This post has been updated.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez released the details this week for her SANDAG reform bill – and it would not only shake up how the agency makes decisions, it would hand far more power to San Diego’s mayor.

“I’ve never been impressed by SANDAG,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a staff-driven organization that thinks its purpose is to build roads. I think a regional agency should do more than that.”

AB 805 would create an audit committee and hire an independent auditor at SANDAG, in hopes of preventing another budgeting scandal, after Voice of San Diego revealed that SANDAG leadership knowingly overstated how much money a sales tax hike would bring in and understated costs of transportation projects voters already approved.

It doesn’t stop there.

The bill would overhaul SANDAG’s voting structure, giving each of the cities on the board a vote proportional to their population. That would make the county’s most populous cities – San Diego and Chula Vista — far more influential in regional decision-making.


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Gonzalez also wants to make San Diego’s mayor the permanent chair of the Metropolitan Transit System, the county’s primary transit operator. The chair and vice chair of the SANDAG board would always be the mayors of the county’s two largest cities − San Diego and Chula Vista − and they would alternate those positions.

Gonzalez said the change would make the agencies – which currently have boards composed of elected officials from around the county who then choose a chairperson – more accountable, because typical residents know who the mayor is and how to hold him or her accountable.

The bill would also stipulate that the representatives from cities on SANDAG would be mayors – cities couldn’t choose to appoint a council member instead. She said that’s because the mayors of smaller cities have more resources available to double-check the information given to them by SANDAG staff.

“They’re used to demanding different things of staff, and so we’ll see that more,” she said. “It’ll be more accountable.”

Plus, she said the change to proportional representation would make SANDAG and MTS more reactive to the concerns of the constituents their decisions affect.

“The communities most affected by these decisions are in the browner areas, and the people making these decisions are the ones least affected by them,” she said. “What’s been happening hasn’t produced a result that anyone who cares about transportation funding can be happy with.”

Her bill would also make it possible for MTS and the North County Transit District to levy their own transit-only taxes. That could make it easier to pass a future tax increase, since the areas served by MTS are more willing to vote for new taxes than the county as a whole.

Another bill proposed by Assemblyman Todd Gloria, a former SANDAG board member, would have a similar result by simply letting SANDAG impose a tax on a smaller area within the county – such as in the tax-friendly South Bay.

Gonzalez said she’s open to that approach, but not without imposing the accountability-focused reforms in her bill, too.

“I do not want to see their taxing authority made easier without significant reforms,” she said.

In a statement, Gloria said he couldn’t comment on Gonzalez’s bill until he sees the full language, but said his bill – AB 1324 – addresses the problem of suburban, urban and rural areas not always sharing priorities.

“I have always advocated for repairing our crumbling infrastructure, and this provides a way to do it,” he said.

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey, who represents one of the small cities that would potentially lose sway under Gonzalez’s measure, said the Coronado City Council will vote to take a formal position on the bill on April 4.

“The section of AB 805 calling for an independent audit committee is a concept with merit that should be considered,” he wrote in a statement. “However, it should be considered by the SANDAG board, not implemented through state legislation. The rest of the bill jeopardizes the current level of regional cooperation throughout San Diego County.”

A SANDAG spokesman said it would be more appropriate for board members, not agency officials, to react to Gonzalez’s reform bill.

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect information provided by Gonzalez’s office after this story published. Gonzalez’s office said the intent of the bill, though it has not yet been written into the proposal, would be for the mayors of San Diego and Chula Vista to always be chair and vice-chair of SANDAG, and that they would alternate those positions.

    This article relates to: Government, Public Transportation, SANDAG, State Government

    Written by Andrew Keatts

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

    8 comments
    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    We are currently in a historical context that requires action. There was a time and a real need for transcontinental railways. And, that was accomplished. There was a time and a real need for transcontinental freeways. And, that was accomplished. The time for user friendly, efficient, accessible, rapid, and useful mass transit is here. And, it will be costly.  The usefulness of a multi car family is quickly becoming too burdensome and inefficient. Cities must begin to "hub" essential public services to access mass transit. The days of far flung "malls" with massive parking lots and huge acreage are quickly becoming passe due to the internet. 

    We lost "main street" because the "village" could not handle the volume of vehicular traffic. Now, the vehicular traffic is clogging itself for about 6 to 8 daylight hours. 

      Wonderful experiences along our beaches for much of our Southern California year have become a headache and are already negatively impacting that environment.  The electric car will help to solve an immediate pollutant, but the ec will not solve the loss of quality of life for many having to commute hours to and from work.

    Our greatly increasing aging population needs more access to quality mass transportation.

       Mass transportation is not a new concept and the infrastructure, basically, has not changed much over the last 70 years. And, it is not perfect. But, countries around the world did not abandon the concept, the U.S. did, to a our great detriment.

