VISTA — The Vista City Council voted on Tuesday to appoint Councilwoman Katie Melendez as the body’s primary representative on the SANDAG board.
The agenda item was a continuation from the council’s January decision to amend the municipal code and change how the city selects representation to one of the most high-profile boards in San Diego County.
Melendez was approved following a 3-2 vote during the 6½-hour meeting on Feb. 28, with Mayor John Franklin and Councilman Joe Green voting against the nomination. The council also appointed Councilman Dan O’Donnell as the primary SANDAG alternate and Franklin as second alternate.
“I think there is no one better than Councilmember Melendez to advocate,” said Councilmember Corrina Contreras. “SANDAG is so much more than transportation. It’s about affordable housing, habitat protection and how we connect with each other.”
In January, Franklin, as the newly-elected mayor, proposed a slate of municipal appointments to regional boards and commissions, with him serving as the primary representative on SANDAG’s board. But the council’s Democratic majority, consisting of Contreras, Melendez and O’Donnell, opted to changed the city code to allow for any council member to propose a slate of appointments.
Countywide, the issue of representation on the SANDAG board has been sharply divided along partisan lines. And Vista was no different, as the council jockeyed for the seat to the regional planning agency that oversees a nearly $1 billion annual budget. Making matters even more contentious among member cities is SANDAG’s controversial $172 billion Regional Transportation Plan.
Melendez said her goal is to advocate for Vista and infrastructure projects, but also did not state a position on a controversial road user charge. Under that proposal, motorists would be charged 3.3 cents per mile. In December 2021, the SANDAG board directed staff to remove the charge from the transportation plan.
After staff missed its summer deadline, the removal of the charge was pushed to the spring. Opponents believe the inaction by SANDAG staff is a decoy pushed forward by the Democratic board majority.
In agreement with Franklin, Melendez said she does not support a road user charge in combination with gas taxes, a scenario they have both called “double taxation.” Melendez said she believes county voters will ultimately determine the fate of the road user charge and she has no interest in superseding the will of the people.
Melendez also said she does not want to eliminate single-occupancy vehicles. Instead, she wants to wants to encourage residents to move away from using single-occupancy vehicles as a primary mode of transportation.
“I care about my community, and I know that I will pursue transparency and community participation,” Melendez said. “We need freedom and choices. We need a world where buses are reliable and jobs closer to home.”
Franklin said Contreras should have recused herself from the vote due to her alleged financial and lobbying conflicts through her role as a policy advocate at the Climate Action Campaign, a primary sponsor for the failed half-cent tax measure last year.
If Contreras had recused herself from the vote, Franklin would serve as the primary SANDAG representative due to a 2-2 split.
Throughout the meeting, the mayor and Contreras traded verbal jabs. At one point, Franklin said he’d spoken with the California Fair Political Practices Commission and will bring the matter alleged conflicts before a court.
Franklin argued he was the best choice for the SANDAG role based on his experience and role as mayor.
Franklin questioned the state’s pilot program for the road charge, namely privacy concerns related to its use of a GPS device installed in cars to track mileage. Franklin further criticized the SANDAG board for reallocating Transnet funds from one city to another. Franklin has been vocal about the reallocation, and he forced the board to vote down a motion to remove the rule requiring two-thirds approval from voters for any special purpose tax measure. Any tax increase proposed by SANDAG must be approved by 66% of voters.
“It’s obvious that over 80% of the community doesn’t want the road user charge,” Franklin said. “We have not received our fair share of taxes since 1987 when Transnet was approved and again in 2004.”