SANDAG is Ailing; Assembly Bill 805 Could Be the Cure

By Lisa Wellens/ SanDiego350

Tired of stalled progress from San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG)? Frustrated with its failure to address  San Diego’s poor air quality and lack of transportation options in overburdened communities? Outraged at it’s latest scandal – hiding financing shortfalls and misleading voters about how much money Measure A would raise?

Wishing this planning organization would do the work to bring about a holistic, connected, transportation system that reduces greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with state targets? Assembly Bill 805, introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher could be just what’s needed – kicking the agency into gear with better representation, accountability, transparency, and an eye towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What has been holding SANDAG back? Why the paralysis and tight grip on 1950s solutions to address the challenges we face in 2017? Perhaps small municipalities pining for more lanes that would make it easier for developers to sell homes that are slowly creeping into our back country? Or maybe our mayors and city council members who represent us on the SANDAG board are fearful of breaking the news to their constituents about the true impact of widening the freeways (hint: it doesn’t relieve congestion)? Smaller cities in the region are still holding on to claims that good mass transit isn’t what they need, but bigger wider freeways.

Whatever the reason, SANDAG is spinning its wheels while awaiting a California Supreme Court decision on the lawsuit that showed that its 2012 plan failed to address the key issues raised above. It’s kicking the can down the road with a new plan update due every 4 years, so they can promise to do better next time but never really deliver.

SANDAG functions as the San Diego region’s consolidated metropolitan planning organization (MPO), regional transportation planning agency, and congestion management agency. Most metropolitan regions in the state split the various functions between multiple agencies. This means that SANDAG has outsize authority to direct a larger share of transportation funding, while Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) and North County Transit District (NCTD) are only responsible for maintenance and operations of the region’s public transit.

Currently, votes at the SANDAG and transit boards are not proportionate to the populations of the communities whose voices on transportation are delegated to these agencies. For example: Del Mar, a city with a population of 4,500 people, has a higher proportional voting weight at SANDAG than the city of Chula Vista, whose population is 260,998 people and is the seventh largest city in southern California. Under the current structure, it is possible for 10 small San Diego County cities to veto a proposal while representing only 15% of the population.

AB 805 would modify the voting structures of SANDAG, MTS and NCTD to better reflect the populations they serve, with proportional representation based on population. It would also allow MTS and NCTD to pursue their own tax increases, subject to voter approval, for use on public transit operations, infrastructure, and active transportation (pedestrian and bicycle travel).

Let’s not forget the recent SANDAG funding scandal: in last fall’s Measure A ballot, the agency misrepresented the revenue projections from  the measure’s proposed sales tax increase. News reports revealed that SANDAG staff knew the figures were incorrect before the election and failed to alert members of the board of directors.

In addition, the agency used out of date cost estimates in the official long term plans for TransNet (San Diego’s transportation infrastructure program), despite having updated its own figures a year earlier. This ploy enabled SANDAG to obscure an $8.4 billion cost increase in the projects Measure A was to fund until after the vote.

In response to these incidents – and a concerning lack of appropriate outrage and action on the part of SANDAG’s Board – AB 805 would create an Audit Committee that would include members of the public. The committee would act in the role of an independent auditor within SANDAG, performing audits on financial transaction reports, expenditure plans, annual budgets, and revenue forecasts. It would also require SANDAG to adopt internal control guidelines to prevent and detect financial errors and fraud, and a process for staff performance reviews.

To address the huge gap (see chart below from the Environmental Impact Report for SANDAG’s 2016 plan) between the state’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and SANDAG’s projected emissions from now through 2050, AB 805 would require SANDAG’s regional comprehensive plan to address greenhouse gas emission reduction rules adopted by the State Air Resources Board, identify disadvantaged communities most affected by poor air quality and include transportation strategies to reduce pollution exposure in these communities.

What is it exactly that we need from SANDAG, our regional planning organization,  the agency in charge of making sure we have a world class transportation system? We need a system that serves all of us, builds up communities, provides good jobs, and increases our quality of life in San Diego. We need more transparency, more accountability, and an agency working to help meet the state’s greenhouse gas emissions targets. We need Assembly Bill 805 which would bring a shift in dynamics and provide a framework for all of the above.

Next week, this bill goes to a vote in the state assembly. You can help get this bill passed. Call your assemblymember by Tuesday, May 30 and urge them to vote yes on AB 805. Find your representative here. Here are their district office phone numbers:

  • Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher — 619-338-8090
  • Shirley Weber — 619-531-7913
  • Todd Gloria — 619-645-3090
  • Brian Maienschein — 858-675-0077
  • Rocky Chavez — 760-433-7601
  • Marie Waldron — 760-480-7570
  • Randy Voepel — 619-441-2322

Lisa Wellens has been a member of SanDiego350 since 2011.  She lives in Vista.

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