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SANDAG Reform Bill Wins Backing Of San Diego City Council

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the voting process at the SANDAG board of directors.

San Diego City Council President Myrtle Cole speaks during a council meeting,...

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: San Diego City Council President Myrtle Cole speaks during a council meeting, Dec. 12, 2016.

In a 5-4 vote, the San Diego City Council has decided to support a bill in Sacramento that would make big changes to the county’s regional planning agency, SANDAG.

San Diego City Council members on Tuesday voted narrowly to support a bill in the state legislature that would make changes to the county's transportation agencies.

AB 805, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, passed the Assembly last month, mostly on party lines, and is currently being reviewed by the Senate. It would make several changes to North County Transit District and the Metropolitan Transit System, which operate the Sprinter, Coaster, bus and trolley systems, and the San Diego Association of Governments, which plans and funds transportation countywide.

The bill's supporters say SANDAG needs more accountability and transparency. Reporting by the Voice of San Diego revealed the agency overestimated the amount of money a recent failed tax measure would bring in and underestimated the cost of transportation projects it has already promised to build. Among the bill's more popular components is the creation of a standing audit committee at SANDAG to review the agency's performance.

The most controversial aspect of the bill would change the voting structure at the SANDAG board of directors. Currently, votes are counted two ways:

–There is a tally vote, which gives each jurisdiction in the county one vote.
–And there is the weighted vote, in which each board member's vote is weighted based on the population of their jurisdiction.

Most decisions about transportation projects have to pass both a tally and weighted vote. Critics say this system effectively gives veto power to smaller cities with a minority of the county's population.

AB 805 would change the voting rules so that a weighted vote would have to be requested by at least two jurisdictions. If that happens, the weighted vote would supersede the tally vote. This would make voting more proportional to population size, effectively giving larger cities more influence.

"AB 805 takes steps to improve our regional transit agencies in ways that align closely with a number of our city priorities," said Council President Myrtle Cole, who sits on the SANDAG board of directors. "And it ensures that San Diego city residents have the voice and the weight they deserve on the boards that represent them."

Cole and the council's four other Democrats — Barbara Bry, Chris Ward, David Alvarez and Georgette Gomez — voted to support the bill. The council's four Republicans — Lorie Zapf, Mark Kersey, Chris Cate and Scott Sherman — voted against supporting the bill.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf serves as an alternate SANDAG board member to Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who rarely attends board meetings. She said the current board structure ensures that the needs of smaller cities are taken into account.

"This is a regional planning agency, and it was designed to ensure that there is collaboration, communication, consensus among all of the 19 cities and the county governments," she said.

Faulconer has the authority to veto the council's decision. Mayoral spokesman Craig Gustafson said in an e-mail last week: "We have been in contact with the author's office to remain apprised of the bill's status. The Mayor's Office hasn't taken a position on the legislation."

San Diego joins the cities of Lemon Grove and Chula Vista, as well as the MTS board of directors and several nonprofits, in voting to support AB 805. The cities of El Cajon, La Mesa, National City, Solana Beach, Poway, San Marcos and Vista, as well as the County Board of Supervisors and the SANDAG board, have voted to oppose the bill.

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