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California Senate Considers SANDAG Reform Bill

SANDAG board members sit around their meeting table, June 24, 2016.
Katie Schoolov
SANDAG board members sit around their meeting table, June 24, 2016.
California Senate Considers SANDAG Reform Bill
A bill that would make significant changes to the governing structure of the San Diego Association of Governments has cleared the state Assembly and now heads to the Senate. San Diego's two Democratic senators have not taken a position on the bill.

A bill in the California legislature that would change the governing structure of the San Diego Association of Governments took a big step forward last week when it passed the Assembly floor. It now moves to the Senate, where its fate is less certain.

Critics say SANDAG, which plans and funds transportation infrastructure across the county, is undemocratic because small cities like Del Mar have the same number of seats on the board as larger cities like Chula Vista. Environmental groups often criticize the agency for giving too much money to freeways and not enough to public transit.

AB 805 would give greater voting power to elected officials representing more populous cities on the agency's board of directors. It would make similar changes to the boards of the Metropolitan Transit System and the North County Transit District, and would allow those agencies to place tax measures on the ballot. It would also require SANDAG to hire an independent performance auditor and create a standing audit committee.

Assembly members passed AB 805 mostly along party lines. Gonzalez Fletcher's chief of staff, Evan McLaughlin, expressed optimism about the bill's chances and said it had gained "a lot of momentum" since it was first introduced.

"We anticipate the senators from the San Diego region to be hearing from their constituents and from the groups of supporters who want to see reform at SANDAG and in our local transportation planning," he said.

San Diego's two Democratic senators, Toni Atkins and Ben Hueso, have not yet taken positions on the bill. City councils in both their districts have voted to oppose it, arguing the bill would silence the voices of smaller cities.

"The bill has gone through a lot of amendments, and I am reviewing those and will evaluate any recommendations that come through the Senate committee process," Atkins said in an e-mailed statement. "But it's clear that reform is needed. I look forward to discussing it when the bill gets to the Senate Transportation & Housing Committee."

The bill has won the support of several progressive and environmental organizations, including Climate Action Campaign, Environmental Health Coalition and Circulate San Diego.

The board of directors of the Metropolitan Transit System, which operates buses and trolleys in most of the county, voted narrowly to support the bill. It did so only after board members invoked a "weighted vote" that gives greater voting power to the representatives of more populous cities. AB 805 would align SANDAG's weighted voting procedures more closely with those of MTS.

The Senate has until Sept. 15 to pass AB 805, and the governor has another month to sign it into law.