The Coast News Group

Governor signs SANDAG reform bill backed by city

REGION — Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law a bill aimed at reforming the region’s planning agency, which Encinitas was the only North County city to support.

Brown’s office announced the afternoon of Oct. 11 that the governor signed 21 bills, among them Assembly Bill 805. The bill, authored by State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, calls for sweeping changes at the San Diego Association of Governments, better known as SANDAG.

Gonzalez Fletcher, in a news release, called the signing “a huge victory in the fight to make the scandal-plagued San Diego Association of Governments more transparent, accountable and representative.”

“This is a good day for the silent majority in our region who have been ignored and paved over for far too long,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “The old way of doing things isn’t good enough. AB 805 is an exciting first step toward changing the status quo.”

The bill, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2018, changes the voting structures of SANDAG, the Metropolitan Transit System and the North County Transit District; creates an Audit Committee that includes members of the public that oversees an independent auditor; requires that SANDAG provide annual reports to the state about the region’s transit issues; permits MTS and NCTD to place tax increases on the ballot; requires skilled and trained workers are employed on local transportation projects; and insists that regional transportation plans address greenhouse gas reduction rules and the needs of disadvantaged communities.

It was one of the more divisive bills the state legislature considered this year, as it passed through the Assembly 46-28 on Sept. 11 and through the State Senate 25-13 on Sept. 7, both votes along party lines.

The Encinitas City Council voted Sept. 6 to send a letter in support of the bill to the state legislature, joining San Diego, Lemon Grove and Chula Vista as the only cities in the county to formally support the bill. Encinitas officials said they supported the bill because it would allow for NCTD to put a taxing measure on the ballot independent of SANDAG.

Currently, only SANDAG has that authority, which makes it difficult for the body to craft — and pass — large taxation measures that balance the interests of the county’s various regions.
Encinitas City Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, a Democrat who recently announced a run for State Assembly, said that Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill would restore the public’s trust in the agency, which has been mired in controversy over reports that SANDAG officials made major discrepancies in revenue projections associated with a failed 2016 sales tax measure and hid or deleted emails to avoid public scrutiny. SANDAG’s longtime Executive Director Gary Gallegos resigned in August amid the mounting controversy.Other cities and elected officials opposed the bill, which they argued would reduce the power of smaller cities in favor of San Diego and Chula Vista.

At issue is a part of the proposal that would allow for two cities to call for a so-called “weighted vote” to override a previous tally vote of the body’s board of directors, which is composed of a voting representative of each of the county’s 18 cities and one county supervisor. If a weighted voted is taken, four representatives who comprise 51 percent of the voting majority could override the tally vote.

Currently it takes 10 cities to override a majority vote.

The bill originally also would have cemented the chair and vice chair positions with the city of San Diego and Chula Vista, but Gonzalez Fletcher amended the bill to take the language out.
Boerner Horvath at a Sept. 21 rally pointed to MTS, which has a similar “tally-weighted” voting system. The board there has called for one weighted vote in its history.

“So you look at the default voting structure of a consensus organization is the tally vote, which gives us way more voting power in the everyday operations of SANDAG than currently is the case,” Boerner Horvath said.

“It actually doesn’t change the voting structure, it gives us slightly more power, contrary to what Republicans in North County would have you believe,” she said.