    Having a massive mass transit network gives us all more options on many levels. 

        Even getting to highly developed air mass transit system is totally inefficient. Why didn't the San Diego trolley, for example, have an original line to Lindbergh Field? Monday morning quarterbacking, you say? Really? I say, a complete neglectful global vision. 

        Today, we see what "growth" has presented to us in Chula Vista. The "growth" folks did all of us a great disservice. How is it that this city with three major freeways, and two connecting freeways, and four major street arteries is in constant vehicular gridlock? And, how would it be conceivable to host a major university when a community college there is poorly served?

        No. The futuristic planning for this era is decades overdue. And, the immediate answer is a massive project to install a massive, useful, mass transit network.

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    I disagree with many aspects of Assemblywoman Gonzalez' bill, not least of which is the multiple moving parts which will aggregate most San Diego political power on transportation planning and funding in the hands of two people. I can guess which of the pair will be dominant partner. Regarding the added power for the Mayor of the City of San Diego, I see no mention that her husband has expressed interest in running once again for that office.


    I do like the idea of requiring the Mayors of each jurisdiction to sit on the board of SANDAG and not allow delegation to a council member beyond the occasional participation as an alternate when a mayor has a serious conflict. There should be an advisory limit on how many times a year that should occur.


    An Audit Committee seems like something there SANDAG should have had all along and which should not require State legislation to put into place. Although, I suppose, State legislation might give such a committee "teeth".


    I think establishing, and establishing permanently, one person as the Chair of both SANDAG and MTS would be a bad mistake. Each has its areas of responsibility which differ substantially from the other. This would be, in effect, a merger of the two entities without the paperwork. I'd like to hear of other reasons pro and con on this idea.

    Finally, I don't see how proportional voting would enhance representation on behalf of cities which would have fewer votes on SANDAGE or MTS boards.



    Joan Raphael
    Joan Raphael subscriber

    One advantage of having SANDAG be county wide is that poor places have a seat at the table and can get projects directed to their areas, even if the taxes coming in from there is less. I'm not sure this new proposal will keep that protection. Can VOSD clarify?

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    So you can't get the voters to approve the bonds so Gonzalez’s bill will eliminate the need to go to voters by giving the transit district power to approve taxes unilaterally.

    Todd Gloria wants to give that power to SANDAG.


    Voters lose.

    Ann Oterview
    Ann Oterview

    This is nothing but a blatant power and money grab by San Diego environmental politics with a bone tossed to Chula Vista by a politician who hasn't spent one minute in local government. All being sold by a reporter that should have a warning on his articles "Warning Propaganda Inside". The intent is to siphon off every transportation dollar in the county to pay for San Diego's unfunded climate action plan.

    Sure Sandag is an agency everyone loves to hate because no one gets everything they want.  As self-centered as San Diego politics are in this county there are very different and distinctive geographical interests in the county that have just as much right to be heard. In it's current governance make up, Sandag's voting process includes protections for those geographical interests while recognizing the population size of the City and County of San Diego in a weighted vote.  Much like having the House and Senate voting at the same time. It's as equitable a governance structure as anyone could expect for a body representing so many varied interests. Sandag is much like the United Sates in that it has it's flaws but there's nothing better out there.  Other planning agencies around the state and country wish they were like Sandag.  

    Sandag does have some house cleaning to do but Sacramento has no business interfering before that plays out, if at all. If the San Diego City  environmental political community believes that a transit only tax will pass fine.  Give that taxing ability to MTS and NCTD and let them watch those measures go down in flames. Remember it's not the boards of these bodies or those that want a hostile takeover that will pass a new tax. It's the voters and I think someone wasn't listening to was was said in November.      

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    So whom would be taxed? Transit users, general public or property owners and what form would it take (gas tax, ridership tax, sales tax)?

    Walt Brewer
    Walt Brewer subscribermember

    Someone in Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher's District please ask; if she believes SANDAG is staff drivenn

      Why are the mode allocations approved by Directors in San Diego Forward not consistent with staff data showin on-road vehicles provide over 90% of fuelal and GHG reduction?

       I

    Greg Martin
    Greg Martin subscriber

    SANDAG is broken  and has been for some time.  The issues go beyond those discovered during the recent election and are tied more to the structure of SANDAG.

    While I find the proposed shift to a much more strongly population-weighted structure intriguing and appropriate, I'm curious as to how this would work in practice if either of both of the mayors of San Diego and Chula Vista were disinterested in transportation and planning issues.  San Diego doesn't have a good track record in electing mayors that have much interest in doing the job of mayor, much less chairing a board critical for transportation or the broader regional planning issues of SANDAG.    


    I do really like the option that would allow MTS and the North County Transit District to levy their own transit-only taxes.  Perhaps that would shift the focus to better service through and between areas of higher density versus low-performing projects serving lower-density sprawl.