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New audit says San Diego’s Get It Done app often gives inaccurate, incomplete or confusing information

Graffiti is one of the top problems reported to the city of San Diego's Get It Done app.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The city agrees to boost accuracy but rejects a proposal to join other big cities with 311 phone systems.

A new audit says San Diego must improve the accuracy and clarity of its Get It Done app to reverse a recent dip in customer satisfaction with the app, which enables people to report potholes, graffiti and other problems.

The 6-year-old app often gives customers inaccurate, incomplete or confusing information about when the problem they reported will be solved and when there has been progress toward that goal, the 48-page audit states.

Some lights have been out for years, residents say. The city of San Diego says steps are being taken to improve response times and address the volume of reports.

The audit also recommends that San Diego catch up with most major U.S. cities and other large cities in California by establishing a centralized 311 phone intake option for complaints and service requests.

A 311 system, which would serve as a complement to Get It Done, would make it easier for non-English-speakers and people who are technologically challenged to report problems, the audit says.

The report says a 311 system also could boost the city’s emergency response times by shifting calls away from the Police Department’s non-emergency line.

Phone calls remain the public’s preferred option for reporting problems. The city receives nearly 1 million requests by phone per year, compared with about 300,000 annual Get It Done requests.

In response to the findings, city officials agreed to make all the recommended changes to Get It Done. The changes include giving customers estimated completion dates for reported problems, along with interim progress reports.

The city also will create new training programs so employees give more accurate information, and create procedures for supervisors to review communications between city workers and people who submit Get It Done requests.

But most of the changes won’t be made until next summer or the end of 2023, the audit says.

City also launching equity study, making changes to avoid false “closed” reports for complaints

City officials rejected the audit’s recommendation to establish a 311 system, contending that a central phone line for complaints would further erode customer satisfaction by making it easier to submit complaints the city can’t quickly solve.

Officials said they need to improve city services and the capacity to respond to complaints before confronting what they expect would be a sharp increase in the number of complaints coming in.

“Done out of order, the city would be providing better access to a broken system, where customers are able to report issues in more ways but where no resources have been allocated to improve how quickly or effectively those issues are resolved,” wrote Kirby Brady, the city’s chief innovation officer.

City Auditor Andy Hanau said concerns about San Diego being flooded with too many complaints to handle are legitimate.

“But the solution is not to perpetuate a situation that makes it harder for people with limited English proficiency or limited tech expertise and resources to access city services,” Hanau said.

City officials could work on a plan for creating a 311 system while simultaneously boosting the city’s ability to handle more complaints efficiently, he said.

Understaffing and mismanagement have significantly slowed San Diego’s investigations into leaking sewage, illegal fences, barking dogs and other code violations across the city, according to a new audit released June 9.

Many cities launched 311 systems in the 1990s, Hanau said. Of the 10 most populated cities in the nation, only San Diego and Phoenix don’t have 311 systems. Of the 10 most populated cities in California, only San Diego, Long Beach and Bakersfield lack such systems.

The audit comes as the number of annual reports to the Get It Done app has nearly doubled since 2018, primarily because city officials have expanded the different types of problems that can be reported to more than 60.

The number of reports climbed from 148,946 in 2018 to 296,209 in 2021. Meanwhile, overall customer satisfaction fell from 3.4 to 3.1 on a scale of 1 to 5.

The audit says a key factor in low satisfaction ratings are the app frequently telling customers that their case is “closed” when the problem hasn’t actually been solved.

Typically, city officials have marked the case closed because nothing can immediately be done.

The audit says that’s often because the problem is on private property or land located in another city, or because a fix is planned as part of a larger upcoming project. A sampling by auditors estimated that 19 percent of requests receive a false “closed” message.

In response to the audit, city officials agreed to provide customers with details beyond just saying the case is closed. ◆