Split council backs SANDAG changes on party-line vote

SAN DIEGO — State legislation that would bring reforms to the San Diego Association of Governments and two area transit agencies received tenuous support Tuesday from the San Diego City Council.

The council members voted 5-4 — along party lines — to back AB 805, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, D-San Diego.

The bill would change the SANDAG Board of Directors voting system to provide greater strength to the region’s biggest cities — San Diego and Chula Vista. A representative of Gonzalez-Fletcher told the council members that, under the current system, the 10 smallest cities in the county can veto anything if they band together.

The legislation would also introduce reforms to governance of the Metropolitan Transit System and North County Transit District.

City Council President Myrtle Cole said the bill would ensure “San Diego city residents have a voice and a weight they deserve on the boards that represent them.” It would also help the city achieve the goals of its plan to address climate change, she said.

Support for the legislation also came from representatives of environmental, social justice and labor organizations.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, a longtime alternate on the SANDAG Board of Directors, said agency officials do not have a problem with many provisions of the bill, but not those that change the weights of votes.

“This is a regional planning agency. It was designed to ensure that there was collaboration, communication and consensus among all of the (18) cities and county government,” Zapf said. “No matter the size — big or small — it meets the needs of the whole population. What I believe AB 805 does is weaken the value of regionalism and concentrate the power in the two largest cities within the county.”

Zapf noted that more than two-thirds of San Diego County residents commute regularly to another city.

The legislation would also require SANDAG, the regional planning agency comprised of local government leaders, to employ an independent auditor that would report to an Audit Committee made up of private citizens.

The bill comes on the heels of revelations that SANDAG staff discovered that the agency’s revenue projections for a tax hike proposition on last fall’s election ballot were faulty, but didn’t make any changes or report the error to board members.

Measure A, which would have increased the sales tax to pay for infrastructure and environmental projects, gained a majority of support but not the two-thirds necessary for passage.

Councilman David Alvarez called SANDAG and MTS the “epitome of the good ol’ boys,” with everything “cooked” before it was time to vote.

“People had cut their deals — and I think Measure A was exactly that — it was a deal that was cut among the leadership of SANDAG at the time, which clearly wasn’t transparent and wasn’t accountable,” Alvarez said.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has voted to oppose the bill, with concern about state officials trampling on local authority.