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San Diego County Air Pollution Control District
It Has Used Vehicle Registration Fees to Subsidize Its Permitting Process, Reducing the Amount of Funds Available to Address Air Pollution

Report Number: 2019-127

July 16, 2020

The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:

As directed by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, my office conducted an audit of the San Diego Air Pollution Control District (San Diego Air District). Our assessment concludes that the San Diego Air District has not charged sufficient fees for the permits it issues to operators of stationary sources of pollution, such as gas stations and factories. In fiscal year 2018–19, the district collected $8.7 million in permit fees, but the total cost of the permitting program was $12.5 million. Instead of raising its permit fees to cover its actual costs, the San Diego Air District used vehicle registration fees to subsidize some of the costs of its permitting program. Although state law allows the San Diego Air District broad discretion over the use of the vehicle registration fees it receives, using these funds that could otherwise be used to address emissions from mobile sources to subsidize its permitting program does not advance the district's mission of improving San Diego County's (county) air quality. The district's choice is problematic because meeting federal air quality standards requires the San Diego region to dramatically reduce emissions of ozone-causing pollutants, the majority of which are caused by mobile sources—such as cars, trucks, and buses.

In addition, the district's governing board has failed to exercise sufficient oversight of its advisory committee, a nine-member group that provides the board with recommendations on decisions impacting the county's air quality—including regulatory changes. For many years, the district's governing board has failed to ensure that seats on the advisory committee representing environmental and small business interests were filled. Further, the advisory committee did not have a quorum necessary to lawfully take action on the agenda items during any of the 13 meetings it held from fiscal year 2016–17 through December 2019. Finally, the San Diego Air District is responsible for investigating public complaints regarding air quality, but when we reviewed the investigation reports for a selection of 10 complaints, we determined that the district failed to investigate one of the 10 complaints, and it did not investigate a second complaint within the time frames established in its policy. Because complaints are a valuable source of information regarding potential noncompliance, it is important that the district demonstrate to the public that it prioritizes collecting, tracking, and addressing complaints promptly and accurately.

Respectfully submitted,

California State Auditor