When SANDAG asked voters to approve Measure A in November, it told the public the proposed sales tax would bring in $18 billion. The agency knew the measure would bring in far less than that – but it dangled the $18 billion number in front of voters anyway.
Emails obtained by Voice of San Diego reveal that staff at the San Diego Association of Governments panicked when they discovered the agency’s economic forecasts had significant errors that overstated how much revenue a sales tax would raise for transportation projects.
Once the agency’s chief economist understood the scope of the agency’s forecasting failure, he responded colorfully.
“Omg,” Ray Major wrote in an email to the staffer who identified the problem.
In a second response, he took it a step further: “Wtf.”
Staff members then prepared a presentation describing the errors they had discovered, and the dramatic implications they carried for the regional planning agency.
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Communications between officials that are capable of making decisions that impact the public at large put be kept under check. There should be an active scrutiny on such officials to hold them accountable for their actions. Whether it is done through installing some sort of email checker software on their devices or calling them in for questioning on a regular basis. If a public body is amenable to a judicial review for wrongful actions, it is not only important but actually better to keep them under an active scrutiny.
@Michael Fildey And how would you determine the difference between wrongful decisions, and professional judgment?
Probably not a popular opinionator here, but I have known Ray Major for more than half of my life. When we met, he worked under Marney Cox as an analyst and had his MA in Economics. Ray is not the " fresh one on the team" when he returned to SANDAG in Sept. 2015 after being in private sector. He knows how SANDAG works, knows his numbers and can see faulty data and models a mile away...which is why he questioned the 2004 forecast immediately #WTF Voice of San Diego...please get the facts in order. He is a hero for pointing out the flaw!!!
So why is Ray...the guy who found the problem, tried to fix it and HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH SOMEONE ELSE'S SHITTY FORECAST being asked to resign??? Are you kidding me? Shame on anyone to ask the one who stuck his neck out and expose the real numbers to leave? He should be retained, elevated and thanked for being honest.
@Sandra Major Hi Sandra,
I don't believe anything you said here is in conflict with my story, based on the facts uncovered in the emails we obtained. Major and Messen uncovered the error when they found it -- both were new hires -- and immediately brought it to executive leadership. SANDAG's executives then sat on the information.
We have not asked anyone to resign.
" “Marney probably thought until the end that we were going to get those dollars,” Gallegos said." - because he knew you wanted him to Gary. C'mon. TransNet forecasts from SANDAG have seldom been correct. I analyzed the project cost estimates in TransNet 1 and the costs were always always underestimated so it's not just the revenue projections!
That expensive and slow trolley they are finally building to UCSD was supposed to be funded by the original TransNet measure 40 YEARS AGO. But they ran of $$.
Where is the project priority list so we know which project/s are going to fall off the list due to lack of funding? That's the next most important question. It's always transit projects - will it be again?
@Carolyn Chase 2005 TransNet update shows mid-coast trolley as far as Balboa at $134 mil. to be completed 2008. Apparently "fell off"
2007 update show whole m-c systen on TansNet 2 at $1,226 mil, completed 2011.
It's's back on, at $2.100, completion ??
Partly from memory SR-56 apparently fell partly off TN 1. Segment to complete link between I-5 and I-15 was completed. But two more lanes were listed ad completed in TN2.
Sidelight from same sources. Sprint: 2005 update, estimate;$375 mil, 2007 estimate, $484mil, Completion, I recall, ~$600mil.
"That's the next most important question. It's always transit projects - will it be again?"
First should come Independent, objective, quantitative, review of which on existing list should stay; in the region's interest, public will agree and use, including meeting cost-benefit and meeting air quality standards.
