REGION — A bipartisan group of representatives from 10 cities is pushing for the end of a weighted voting system used by the SANDAG board of directors.
Nine Republicans and Democrat Terry Gaasterland, of Del Mar, released a statement calling on San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, who serves as the board’s vice chair, and SANDAG CEO Hasan Ikhrata to support eliminating the weighted voting system at the board’s upcoming Jan. 13 meeting.
The group cites unfairness and inequality with the current voting process, which favors the city and county of San Diego, which represent 57.4% of the county’s population and 57% of the board’s vote.
The 10 signing members include representatives for some of the largest cities such as Oceanside and Escondido, but also some of the smallest — Del Mar, Coronado, San Marcos, Poway, Imperial Beach, Vista, El Cajon and Santee.
Weighed out according to the certified Jan. 1, 2022 population, the signees of the letter represent municipalities making up 23.5% of the county’s population and 24% of the weighted vote.
According to the weighted voting formula (out of 100), the city of San Diego has 42 votes; the county of San Diego has 15; Chula Vista (8); Oceanside (5); Escondido (4); Carlsbad, El Cajon, Vista and San Marcos (3); Encinitas, National City, La Mesa and Santee (2); and Poway, Lemon Grove, Imperial Beach, Coronado, Solana Beach and Del Mar (1).
Members of the coalition said other Democrats also support reforms to the weighted voting system but fear retaliation from the San Diego Democratic Party.
“Ten of the 19 jurisdictions finally decided it’s time to speak up,” Gaasterland said. “(The board) has three voting cities and four members controlling SANDAG’s entire $1 billion budget.”
The weighted vote came to SANDAG via Assembly Bill 805, authored by former San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez in 2017. The weighted voting system assigns a specific number, or percentage, of votes to each of the 18 cities and county representing the board.
Once the law took effect, the city of San Diego received 42 votes (or percent) and county of San Diego was given 15 votes, resulting in a majority. The coalition of local leaders claims the new procedure disenfranchised nearly half of county residents.
While Gaasterland has voted for every iteration of the plan, her breaking point has come due to the danger with the railroad tracks in Del Mar. According to Gaasterland, the North County Transit District board sent a letter to SANDAG of a large portion of the $300 million to move the railroad tracks off the Del Mar bluffs.
“We have a SANDAG board that is putting Del Mar in great peril of ever getting the railroad tracks relocated,” Gaasterland said. “That’s what did it for me.”
Gaasterland has also voiced concerns about the financing, revenue streams, the road user charge, the Central Mobility Hub in downtown San Diego and the overall feasibility of the plan to achieve all its goals.
The group also railed against the absolute power of San Diego and the county over controlling the budget, while 43% of county residents are left out of any transportation improvements. For example, many on the board have called SANDAG’s $172 billion transportation plan a money grab for San Diego and some South Bay cities.
In North County, the only transit improvements outlined in the plan include double-tracking the Coaster and Sprinter lines, trenching the tracks in Carlsbad Village and extending the Sprinter line to the Westfield Mall in Escondido. The Democratic majority refused to include highway improvements, such as the interchanges along state Route 78 at Interstate 5 and I-15.
However, Gaasterland said two legacy projects — highways 52 and 56 in San Diego — will move forward, while North and East counties are left out.
“Both of them are additional lanes,” Gaasterland said of the San Diego highway projects.
Before AB 805, each city had one vote, which current and former board members said forced the board to collaborate, discuss and forge relationships to meet goals.
Gaasterland also expressed concerns over the apparent “backroom” deal to install Supervisor Nora Vargas as chairwoman and San Diego City Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera as vice chair. The board did not convene in December when the announcements were made, removing the board’s ability to nominate and vote on those positions based on nominees’ qualifications.
Messages were left with Gloria and Vargas’ office, but they did not respond as of publication. The Coast News will update the story with any responses.
“We haven’t even voted yet, so how does (Vargas) know,” Gaasterland said of Vargas’ apparent appointment as SANDAG chair. “Many Democrats loath to go against that majority. It’s a very partisan-driven system right now. Nora Vargas is the supervisor with the least amount of unincorporated county residents. That 15% (of the vote) is supposed to represent the unincorporated county.”
Gaasterland said Vargas has no experience with Board of Directors meetings and questions whether Vargas will support eliminating the weighted vote and how she will approach decisions regarding the bluffs in Del Mar, the controversial road user charge and revenue shortfalls.
City News service contributed to this report.