Waste, Fraud, & Mismanagement

San Diego Spending More Than Necessary on Infrastructure Due to Lax Vetting, Audit Finds

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San Diego officials frequently approve taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects “prematurely and without proper vetting, which can make them more expensive and significantly delay their completion,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported June 2, citing a 54-page audit released by City Auditor Andy Hanau.

“It is important to have strong controls in place for vetting proposed projects so that the city can focus its limited resources on projects with a greater likelihood of being completed on budget and on schedule,” the audit says.

The audit of 173 infrastructure projects from 2014 to 2022 – including building libraries, fire stations, and public restrooms – found that preliminary vetting is inadequate for nearly half.

“Of the projects without adequate vetting, more than two-thirds experienced some sort of funding shortfall,” the Union-Tribune reported. “The audit said that was likely because funding needs were poorly estimated to begin with. The audit found that 44 percent of projects had inadequate vetting, while 56 percent were adequately vetted. Compared with the sufficiently vetted projects, the insufficiently vetted ones typically cost nearly three times as much and take an average of four years longer to complete. Whether a project was adequately vetted was based on the difference between initial cost estimates and revised cost estimates once city engineers and other officials had fully analyzed it. If the cost estimate after full analysis was more than 50 percent higher than the initial estimate, a project was deemed inadequately vetted.”

“If costs increase once a project is more fully scoped, that requires the city to divert funding from other capital improvement projects – likely resulting in delays and eventual cost overruns for those projects as well,” the audit report stated.

The two officials who oversee creation of the city’s capital improvement plan said they agree with the recommendations in the audit and plan to implement them – but added that they won’t be able to complete the changes for at least a year.

“As an example of the benefits of vetting, the audit noted the starkly divergent results of two similar projects: adding lights to Tierrasanta Community Park and to Rancho Bernardo Community Park,” the Union-Tribune wrote. “The Tierrasanta project, which the audit deemed inadequately vetted, took six years to complete and cost more than triple initial estimates – $1.1 million versus $300,000. The Rancho Bernardo project, which the audit said was adequately vetted, took three years to complete and cost only $10,000 more than initial estimates – $710,000 versus $700,000.”