ESCONDIDO — The mayor of Escondido was removed from his role as the city’s representative on the SANDAG board of directors after council members expressed frustration with the mayor’s recent vote in favor of the metropolitan planning agency’s 2021 Regional Transportation Plan.
Mayor Paul McNamara, who was elected to the Escondido City Council in 2018, was removed from the position by a 3-2 vote at the body’s meeting Wednesday. The vote means that Escondido currently has no sitting member on the SANDAG board, as the council did not vote to confirm any member in McNamara’s place.
Councilmembers Tina Inscoe, Joe Garcia and Michael Morasco, all Republicans, voted in favor of the resolution to remove the mayor as the city’s SANDAG representative, while Councilmember Consuelo Martinez and McNamara himself, both Democrats, voted against.
The mayor’s removal from the position was in part a symbolic rebuke to the SANDAG board’s vote last month to approve its controversial transportation plan, which is aimed at overhauling San Diego County’s transit networks as well as helping the county achieve state-mandated climate goals.
McNamara was removed not only because he voted in favor of SANDAG’s plan but also because the City Council wanted to signal its displeasure with the direction the organization is headed overall, Morasco said.
“This vote was a part of a broader picture, it has to do with what SANDAG has done historically…how Escondido for many years has experienced broken promises one after another, and that’s impacted our frustration with the direction that SANDAG is going,” Morasco said.
Morasco added that he felt McNamara’s votes as a SANDAG board member demonstrated the mayor’s views were not in line with those of a majority of Escondido citizens, whom Morasco said are frustrated over repeated SANDAG policies that have hurt the interests of North County residents.
“The mayor’s [removal] was not specifically only because of his most recent vote, but that was the icing on the cake,” Morasco said. “We felt as though the sitting SANDAG rep [McNamara] did not have the same philosophical perspective and outlook as the majority of those… with the city.”
McNamara said he was disappointed in the council’s decision, which he called a “partisan maneuver,” arguing that his removal was a futile gesture that would have no meaningful policy impact.
“The decision was disappointing…I felt like even if the council disagreed with our [SANDAG’s] decision matrix about what’s best for the city, we’re basically inserting a partisan element into our decision making with the vote which isn’t good,” McNamara said. “In the grand scheme of things, with me not being on SANDAG…I wonder why the council thought this was necessary, like what did this accomplish?”
Inscoe expressed that Wednesday’s vote was intended as a wake-up call to SANDAG leadership that it cannot continue ignoring the frustrations of Escondido residents, a majority of whom she said oppose the regional transportation plan.
“This has nothing to do with the mayor and the service that he provides…it’s about a philosophical difference in how SANDAG is going about raising taxes and finding ways to raise huge amounts of money to create this transportation corridor in San Diego but doing nothing for North County,” Inscoe said.
Since being approved by the board last month, SANDAG’S plan has come under fire from local elected officials all over the county. Critics have argued that one of the plan’s main funding mechanisms — a proposed mileage fee for every driver — would impose a heavy cost onto county residents.
In November 2021, the council adopted a resolution declaring its opposition to SANDAG’s proposed road-user fee, or mileage tax. While the mileage tax was eventually taken out of the approved proposal, it is unclear what funding stratagem will replace it.
Many have also taken issue with the plan’s proposal to install over 800 miles of managed lanes on county freeways, where drivers would be charged a toll for access to special lanes available to buses.
In addition to echoing these concerns at Wednesday’s meeting, council members also criticized the transportation plan for allocating the vast majority of its funding towards transit projects outside of North County.
“I have looked at the plan and I see a majority of the investment of tax dollars in more urban areas…it certainly seems like Escondido, which is one of the high-revenue producing cities in our county, is not receiving anything close to cover for the amount of the investment that the city would be making into the plan,” said Garcia. “It doesn’t seem like North County and Escondido is going improve through this plan…I believe that it’s time that we have a new advocate from our council to represent Escondido and raise the voices of our constituency.”
The regional transportation proposal will cost $162.5 billion, per county estimates, and will be implemented in stages over the course of 30 years.
According to Morasco and Inscoe, SANDAG has also demonstrated its lack of concern for the interests of Escondido residents through its allocation of funds provided by TransNet, a countywide tax implemented in 1987 and renewed in 2004 that funds various transportation projects all over San Diego.
SANDAG has repeatedly promised to use TransNet dollars to fund projects that would benefit Escondido, such as an expansion of freeways throughout the North County, but has failed to deliver on such promises, the council members said.
“The situation with the TransNet dollars has just been more of the same…it’s been this is what it is, take it or leave it, well we don’t want to take it anymore,” Morasco said.
Noting the regional plan would not begin implementation until 2030, McNamara said many of the his fellow council members’ arguments against the SANDAG plan were moot, as there would be ample opportunities to amend the proposal through the input of county residents.
Additionally, the mayor said the argument that the plan would raise taxes was incoherent because the tax increases funding the plan would have to be approved separately by California voters.
“What people are failing to see is that RTP (Regional Transportation Plan) is a plan…the details of that plan need to be worked out, and SANDAG staff has until 2030 to do that, and there will be community input before anything is finally approved…any tax increases in the plan will need to be approved by voters, SANDAG can’t approve those taxes,” McNamara said.
McNamara also disputed the idea that his removal from the SANDAG board was in line with the wishes of Escondido residents, instead arguing that the council had “silenced the voice of the majority” in adopting the resolution.
“I say this with respect but I have more votes than the three of you combined,” McNamara said to the other council members at the meeting, referencing his total vote share in the 2018 election. “I represent the community, I am the voice of the community as the mayor.”
In addition to voting to remove McNamara, the council majority also voted to reject the mayor’s motion to nominate Martinez — who was one of McNamara’s alternates for the position — as his replacement on the SANDAG board. McNamara adamantly condemned the decision not to confirm Martinez, arguing that she was the only councilmember qualified to serve as his replacement.
“Why was Conseulo, my alternate not allowed to step into my place — was it because she’s a Democrat? What kind of partisan insertion is this? She’s more than qualified,” McNamara said.
McNamara refused to nominate another replacement following the council’s vote.
“I’m not ready to nominate another candidate to SANDAG since none of the other candidates here have been to a meeting or understand what’s really going on down there,” the mayor said.