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Enhanced Services Districts: City provides little oversight of privately funded public services

Report
Districts provide security and maintenance of public spaces, but without the level of transparency and accountability required for similar services managed by the City.
Published

Security officers walk the central eastside to deter graffiti and vandalism. A team of cleaners removes litter from downtown sidewalks. A business owner calls private security to wake a person sleeping on the doorstep. The District Attorney has staff available to assist with low-level offenses.

All of these services are provided through Enhanced Services Districts, which are privately funded zones authorized by the City to pay for services that are supplemental to those already provided by the City. Once authorized, the City has taken a hands-off approach to the districts and provides little oversight of the services. Most concerning to some is the police-like activities within the zones.

The City does not provide guidance on the formation and governance of the districts or the services to be provided. The City approves the creation of the districts and collects the fees, but usually only those who pay them decide which services to fund and how to manage them.

Businesses and property owners seek the authorization for districts because of dissatisfaction with the level of services provided by the City or County, and community members can benefit from the enhanced services. The problem arises when security, enforcement, and management of public spaces are decided by one paying sector of the community without the City's oversight and public input.

We recommend the City review the districts' purpose and the City's responsibility, and revisit the district agreements. If the districts continue to provide services in public spaces, the City should develop guidelines for district formation, governance, and management that ensures public input, transparency and accountability by the districts and their service providers.

View our audit report and recommendations

View the audit highlights


September 9, 2021: The City Auditor released additional documentation related to the August 2020 audit of Enhanced Services Districts. View the press release and additional documentation.