VISTA — Divisions on the Vista City Council were on full display this week, as Katie Melendez was reappointed as the city’s representative on the San Diego Association of Governments board and named deputy mayor.
Melendez, in her first term representing District 3 and planning a reelection bid next year, was first appointed to the SANDAG board in February after the council amended the municipal code to allow any council member, not just the mayor, to propose representatives for local boards and commissions.
At the Dec. 12 meeting, Melendez asked the council to unanimously support her reappointment, noting that relationships with SANDAG have improved in her time on the board and that she is actively working with staff to improve the city’s chances of securing grants.
“I am very honored to serve the community on SANDAG,” Melendez said. “It would be an honor if I could have unanimous support for this appointment.”
She was reappointed to the SANDAG board in a 4-1 vote, with the opposition of Mayor John Franklin, who argued that he should be the one serving as the city’s representative.
Franklin, in his first year as mayor, said he is better suited to represent the city since he was elected at large, and claimed he would do a better job advocating for North County infrastructure funding, particularly for projects along State Route 78 and Interstate 15.
The city also needs someone who isn’t afraid to butt heads with other SANDAG members and executives, Franklin said.
“I think that if I were serving there, there would be a significantly different posture from our city in terms of where dollars are invested,” Franklin said. “SANDAG’s a mess, and we need somebody down there who routinely holds the SANDAG executives and, frankly, the majority of the board of directors accountable, so that agency serves the best interests of taxpayers.”
Councilmember Joe Green also verbally supported Franklin and said the change of the city code earlier this year regarding appointments was a “political” move by the Democrat majority of Melendez and council members Corrina Contreras and Dan O’Donnell.
“I feel like it was more political posturing because once Councilmember O’Donnell was elected and had the majority of the board, we changed the code and did what we did,” Green said.
O’Donnell defended Melendez, noting that she was one of 15 SANDAG board members to strike down the controversial road usage tax in September.
“A year ago, the largest concern we had was that we were going to appoint somebody who wants to tax us for every mile we drive on the road, and I didn’t believe that was true at the time, and I believe Councilmember Melendez showed that was true by voting against the road user charge,” O’Donnell said.
Council members traded jabs throughout the discussion, with Melendez and Contreras criticizing Franklin for being chronically absent from SANDAG Transportation Committee meetings earlier this year, where he was a representative for the North County Inland region, resulting in his removal from the committee.
Franklin pushed back, noting he was always present to cast votes at the SANDAG board when he was the primary representative before Melendez’s appointment.
He added that non-attendance is rampant at the non-binding transportation committee, where agendas for this year show that six meetings have been canceled and at least two of the 12 regions have gone unrepresented at meetings.
“I appreciate what you’re trying to do — you’re trying to paint me as somehow I’ve not done my job, but the reality is that every time there was a board of directors meeting, I was there to advocate and to cast my vote,” Franklin said.
He also noted his perfect city council meeting attendance record to The Coast News, stating that he has never missed a meeting in his nine years as an elected city official.
Deputy mayor appointment
Melendez also netted an appointment as the 2024 deputy mayor, a one-year term she will take over from Contreras. Franklin and Green were opposed in the 3-2 vote.
Green nominated himself, noting that this is his last chance to hold the role as he won’t be running for re-election to the District 2 seat next year.
“I’d like to throw out there that I have been on the council for seven years; I do love this city like my little sister, and the year I was deputy mayor was COVID year, so I didn’t get to do anything,” Green said. “I just want to serve my city until the end of the year.”
Franklin made a motion to appoint Green, but no other council members seconded it. Contreras and O’Donnell praised Green for his commitment to the city but said they wanted to support Melendez due to her body of work during her term.
“While I support you wholeheartedly and believe that you are such an incredible cheerleader and advocate for our city, and I will just always express my love and admiration for you, I am going to support Councilmember Melendez as deputy mayor,” Contreras said.
Two speakers made public comments in favor of appointing Melendez, and one spoke in support of Green.
Melendez thanked the council for the appointment and stated her respect for Franklin and their debates.
“I understand there are divisions among our council, and if there’s anything I can do in this next year to bring more unity, to bring more consensus building, to bring more community engagement, to facilitate shorter meetings and quicker business, then I will actively work on that,” she said.