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Chula Vista City Council won’t send Republican mayor to SANDAG

The city of Chula Vista's logo at City Hall in this undated photo.
Alison St. John / KPBS
The city of Chula Vista's logo at City Hall in this undated photo.

Democrats have secured a governing majority on the SANDAG board of directors after the Chula Vista City Council on Tuesday appointed Councilmember Andrea Cardenas as its representative.

Many cities, Chula Vista among them, have historically appointed their mayors to the SANDAG board without much controversy. But leaders in the local Democratic party sought to buck that trend in Chula Vista after voters elected John McCann, a Republican, as mayor last month.

SANDAG makes key decisions on where and how to spend regional transportation dollars, and each city in the county selects its own representative on the board.


During Tuesday’s meeting, McCann pitched himself as a consensus builder who could bridge the divide between conservatives who want to revive some of SANDAG's freeway expansion projects and progressives who want to invest more in public transit.

"Knowing many of the mayors and having good relationships on both sides, I think I would be able to be someone that would be able to bring SANDAG together, because SANDAG has frankly become very divided," McCann said.

But Chula Vista's three city councilmembers, all Democrats, voted to appoint Cardenas as the city's representative. Cardenas did not make any comments on how she would use her vote to influence the agency's policy making.

At the center of the debate at SANDAG is a proposal from Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata to charge motorists a two-cent fee for every mile they drive on county roads. Experts see such fees as inevitable in California, where the growth of electric vehicles will translate to less and less gas tax revenue available to maintain the state's infrastructure.

The so-called "road user charge" would be subject to voter approval, and it wouldn't begin until 2035 — the same year Ikhrata proposes to make all public transit service free in the county. He argues that without a financial incentive to encourage more sustainable forms of transportation, San Diego County will fail to meet its goal of zeroing out greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from cars and trucks.


SANDAG is governed by a 21-member board of directors. Every city in the county holds one seat except for the city of San Diego, which holds two. The County Board of Supervisors also holds two seats.

Votes at the SANDAG board are counted two ways: a simple tally of board members or a "weighted vote," where each board member's vote is counted proportional to their jurisdiction's population. The weighted vote can supersede the tally vote, meaning San Diego, Chula Vista and any one other city can effectively control SANDAG policy if they vote together.

The San Diego City Council last week voted to appoint Mayor Todd Gloria and Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, both Democrats, as the city's representatives to SANDAG.

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