County voters in November will decide whether to increase the sales taxes by a half-cent to fund a host of regional projects, from expanding transportation options to repairing busted infrastructure to preserving open space and replenishing sand on local beaches.

San Diego County Taxpayers Association CEO Haney Hong is already angry that the regional planning agency is spending public money to convince voters it’s a good idea.

Hong’s issues highlight a basic question facing the agency as it pursues the tax hike on the November ballot: Where does education end, and campaigning begin?

In a June 8 letter to SANDAG’s board Hong criticized the agency for spending more than $200,000 on multiple rounds of public polling on the proposal to increase sales taxes to raise $18 billion over 40 years.

It’s fine to conduct one poll to determine if something’s feasible, Hong said. But repeated polling is better left to a campaign, not a public agency.

“Governance by polling is not what taxpayers bargain for, and this questionable spending will be taken into consideration by the SDCTA board of directors during its evaluation of any tax proposal put forward by SANDAG,” he wrote.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Gary Gallegos, executive director of SANDAG, said there’s no problem with repeated public polling to find out what voters want.

“This is one where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to go out to voters and find out what San Diego wants. If you don’t ask anyone what they want, you get hit for that too.”

After writing the letter, though, Hong noticed SANDAG had spent money to build a website filled with information on the proposal, and was buying Google ads to promote the site. Here’s a shot of the site:


“SANDAG has crossed the line,” he said. “It has gone beyond educating voters. It’s in campaign mode, and it’s using taxpayer dollars to campaign for a sales tax increase.”

Gallegos said there indeed comes a time when promoting an agency’s proposal goes from education to advocacy, but that SANDAG’s measure isn’t anywhere close to that line yet.

The organization hasn’t even finalized the measure, he said.

SANDAG’s budget for the year gave the agency $500,000 for outreach, education and public input, all of which covers the sort of efforts they’ve made to introduce and explain the measure to residents.

Once the measure is finalized and sent to the county to be put on the ballot, expected by the end of July, Gallegos said SANDAG will still have a role leading up to the election.

A campaign would be formed to persuade voters to support the measure. But SANDAG staff will still go to public meetings, push out websites and information on social media and potentially distribute mail meant to inform voters what’s in the plan.

“We can’t tell them to vote for it, but we can tell them what’s in it,” he said.

Those education efforts would come out of the $500,000 already allocated, but Gallegos emphasized that it’s the board’s prerogative to amend the budget and make more money available for those efforts as the year unfolds.

But whether it’s appropriate to spend public money on voter outreach to raise taxes is a small question compared with whether the $18 billion plan is a good idea.

The Taxpayers Association has yet to take a stance on that bigger question. Hong said SANDAG’s public spending in support of the measure will factor into the group’s eventual decision.

    This article relates to: 2016 Elections, Government, Must Reads, Politifest 2016, Public Transportation, SANDAG, Transit

    Written by Andrew Keatts

    I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at or 619.325.0529.

    Walt Brewer
    Walt Brewer subscribermember

    Fast forward 4 Months.

    Apparently the SANDAG process is potent; SDCTA is supporting Measure A; although the process isn't available.

    What was the convincer?

    Education with facts, and list of options? Not likely. Education or advocacy, SANDAG concentrates on one system. Even thought it promotes that travelers should have choices.

    Or,( subtle), advocacy? Sales professionals know the value of keeping the product image before the market. Thus saturation pictures of those bright red trolleys. never mind its share of travel is about 0.5%. Where are the workhorse buses?

    Or as suggested by Mr. Borja, profits rather than innovation? As a monopoly with little effective challenge, with minor improvements, more and more of the same is easy. By the end of the current Regional Plan, trolley performance will not be largely different from the original 1890s street cars over 150 years ago.

    SANDA escape route: Modest innovation. Notice why, after 30 years, as even some advocates detect, cars to mass transit is near trivial

    Shift gears! About half the Plan's capital, including 42% of Measure A sales tax go to a ~$40 billion, (same olde), mass transit overlay that again provides near trivial 2% of travel. Eliminate it. The public is calling for on-demand access, personal, same fast vehicle travel directly to destination.

    Help Lyft.Uber, etc, take over. Even non-drivers can have automobile clas travel.

    Let's move ahead, not back.

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    We are asking the wrong question. The question is do we include disparate communities from participating in economic prosperity.  Ask any genuine business person and they will tell you that more sales equal more profits. So, why do, what appear to be business entities want to promote exclusion and a reduction in participation into the market place?. Look at Mission Viejo and communities east of 805 in Chula Vista. Everything there tells me that only certain people are accepted and others excluded.  If you drive a new "beemer" or a new "Audi" you are ok. Really? But, heaven help the little "brown" kid at Taco Bell if their "veggie" burrito has a taste of beef. 

    Sandag is not looking at specific communities that contribute to the economic viability of the region. Chula Vista, locally, is the biggest violator of inclusion. You have four major thoroughfares that promote single driver, automobile convenience. And, "mass transit" is an afterthought.  Chula Vista wants a major university. How are students, any students, supposed to get to the place? Have any people from Chula Vista traveled to UC Berkeley to see how students get to that place? Hmmm.  No. Chula Vista wants a trophy glee. And, it's not going to get it. Students need affordable housing. If someone is charging more than $500 a month for a "room", that may be too much. What used to be the cost of going to school forty years ago, is No longer the case. How does a student get to school? Car? That's a non-starter. Bike? Uphill? Really? Bus? No way. And, now UBER? Mommy is flashing a card. Sorry. Chula Vista can't even tolerate Southwestern College. The locals don't tolerate the college students parking in their neighborhoods.  No. Chula Vista saw the money and didn't do the work to earn it.  And, that is the same case for Mission Viejo. More freeways? Really? 

    I can't begin

    to tell you that our intellectual community, the community that promotes new ideas is being hurt by the promoters of profit over innovation. Could Edison have achieved more with support? Hmmm. 

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    I call BS on the last paragraph. They have already decided on opposing the tax. Because that is what they do. They oppose any and all taxes hoping to shrink the government so it's small enough to drown in a bathtub.

    I oppose SANDAG's measure as well but for entirely different reasons.