SANDAG is looking into ways to reform SANDAG.

Later this month, the board of directors will discuss reforms for the scandal-plagued regional planning agency that could be put before voters for the 2018 election.

But the move could also be seen as the agency’s latest attempt to fend off reform from Sacramento, where Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher has proposed AB 805, a bill that would create an independent auditor for SANDAG and make significant changes to its voting structure.

In a June 28 memo, the board’s chair and vice chair – County Supervisor Ron Roberts and Del Mar Mayor Terry Sinnott – asked to put the discussion on the agenda of a July 28 board meeting. AB 805 would make substantial changes to SANDAG, the memo said, so the board should discuss putting a ballot measure to county voters next year on that topic.

“The board will be asked to request that the provisions in AB 805 be carefully considered during a thorough public outreach process, and that any changes that are proposed to be made to SANDAG be placed on a countywide ballot for a vote of the people of this region,” the memo reads.

But the discussion doesn’t appear to be limited to the changes contemplated by AB 805.


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“Through this process, the public would have an opportunity to suggest their own ideas for other reform,” the memo reads.

In a statement, Roberts said the board would explore the possibility of putting governance changes before voters, including the provisions in AB 805.

It’s hard to tell if SANDAG’s hypothetical measure would ask voters to approve or disapprove of the measure – which by that point would either already have been killed or signed by the governor – or would represent a competing reform proposal. Sinnott and Roberts didn’t immediately respond to attempts to clarify.

Gonzalez Fletcher said it’s unclear because SANDAG itself doesn’t know what it’s proposing.

“Except for creating a new argument for themselves against AB 805, it’s unclear what they’re intending to do, or if they know what they’re intending to do,” she said.

AB 805 passed the state Senate’s Committee on Governance and Finance Wednesday. Sinnott and National City Mayor Ron Morrison spoke against the measure during the hearing.

At the hearing, Sinnott said if there are going to be sweeping changes to SANDAG, voters should sign off on them.

Morrison pointed to provisions within two state laws dealing with SANDAG’s structure, SB 1703 and AB 361, to suggest changes should go before county voters.

“We realize there are issues we need to deal with, and we will deal with that and let local voters of San Diego” address the problem, he said.

Gonzalez Fletcher said her staff doesn’t think the laws SANDAG is leaning on actually require local voter approval of systemic reforms. Her office has asked the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office for its interpretation.

“It provides them a good argument,” she said. “They come to the state Capitol and say, ‘We’ll handle this.’ This was a different hearing today than we’ve heard from them. Now they say, ‘We know there are problems, we’ll handle them.’”

Currently, items that go before the SANDAG board need to be approved by a majority of all 19 local governments in the county that sit on the board, but also need approval by a vote in which each city’s vote is weighted relative to its population. AB 805 would shift SANDAG to a proportional vote, giving the county’s larger cities, like San Diego and Chula Vista, greater sway in regional decision-making. It would also give the Metropolitan Transit System and the North County Transit District the authority to levy their own taxes; currently, only SANDAG has that authority.

The legislation has been endorsed by San Diego, Chula Vista, Lemon Grove and MTS; cities that together represent more than half of the county’s population. It has been opposed by El Cajon, La Mesa, National City, San Marcos, Solana Beach, Poway, Vista, San Diego County and SANDAG’s board.

Reforming SANDAG became a countywide discussion after Voice of San Diego uncovered that the agency had knowingly overestimated how much revenue it could collect for an existing tax and for a proposed 2016 tax measure to pay for regional transportation projects, and underestimated how much those projects would cost.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated SANDAG’s current board structure.

    This article relates to: Corrections, Government, 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.

    4 comments
    Jerry Jones
    Jerry Jones

    You are wrong Backpacker. SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) is not county government. It is a regional governance that is set up for the interaction of local governments and locally elected officials of those governments to make policy and direct regional transportation and planning for the region. What each of the 18 cities and the County of San Diego bring to the table is their land use authority, their right to determine their own quality of life through development patterns and standards, and their own individual interests, concerns and needs. What has been missing in all of this conversation is this right of a community to incorporate and maintain it's identity and self-determination without undue influence by their neighbors and their neighbor's politics.


    The complexity of regional governance is very much the same as that faced when the 13 colonies of came together to form these United States. They had to balance the individual states rights and needs as well as respecting the size of their population. In the case of SANDAG it's the rights of the individual cities weighed against the size and population differences of the larger cities like San Diego and Chula Vista. Under the current SANDAG structure that balance has been reflected in a voting system that demands consensus. For any vote to pass it must pass both the tally and weighted vote with both votes being made at the same time. Under the proposed change, the tally vote could be waived and a weighted vote made with a weighted majority vote and 4 cities to pass. In that system there is no incentive to find consensus and the rights of smaller cities are subverted to the tyranny of the majority. In that system the balance tips in favor of San Diego and South-Bay at the expense of the more rural sub-regions of North and East County. Factions in San Diego and Chula Vista have already expressed their intent to divert funds to the revenue hungry urban-transit systems of San Diego and South-Bay at the expense of North and East County.


    As to the alleged “problems” to be dealt with, there is an internal investigation in progress. Proper changes to avoid future problems are more likely to be effective when developed locally rather than in Sacramento and most that I have talked to are open to that discussion. It's the balance of power and the overreach of power that local elected officials are concerned with. It's the idea that the Chair must be from Chula Vista and San Diego. Probably the wrong thing to say in California but how would our federal government work if the President could only come from California or New York?

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Jerry Jones AB 805 will encourage smaller cities to consolidate or join with larger cities, thereby creating bigger governments out of smaller ones. This is a Socialist's dream! Shall we call the bill's author "Comrade Gonzalez Fletcher" from now on?

    Jeff Toister
    Jeff Toister subscriber

    What is the history of San Diego and Chula Vista's activism on the SANDAG board? In other words, would having more votes really solve the problem? My impression is Mayor Faulconer has done very little to address the SANDAG scandal.

    Backpacker
    Backpacker subscriber

    All games. Why do we have a County government if not to represent the people of the whole county? 


    Or should we demand direct election of SANDAG board. AB 805 just exchanges one power group for another and we, the people, lose.