@Walt Brewer @Carolyn Chase Hi Walt - I have to LOL and glad to hear your persistent pursuit of measurement! But as you know, few politicians seem to really care about that, as witnessed from this latest expose. Will anything change? Doubtful. When challenging them previously I was told flat out that I would never get anywhere because all the electeds believe that Gary "walks on water." and it was strictly personal, that is to say, any challenger never had a chance because Gary always has an answer that at any time sounds reasonable. The art of the deal indeed. I gave up because you have to have real money to fight that kind of institution with that kind of Board.
This is an important story and Andrew did a great job on it. However, by this point in time, VOSD has beaten the dead horse. This must be at least the third article on the subject that also went with a podcast. Unless it has new developments to report, VOSD is being redundant. VOSD is doing a lot of that lately. Are you guys just trying to fill-up space, because there is a shortage of funding that would allow you to expand your reporting?
@bgetzel Hello. This is the first story in which we had irrefutable proof that SANDAG knew of the error in its forecast long before it decided to use the forecast as the basis for its ballot measure. Unfortunately, all of the necessary information to tell a complete story is not always available. In that case, we publish important details as we find them as follow-ups to our initial reporting. In this case, the revelation is that the relevant technical staff knew of the error, panicked over it, and presented the information to the people who run SANDAG. I simply do not agree with you that publishing this newfound information constitutes "beating a dead horse," nor do I understand your half-baked notion of how this supposedly signals that we are short of funding.
Ron Roberts has become far too comfortable in his job. Remember Gallegos' name too.
"SANDAG claimed that the amount of time staff would waste to go through the emails that were responsive to Keatts’ request would outweigh the public service of releasing the information."
You get that? It'd be TOO MUCH WORK to provide the public with this information. They'd have to read emails.
Don't reelect these mutts. It's time to clean house.
Or you can choose to lie back and think of England...
Sadly there is zero accountability for the people running these quasi-governments organizations. I would not be surprised if they were given raises and bonuses.
@Kevin Swanson I don't know the "accountability" rules, but I am sure there are no bonuses and raises, here!!
The SANDAG execs know the public is aware of the shortfall comprised from the forecast built by the former Chief Economist....and they are now being exposed for someone else's mistake incoming Chief Econ discovered literally the first week at his desk. What I don't get is how he could possibly be forced to RESIGN?? No bonuses for being honest??? How about reverse accountability???
@Sandra Major @Kevin Swanson Excuse me - the forecast issue was known over a year prior to the ballot initiative and presumably made its way up the chain of command at SANDAG - yet according to Ron Roberts (and perhaps others on the Board) was never passed along to them. This indicates a significant shortfall within the organization, which should be at the management level.
Having worked for a Joint powers agency myself and raising concerns internally which were ignored, then taking them to the Audit Committee of the Board, I can understand why the lower staff would not jeopardize their jobs by taking the information directly to the Board.
Was Gallegos honest by not bringing the incorrect methods and a more factual rendering of the expected revenue? Not in my opinion.
Will SANDAG try to void its poor performance by coming to the voters for more taxes? You can pretty much count on it...
Speaking of mis-matches:
Is the following SANDAG Staff information related to transportation in approved San Diego Forward known to all?
-About 95% of energy reduction responsible for GHG reduction, and emissions comes from on road vehicles.
- Daily fuel reduction by improving autos is nearly 3 million gallons. Mass transit savings ill defined, but less than 50 thousand gallons likely.
- Passenger-miles carried daily by new and improved mass transit of about 2 million, is less than 10% of need to absorb projected growth.
-Time to work saving during peak periods for mass transit is 5 mintes;10% of 50 minutes average. Automobile nodes not improved; 27 minute average.
New mass transit and capital for improvements spend 50% ; $40 billion, of total Plan capital; resulting in performance above.
For years we've been reading Marne Cox's pontifications about regional economic questions in the Union Tribune. Since he was the chief economist for SANDAG, and went ahead reporting false projections despite knowing they were wrong, he deserves a huge share of the blame for SANDAG misrepresentations. Hopefully he's gotten the boot from the UT economic panel!
Roberts is a fool -- at BEST. He's been an unquestioning shill for SANDAG for years.
