After weeks of inaction following the revelation of SANDAG’s deceptive use of faulty revenue projections, two weeks ago the SANDAG board of directors approved an “independent examination” into the agency’s economic forecasting scandal. SANDAG’s board suggested it should self-select the so-called “independent investigator” candidates through a private internal selection process. No mea culpa was issued at the board meeting, and SANDAG’s executive, Gary Gallegos, and the board failed to own up to their role in the $4 billion deception.

Commentary - in-story logoOn Friday, SANDAG’s executive committee will likely finalize its decision about who should conduct the investigation.

While an investigation is a small step in the right direction, it is not enough. SANDAG has lost the trust of the community and an examination alone, performed by a person of the board’s choosing, will not restore that trust. It is only through an exhaustive independent investigation with an investigator chosen by outside stakeholders, an apology issued by the board for deceiving San Diego families and meaningful reform to the agency’s governing structure that the agency can restore that trust.

The Quality of Life Coalition, a diverse collection of working families, businesses and community and environmental organizations that we’re part of, opposed Measure A for several reasons. The deceptive plan failed to provide the quality transit options, good-paying local jobs and climate solutions for our community needs. And the 100,000-plus members of the group were justified in their hesitancy to trust this agency that has consistently failed to deliver meaningful transportation options.

We are living in precarious times when it comes to faith in public institutions. “Alternative facts” and incessant lies are being pumped out of the White House. San Diego cannot afford to see SANDAG follow a similar path of deception. We need SANDAG to start doing better for San Diegans right now so we can improve our quality of life, grow a vital local economy and sustain our environment. Unfortunately, we will never get to a place where the public can approve a SANDAG initiative so long as it chooses the easy route over full transparency and community involvement that will prevent future public deception.

Credibility and trust are not things one can bestow upon themselves. Criminals don’t choose their own prosecutors, and an untrustworthy governmental institution that deceived the public to the tune of $4 billion should not choose its own investigators.

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

To restore public confidence, the board must take the following actions:

• A community-led process for selecting an independent third-party investigator to produce a thorough report and recommendations to avoid future deception. The investigation must include an analysis of: What Gallegos and board members knew about the deceptive projections and when they knew it; SANDAG’s suspect projections for greenhouse gas and air pollution reduction and the impact of the potential adjustment of the year-of-expenditure revenues on the operation and construction of transit projects in the Regional Transportation Plan.

• A community-led hiring of a permanent independent public advocate or ombudsman who will have a significant degree of independence, full access and represent the interests of the public.

We want a SANDAG we can trust. We urge the board to take the action necessary to build that trust.

Alternatively, we will have no choice but to take these demands to the state attorney general and the state Legislature.

The future of our region depends on SANDAG having its house in order, and a new governance structure in place to ensure a scandal of this magnitude never happens again.

Nick Segura the business manager for IBEW Local Union 569 and Joyce Lane is the chair of the public policy committee Sandiego350. Their commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

    This article relates to: Opinion, SANDAG

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    rhylton subscriber

    This will end up like the "Independent Analysis" of SDPD biased-policing practices; an outcome with fingerprints on the scale; the fingerprints of they who paid for it.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Not a bad idea, but here’s what leads to inertia and makes this unlikely: The problem happened because the board of SANDAG was asleep at the switch, rubber stamping staff recommendations (as usual for this body). The board is made up of representatives of every municipal political body in the region. Would they propose to investigate, thus ultimately embarrass themselves for their negligence? Unlikely. Would their peers at their own municipal bodies recommend an investigation that would create embarrassment? Seems unlikely to me because it will cost political points and the general public is mostly unaware and unconcerned about all this. That is the problem with shadow governments, like the Port District, Airport District, SANDAG, etc. There is no accountability because most people just don’t understand or care much about how they operate. 

    Using the City of San Diego as an example, the SANDAG representative is supposed to be the Mayor, but he mostly delegates to Councilmember Zapf. If he makes an issue of the problem he draws attention to the fact that he doesn't bother to attend the meetings and he implies failure on the part of his chosen representative. Not likely to happen. Now consider you are another member of the City Council. Do you want to make a recommendation for an investigation aimed at your peer when the general public doesn't seem to care about the issue?

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Mark Giffin @Chris Brewster Mr. Brewster raises a very legitimate point.This investigation is not likely to produce anything useful, but that has already been taken care of.  Don’t forget the public rejected the ballot measure for new money to carry out programs already planned, and did it quite decisively BEFORE it learned of the shenanigans.  What chance will a new tax measure have for the foreseeable future?  SANDAG might just collapse of it’s own ineptitude and failure to generate money for it’s stated mission.  It doesn’t appear that “public apathy” will save SANDAG.

    Our other “shadow” governments may be reaching the limits of their usefulness.  An old attorney friend of mine used to describe the Port District as a government unto it’s own, accountable to no one.  When it morphed into two organizations and stayed that way long after the excuse for forming a separate airport authority (creating a new, relocated airport) was abandoned, his description was validated.  But these two entities, unlike SANDAG, have independent sources of revenue that don’t require them to go to the public periodically for money, so they are likely to survive until the public gets a lot more involved.