Entrance to City Hall
The entrance to San Diego City Hall. Photo by Chris Stone

Mayor Todd Gloria received support from a City Council committee Wednesday to advance a plan to retain city emails for no more than five years while making them available to the public.

The council’s Rules Committee voted unanimously to approve the plan and sent it to the full council for consideration. The policy would take effect Feb. 1 if approved.

“While some local governments have email-retention policies as short as 60 days, and many have used two years as the standard, this policy I’m proposing for the city of San Diego to retain emails for five years demonstrates our commitment to transparency while also managing taxpayer dollars responsibly,” Gloria said.

“With the adoption of this policy, the City will have the longest e-mail retention policy and the state and nation,” he added.

Currently there is no limit on email retention subject to storage limitations, but searching hundreds of millions of emails has become time-consuming for public records requests. The proposed five-year policy would allow the city to more easily manage both storage and requests for access.

Gloria noted that five years covers the full term of any city elected official, plus one additional year.

Prior to developing the new policy, city staff met with representatives from the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The city also surveyed other large U.S. cities and local governments about their retention schedules and found none was longer than five years.

The mayor’s office said the plan would save $1.2 million over five years by making it easier to comply with public records requests because there would be a finite number of messages to review.

“This change effectively puts a cap on the size of our email archive, which will become more manageable and easier to search through for public records requests,” said Jonathan Behnke, the city’s chief information officer.

The city accumulates about 90 million emails per year.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.