The number one admirable trait in a politician is SKEPTICISM. It's a trait seldom seen -- in either party.
Most politicians are impressed by experts with slick slide presentations. And they NEVER ask for an cantankerous outsider to come in and do independent analysis. Instead, if a consultant is selected, it's picked by SANDAG bureaucrats rather than the politicians. The SANDAG-hired consultant knows the answers they are supposed to deliver before they even start their "analysis."
OMG, WTF, San Diego - run by bumblers or rotten-to-the-core officials? Inexcusable, but will anybody get more than a handslap? Unlikely. Too nice a day at the beach.
@Molly Cook ANSWER: Rotten to the core officials. SANDAG is -- bar none -- THE most dishonest agency I've come across. And it dates back DECADES!
OK Guys and Gals, what is your alternative to achieve best interests for the region of 19 separate entities?
A better organization? Now SANDAG is an open loop monopoly with no effective feedback process for independent review or change of its "product". Member replacement is a long voting booth process, with little control of replacement.
Is it the quality of its product, and completeness of the interface with a representative public?
How would you go about establishing a different approach?
@Walt Brewer VERY good question. Here's my suggestion to the SANDAG Board:
What IS needed at SANDAG is an independent "Legislative Analyst Office." But with extra safeguards.
Use outside "asshole" consulting individuals or firms -- people not just "objective," but people actually antagonistic and distrustful of government. (No, NOT me!). Do NOT make them government employees!!! REASON Foundation might be helpful providing expertizes in such an endeavor.
Don't let SANDAG have anything to do with the consultant selection process. Indeed, they should HATE and FEAR the selected consultant.
Make CRYSTAL CLEAR to the SANDAG bureaucracy that FULL transparency and cooperation would be mandatory. This is an "Inspector General" oversight arrangement.
SANDAG staff has EARNED this adult supervision status. Ask the consultant to report ANY reticence to cooperate by SANDAG personnel.
Encourage the press and the "LAO" consultant to interface, and seek input from the more intrepid journalists. The press WILL report government malfeasance if someone does the hard work for them. VofSD is a pleasant exception when it comes to research.
I have several studies that I suggest should be done on past SANDAG projections and present claimed performance. There are multi-billion dollar scandals waiting to be exposed. SANDAG has been lying through their teeth for DECADES!!
Outstanding article and detective work by Andrew. Now it is time for major housecleaning at SANDAG from the top down. Frankly it should be embarrassing that Gallegos and Kawada have not already voluntarily resigned.
Every member of the Board of Directors of SANDAG needs to ask themselves why they were not presented with this info from Gallegos. Personally, I can think of no good reason.
The excuse offered up from Kawada of blaming mid-level and senior managers is NOT OK. Those staffers alerted Kawada and Gallegos.... The buck stops with Mr. Gallegos. It's time for the Board to take action and move him out immediately.
The blame is not just on Gallegos (who I think just got a raise and bonus), it's the elected officials who still do nothing to change the direction SANDAG has been going, BACKWARDS. Chairman Ron Roberts and the entire Board, shame on all of you. Voters in San Diego, regardless of which party you belong to, need to remember this when they consider who to vote for in the next election. Thanks Voice of SD and Andy for covering this story.
Just to add something to this, SANDAG voting is weighted. According to the bylaws, there are normally 100 votes total. The SANDAG bylaws state about voting that, "If any agency has 40 percent or more of the total population of the San Diego County region,allocate 40 votes to that agency." The bylaws further state, "The City and County of San Diego shall determine how to allocate their single agency vote and weighted votes between their two members." Bottom line, while there is very little accountability of the SANDAG board, Two agencies, the City and County, seem hold the lion's share of votes when it comes to voting. Those votes are presently held by Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Supervisor Dianne Jacob.
@Chris Brewster FYI - Mayor Faulconer rarely attends the Board meetings and seems to have little interest in the operations of SANDAG.
