jurisdiction, there are various sources of air pollution including 42 Cap and Trade greenhouse gas emission sources, local port activity, and highly industrialized areas including light and heavy duty facilities. It is the responsibility of air district boards to help jurisdictions meet federal, state, and local air quality regulations/goals and control emissions so that pollution sources are compliant with regulations and permitting.