Mayor Faulconer Has Missed 84 Percent Of SANDAG Meetings
The San Diego Association of Governments last week took a critical step toward asking voters to increase the countywide sales tax by a half cent to fund $18.2 billion in transportation and infrastructure projects over the next 40 years.
The planning agency's 21-member board of directors, made up of county supervisors, mayors and city council members from across San Diego County, voted to place the tax hike on the November ballot.
Two days before Friday's meeting, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced he would vote "no." The news drew surprise from some SANDAG staffers because the last board meeting Faulconer attended was more than 16 months prior, on Dec. 19, 2014.
Faulconer, a Republican, was elected San Diego mayor on Feb. 11, 2014. Six weeks later, the City Council confirmed him as the city's chief representative on the SANDAG board. Since then, Faulconer has attended seven out of 43 SANDAG board meetings (excluding the first meeting after his confirmation, when the agenda still listed his seat as vacant).
Asked in an interview this week to explain his poor attendance, Faulconer said:
As mayor of the city, I do a lot of great things. I have a representative on SANDAG. Lorie Zapf is my representative, who does a lot of great work. And she continues to do great work. Todd Gloria is the other city’s representative. And my job as mayor is to make sure we’re doing everything that we can do to move this city forward on a daily basis. And that’s exactly what I do.
San Diego City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, also a Republican, is the mayor's alternate on the SANDAG board. She can cast votes according to her conscience. Asked this week if she would have voted differently than Faulconer on the tax measure, she declined to say.
San Diego City Councilman Todd Gloria, a Democrat, also sits on the SANDAG board and chairs its transportation committee. He has been among the tax measure's strongest advocates.
Just before SANDAG board members cast their votes on Friday, county Supervisor Ron Roberts, the SANDAG board chairman, got laughs in the room with a comment apparently aimed at Faulconer, who has a reputation for attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
"I've been through these a couple times, and I've noticed over the years that some of my colleagues who oppose these things want to be the first to have their photos taken when we open the improvements in their areas," Roberts said.
A Republican, Roberts supported the sales tax increase measure, which passed despite opposition from Faulconer and five others.
'He has a regional voice'
One critical meeting Faulconer missed was on Oct. 9, when the SANDAG board approved the 35-year regional transportation plan. Many environmental activists rejected the plan as giving too much money to highways and not enough to public transit and projects to encourage biking and walking.
Nicole Capretz, executive director of the Climate Action Campaign, said she was pleased Faulconer voted last week to block the sales tax increase. She acknowledged, however, the mayor could have pushed for more public transit funding if he had attended more SANDAG board meetings.
"This is something we've been saying to the mayor's office for months now, that he is a regional leader and he has a regional voice that can make a positive impact in moving us in the right direction," Capretz said. "Obviously that hasn't worked thus far. But better late than never is the way we see it."
Faulconer's reasons for opposing the sales tax increase do not appear to be purely environmental. He said the measure lacked consensus, that the sales tax was regressive, and that SANDAG had gone back and forth on what projects would be included in the measure.
SANDAG staffers did present the board with a series of proposals on what projects would be included in the tax measure. However their revisions were based on the comments SANDAG board members made at meetings — which the mayor did not attend.
Faulconer is running for re-election on June 7. His opponents have used his low attendance at SANDAG to argue he lacks leadership. Challenger Ed Harris, a Democrat and former city councilman, set up the website whereiskevin.org, accusing him of failing to lead the city on a number of issues.
"I'm not a supporter of the SANDAG vote either, but the difference is I would have been there crafting an agreement that moved us forward on transit, moved us forward on protecting our environment," Harris said. "Not going to the meetings and then just voting 'no' at the end is kind of a cop-out."
The SANDAG board must still approve a final expenditure plan and ballot language before it officially qualifies for the November ballot. A two-thirds majority of county voters would have to approve the tax increase for it to pass.