Agree, but that doesn't allow him to avoid accountability. His alternates are Lorie Zapf and Chris Cate. His office would/should be aware of major issues before the board (or this issue) and he can either direct them to vote a certain way or attend. Failure to do either is abdication of leadership responsibilities.
@Chris Brewster But votes (except consent votes) require a majority of both weighted AND unweighted voters. From SANDAG By-Laws:
Section 5 (Section 132351.2 of the Public Utilities Code)
a. A majority of the Member Agencies constitute a quorum for the transaction of business. In
order to take final action on any item, except consent items which only require the vote
specified in paragraph (1), the following voting formula in both paragraphs (1) and (2) shall
(1) A majority vote of the members present on the basis of one vote per agency.
(2) A majority of the weighted vote of the Member Agencies present.
So, the City of San Diego is considerably less powerful than one would expect.
Interesting. Thanks. What a confusing process. This would seem though to allow the weighted vote to effectively veto any decision of the majority vote. In other words, the big dogs can prevent anything from moving forward and push the little dogs around. It may have the same effect in the end.
Great investigative reporting. Just in time for SANDAG's Annual 3-Day Board of Directors (BOD) Retreat.
SANDAG's Retreat starts this Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 3 pm, and ends Friday February 10, 2017 at 10:45 am. at the Barona Resort and Golf Event Center, 1932 Wildcat Canyon Road, in Lakeside, California.
In addition to lying to voters in ballot language, SANDAG staff also hid +$84 million in cost increases for Mid-Coast Trolley until the December 16, 2016 SANDAG Board Meeting. The large cost increase was due to acknowledgement for the first time ever, of scientific evidence of active faulting in 2 of the 3 locations investigated for the Mid-Coast Trolley through the active Rose Canyon Fault Zone (RCFZ). Prior SANDAG staff just assumed the faults were not active, therefore no mitigation was required.
SANDAG staff stated that they hid the +$84 million in cost increases due to Seismic Hazard Mitigation known in 2015, until after they secured the $1 Billion in Federal Grants in September 2016.
Did anyone at SANDAG ask Marney Cox at any time to identify why the revenue projection deviates so far from past actual data? "I inflated one figure to achieve the estimate you asked for" would have been the simple answer no one wanted to hear. So sweep it under the rug.
Did the new economist just review the model to become familiar with it after being hired and start the review? Good job! Is he still employed? Saved us a bundle of $$$.
Time to fire the executives and terminate the agency. Too many govt agencies that think they know best how to spend taxpayers money. Then when its hard they lie, obfuscate and act silly when caught.
@Michael Livingston The incoming Chief Economist did not lie....he exposed the truth.
Thank you VOSD for this article. Now, what is needed to make sure this isn't just swept under the rug? The employees are honest but the admin there needs a change. Preferably shown the door with no retirement package, just the way the employee would be if caught lying on a city matter. I'm sharing this on FB in hopes that this gets more attention and is read by someone who can and will take action. When is San Diego going to leave their sleazy history behind them and just be honest instead of hoping no one will notice it when the people are given lies and corrupt behavior?
@Joan Raphael geez, just "Enron by the Sea" over and over again...
This is a material misrepresentation of fact that should land people in jail, or at least unemployed. More importantly, I do not know what it will take for voters to ever support another SANDAG proposal, and that is a potential disaster for our region.
As the article points out: "The revenue total on the ballot is important because it is used to derive the list of projects promised to voters." Nothing is more important to voters than the promised projects. If a 1/2% tax increase will only give every cop a piece of gum, nobody will vote for it. On the other hand, if a 1/2% sales tax increase will solve all homeless, fire protection, crime, roads, parks, transit, transportation and environmental issues in the County, almost everybody would vote for it. The real world is neither extreme, and, due to the complexity, voters primarily rely on SANDAG to tell them what will be accomplished by any tax increase.
