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Governor Brown Signs SANDAG Reform Bill

Commuters board the San Diego Trolley near Old Town on June 20, 2013.

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: Commuters board the San Diego Trolley near Old Town on June 20, 2013.

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed AB 805, a bill written by a San Diego assemblywoman that makes big changes to the county's transportation planning agency.

California Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed into law a bill that could make big changes to San Diego's transportation network.

AB 805, authored by State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), changes the structure of the San Diego Association of Governments board of directors. San Diego and Chula Vista, the county's two biggest cities, will soon have more authority over how the agency spends its more than $1 billion on transportation infrastructure like roads, freeways and mass transit.

"I'm ecstatic," Gonzalez Fletcher said in a phone interview Wednesday. "The governor does not usually like to tinker with local government ... so we really had to make the case on why this is a unique situation."

Environmentalists have long accused SANDAG of underinvesting in public transit and spending too much on freeways — sometimes at the expense of air quality in low-income communities. Unions have also expressed frustration at SANDAG's unwillingness to sign project-labor agreements, which guarantee outside contractors are paid union wages and benefits. AB 805 seeks to force SANDAG into such agreements on large projects.

RELATED: In Patchwork Of Transportation Agencies, What Makes SANDAG Unique?

Gonzalez Fletcher said it may take some time for the changes to be seen on the ground, but that her bill laid the groundwork for a fairer system.

"Do we have a will to have reliable increased public transit? Do we have a will to ensure that underserved communities don't just get another freeway in their backyard?" Gonzalez Fletcher said. "These are the kind of things that I think we'll see change, decision by decision."

Support for the bill was likely boosted by SANDAG's revenue forecasting scandal. Investigations by Voice of San Diego revealed the agency had for years been overestimating how much money it would earn from a local sales tax measure, and underestimating how much it would have to spend on projects in its budget. Gonzalez Fletcher's bill creates an independent auditor at SANDAG that will review the agency's performance.

The scandal likely contributed to the early retirement of former SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos. The board is currently searching for his replacement.

AB 805 also changes the board of the Metropolitan Transit System, eliminating a seat reserved for an unelected community member appointed by the rest of the board. That seat, currently held by board chairman Harry Mathis, will be given to an elected official from Chula Vista.

MTS and the North County Transit District also gain new authority to ask voters for tax increases. The two transit operating agencies currently have to rely on tax measures crafted by SANDAG.

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