The Coast News Group

SANDAG executive director to retire

REGION — The executive director of the county’s regional planning agency announced his retirement this week amid growing calls for his resignation.

Gary Gallegos, who had overseen the San Diego Association of Governments since 2001, said that he had been considering retirement for some time. He will retire by the end of the calendar year, according to a news release.

“While retirement has been on my mind for some time, my goal during the last few months has been to help SANDAG and our incredibly talented team through the process of an independent examination of our forecasting efforts, as well as keep the organization moving forward on major initiatives such as the construction of the Mid-Coast Trolley extension and South Bay Rapid, along with planning for the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry,” Gallegos said.

But Gallegos’ decision to retire comes amid a drumbeat of criticism and calls for the SANDAG leader to step down after an internal investigation revealed that SANDAG staff took steps to hide public records and delete documents last year in the wake of The Voice of San Diego’s report that uncovered major errors in the revenue forecast for a tax increase that went before voters last year.

Gallegos, in a prepared statement, said that the report cleared SANDAG of intentionally attempting to mislead the public.

“The independent examination found that SANDAG did not intentionally mislead the public or the Board regarding its forecast,” Gallegos said. “The Board has implemented a plan to address issues related to the forecast. And the Board will consider additional recommendations from the independent examination.

“Moving forward, with the Board’s support my intention is to work hard at keeping this organization focused on all of our very important initiatives and give the Board of Directors time to consider next steps,” Gallegos said.

Gallegos’ most major achievement at the helm of the regional agency was the 2004 passage of the extension of Transnet, the half-cent sales tax that paid for a suite of regional transportation projects. Sixty-seven percent of county voters approved the extension.

To date, the TransNet program has invested approximately $3 billion — and attracted another $10 billion in state and federal matching funds — to build approximately 20 major highway and Managed Lane projects and almost 30 transit projects throughout the region. The TransNet program also has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to local roads and streets, environmental protection and smart growth programs.

Locally SANDAG, which is responsible for regional transportation planning efforts countywide, is the lead agency on the 44-mile bike and pedestrian trail project between Oceanside and San Diego known as the Coastal Rail Trail, of which a section proposed in Cardiff has been the source of years of controversy.

Recently the agency worked with Encinitas to convince the California Coastal Commission to move the proposed segment from the east side of the rail corridor to west of Coast Highway 101 amid outcry from some residents who opposed the move.

The Coastal Commission narrowly rejected the proposal, and SANDAG has moved forward with planning for the eastern alignment.