Skip to main content

Following Defeat Of Measure A, SANDAG Leadership Structure Is Questioned


Ron Roberts speaks at Politifest at San Diego State University, Sept. 24, 2016.

Some members of SANDAG, the board that controls billions of transportation dollars for San Diego County, say the leadership does not reflect changing demographics in the region.

Some members of the San Diego Association of Governments — the board that controls billions of transportation dollars for San Diego County — say the leadership does not reflect changing demographics of the region.

Voters defeated SANDAG’s Measure A, the half-cent sales tax on the November ballot, and some officials are calling for the agency to make room for more progressive members in leadership roles.

SANDAG is San Diego’s regional planning agency. It has representatives from the county's 18 cities and unincorporated areas.

At the Nov. 18 board of director’s meeting, Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina was in the running for the position of second vice chair, said Encinitas City Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer. But rather than confirming him, the board voted instead to eliminate the position, she said.

Shaffer said SANDAG needs a clear process for electing or appointing people in leadership positions, "and not change the structure after the fact when you don’t like who got nominated."

It’s not the first time more progressive candidates have been blocked from leadership at SANDAG, Shaffer said.

Solana Beach City Councilwoman Lesa Heebner, who has taken progressive, pro-environment positions, applied for the vice chair position. Although she won the recommendation of the nominating committee, Shaffer said, Heebner was subsequently asked to withdraw her name.

The following year, Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas, a Democrat, applied for the second vice chair position. Shaffer said her nomination was never brought before the board.

SANDAG’s board chair, County Supervisor Ron Roberts, a Republican, said if there is any move to block progressive-leaning candidates from leadership positions, he is not going to be a part of it. Roberts said it’s not just progressive voices that get frustrated at SANDAG.

"We have just the opposite too," Roberts said. "We have two factions in here. When I stood for election, I got a little hammered from people on both sides."

Roberts cited the problems the board had in reaching agreement on how to spend money from Measure A, which would have raised $18 billion for San Diego’s roads and public transit.

"You had the Republican Central Committee saying, 'We’re not going along with this — it’s got too much public transit, not enough roads.' You got the Democratic group that was against it because it wasn’t doing enough for public transit," Roberts said. "Folks, somehow you’ve got to come to a meeting of the minds."

If Measure A had pleased more progressive interest groups and eliminated funding for road improvements, it would not have passed, Roberts said.

"You could put things on the ballot from now until hell freezes over and those aren’t going to get approved," Roberts said.

Roberts said SANDAG is structured so even small cities like Del Mar get a voice.

"I don’t know who came up with this system," he said. "But I think it’s brilliant if you’re going to get people to work regionally."

Roberts said he agreed to eliminate the position of second vice chair because, although it appeared to establish a path to leadership, the position had never resulted in the office-holder chairing a full board meeting.

Instead, Roberts said, if the chair were absent, he would like to see the chair of one of the four standing committees chairing the full board.

SANDAG has four standing committees: transportation, regional planning, borders and public safety. Roberts said Dedina might well become the chair of the borders committee next year.

Photo credit: Lisa Shaffer

Encinitas City Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer is also a representative on the SANDAG board, November 2016.

Shaffer said changing the leadership structure of SANDAG might be a good idea, but noted that the board chair currently appoints the chairs of the standing committees.

She decided not to run for another term on the Encinitas City Council, so she will not represent the city on the SANDAG board next year.

Shaffer said she decided to speak out on the question of leadership because SANDAG controls how billions of dollars are allocated to roads and public transit. She said the changing values in the community are not reflected on the more conservative board.

"Elected officials, and particularly the people on the SANDAG board, are more heavily conservative and Republican than the county as a whole," Shaffer said. "And the SANDAG board is a major force in this county. They bring billions of dollars to the region and we need to make sure we’re spending those dollars in a way that is responsive to the community’s needs.”


San Diego News Matters podcast branding

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.