The damage to SANDAG's credibility may be irrecoverable. It is clear that even today SANDAG officials cannot be trusted. They supposedly did not disclose the erroneous projections because "though the projections were aggressive, they were not impossible." Really? Does anybody really believe that the officials asked the voters for hundreds of millions of dollars based upon projections that were merely "possible". Anything is possible. It defies credibility to suggest that "possible" is anything more than a post facto excuse for lying to the public. Rather than step up and admit that they misrepresented material fact, they continue to spin a web of deception.
Some of the challenges we face will require a regional solution. Since SANDAG has been unrecoverably poisoned, our civic leaders need to address the problem head on and devise a new, transparent and accountable structure for addressing our regional challenges.
No one is reprimanded, held accountable, demoted, reprimanded, fired or charged.
This is what occurs and will continue to occur until there are repercussions for deception, lying and fraud.
Love this part...
After receiving the presentation, SANDAG’s executive director and other high-ranking officials did nothing. They didn’t pass the information to the agency’s board of directors, composed of elected officials from around the county. They didn’t alert the oversight committee created specifically to make sure a tax-and-spending program approved by voters in 2004 was making good on its promises.
Is this or is this not fraud?
So, I've been an un-fan of SANDAG ever since I saw their environmentally unsound RTP in 2011. I watched them deal with the lawsuit so richly earned by passing that piece of...paper in a totally ridiculous, self-serving set of legal responses (we are STILL waiting to hear about that BTW). I've watched elected officials who I otherwise respect fall for the same load of...paper and try to foist Prop A on us. It is clearly time that Executive Director Gallegos be handed his hat and a probably fat retirement and the board of electeds responsible for SANDAG hires someone who recognizes what century we are in. (Hints: not the freeway century, nor the fossil fuel century.) This scandal is nothing new -- rather, more of the same, more bad decisions and poor leadership.
C'mon mayors, supervisor, council members: it is over for this guy. Let's start anew!
The only thing that surprises me is that some people find the fact that public agencies lie, just like corporations and individual politicians. Look, e.g., at the numerous lies of the California High Speed Rail Authority, the Public Utilities Commission or, last but far from least, SDUSD
Case in point: Just yesterday, it was revealed that, instead of a growing shortage of power plants to meet our growing needs for electricity, there has been a glut of plants for some years now, requiring many to stand idle or operate at partial capacity. Think this might have some connection to the rapid, unexpected actions of SDG&E/SoCal Edison in shutting down the entire San Onofre nuclear power plant?
@Bill Bradshaw It has become so corrupt that its really become a position of egoists. It would be lovely if the numbers were true but they aren't just like (after Todd Gloria left) we figured out the pension debt is so overwhelmimg that any measures already taken were not effective.
We need accountability, if any of you knew what HHS does with taxpayer money I'm afraid you'd have immeadiate health issues
It seems the employees are doing their jobs appropriately, but management is corrupt. Time for Gary Gallegos to resign.
@Dennis James If anyone is forced to leave SANDAG (HIGHLY unlikely), it will be a sacrificial lamb who is about tor retire with their juicy CalPERS pension anyway. And the con job will continue.
The majority of the SANDAG board overseeing the bureaucracy are gullible yahoos who could not run a hot dog stand. None is more gullible than Ron Roberts.
Well, I'm not being fair to Roberts. Truth is, he's likely COMPLICIT in the subterfuge. NO ONE overseeing the board with all his experience could be as ignorant and numbingly stupid as he claims.
Unfortunately this is business as usual for SANDAG staff. They cut corners and shape "Facts" to serve their purposes. SANDAG needs to become a much more transparent organization. They control huge amounts of resources and shape critical issues related to long term development and transportation that impact all of us in San Diego county. Regrettably very few citizens of San Diego understand who they are and what they do -- in fact many don't even know they exist!
So sad. Governmental agencies misleading the public. That's why I will automatically vote "no" on any tax increase presented. What a way to run a country!