If you woke up to a feeling of déjà vu, you are not alone. We are living in the era of the San Diego Association of Governments – the transportation planning agency that has become the bloated face of regional government corruption from which broken promises and lies are spewed.

Back in February, on the heels of a Voice of San Diego exposé detailing SANDAG’s willful deception of the voters on the amount of money (and thus infrastructure projects) that would be generated by ballot Measure A, I made the case for the agency’s executive leadership to resign or be fired. They violated the public’s trust, from which the hope of any future ballot measure to fund regional transportation projects resides. Neither happened. Since then, the steady pour of further deception, deeper obfuscation and greater malfeasance – from both the senior leadership and some members of the board of directors – has continued with breathtaking regularity.

To recap: SANDAG denied the public the truth on how much revenue would be raised by the TransNet sales tax extension in 2004. SANDAG denied the public the truth on how much the projects that TransNet was supposed to build would actually cost. SANDAG denied the public the truth on how much revenue the Measure A sales tax increase on the 2016 ballot would generate. And SANDAG denied the public the truth on when it knew those things and who knew them. Senior staff members have tried to bury their willful deception under an avalanche of technical jargon that amounts to nonsense – or lay the problems completely at the feet of a former employee. It’s scandalous.

At the outset of these reports, many activists and negotiating partners of SANDAG chose not to call for the resignation or firing of Executive Director Gary Gallegos, almost certainly strategizing under the assumption that if they were unsuccessful in that effort, he would retaliate in future negotiations. At the time, I considered that a mistaken calculation, as time and public silence would galvanize his support on the board and only strengthen his position. That looks right today.

Last Friday, the board was set to discuss a counter ballot proposal, a “self-reform” measure, as an attempt to undermine or stop AB 805, the SANDAG reform bill written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher. The bill – which I support – is designed to remake the board’s voting structure more equal across the county’s populations, and instill stronger public accountability measures.

Many board members are against it. In the face of overwhelming reporting on these issues, La Mesa Councilwoman Kristine Alessio still said that she hasn’t seen enough evidence of wrongdoing to make any judgements. National City Mayor Ron Morrison questioned the notion of journalism itself, and alluded to VOSD’s reports as something akin to fake news. El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells told Gonzalez Fletcher directly that he was against AB 805 because he was determined to fight against communism.


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

All of these people were dead silent during the early revelations of SANDAG’s deceptions, but now feel the freedom to hunker down in defense of the agency’s leadership and their own inaction as board members, happy to resort to scaremongering about The Red Tide. Does that sound to anyone like a group of leaders getting ready to enact meaningful reforms on themselves?

Full reform at SANDAG includes AB 805 in concert with new staff leadership. One will not be successful without the other. There is no mechanism that can be legislated ensuring the truthfulness of those who’ve given up on it – and sense of honesty must be restored before the voting public will open the purse again to continue funding the transportation projects our growing region desperately needs for economic prosperity, regional affordability, climate action, and more.

This latest revelation peels back a deep layer of deception that should cause everyone from average citizens to activists and electeds with integrity to say, “Enough is enough” and publicly demand a change of leadership. Anything less is an acquiescence to the status quo.

Andy Kopp is an East Village resident and community activist.

    This article relates to: Opinion, SANDAG

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    16 comments
    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    Reform is good but take out the provision that gives San Diego and Chula Vista absolute power over all the other cities in San Diego County.

    philip piel
    philip piel subscriber

    @Derek Hofmann Do you agree with Mr. Kopp that you must possess a union card to work on tax payer funded projects under the proposed reform?

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @philip piel That's not the way I'm reading the bill. It seems to say that contracts over $1 million require either (1) an enforceable commitment to use a skilled and trained workforce, or (2) a project labor agreement (i.e. union labor). To be honest, neither of these seem likely to give results as good as demanding a warranty on the work.

    philip piel
    philip piel subscriber

    @Derek Hofmann @philip piel

    Read it again and ask questions, special interests don't normally spell out how they're going to screw you, they use slogans like "local hire" and "skilled workforce" then redefine what those terms mean to suit the agenda. If you want to see what Lorena is proposing look at San Diego Unified, dysfunction, waste, non-accountability and a union only labor agreement for all bond funded construction work.

    philip piel
    philip piel subscriber

    Andy, you state your support for Assembly Bill 805, are you aware that the legislation contains a provision stating that all construction work performed under SANDAG will exclude non-union labor? Mr. Kopp, are you going on record as in favor of banning local state approved non-union construction apprentices from employment on tax payer funded construction projects? Andy Kopp, is there any other instances where you endorse discrimination and political backroom deals benefiting special interest?

    Mr. Kopp, would you endorse an Assembly Bill directing government to require all workers to be an active member of organized religion because the workers would tend to be more trustworthy? Andy, your endorsement of AB 805 is a slap in the face of 85% of the local construction workforce not to mention the young local men and women currently enrolled in state approved apprentice programs that are not run by unions. It would seem Andy that you'd like to take the same model we see in  our public school system and implement it for other public projects, the term "same actions hoping for different results" comes to mind.

    Mr. Kopp, I urge you to look closely at our former union boss Lorena's "fix", I can assure you her concern is not the fact that government is a mess, her concern is that the SANDAG mess isn't under organized labor's thumb. Do your homework Andy, eliminating competition from tax payer funded projects doesn't seem like a step forward for the people paying the bill.

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    Google search shows the author is a bicycling advocate. Those groups support neglecting freeways, removing parking and removing auto lanes. Support ab05 if you like spending time away from your family waiting for public transportation and taking multiple bus trips to Costco to get your groceries.

    Andy Kopp
    Andy Kopp subscribermember

    @philip piel - Hi, Philip. I appreciate that we may not see eye to eye on the the specific issue of labor requirements in AB 805. I can assure you that I'm aware of Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher's ability to work for more than one thing at a time - in this case cleaning up a government agency mess and ensuring the most skilled workers build out our infrastructure. As a person who isn't personally in a union, but is a person helping to pay the bill, I'm happy with both.

    As to the amendments in AB 805 - yes, put me on the record in support of utilizing "a skilled and trained workforce" to perform public projects, which would presumably include non-union workers who've graduated from a state-approved apprenticeship program, provided a contracted firm could guarantee every position is filled by one. I'm happy that despite being non-union, those workers would still benefit from prevailing wages under the law, that were largely fought for by unions and union advocates.

    While I generally get a kick out of people trying to play word games in an attempt to falsely pin me down as discriminatory, you might consider just addressing me earnestly if you want to have a constructive dialogue.

    Andy Kopp
    Andy Kopp subscribermember

    @Sean M, you're correct that I'm an advocate for complete streets, including safe bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure. I want it to be safe for kids and adults, alike, to move about their neighborhoods in an active way. On the other hand, there are freeways that exist - and no, I'm not (nor is any other advocate I know of) in favor of "neglecting freeways". People drive. I drive. Suggesting someone wants freeways degraded simply because they want other streets improved is beyond silly.


    But I'll be straight forward - in instances where the overall quality of a neighborhood is improved by the removal of some on-street parking or an auto lane, as was the case in the widely supported Transform Hillcrest plan (even by the neighborhood's businesses) - particularly in districts where there is usually an adequate supply of garage parking - I'm for it.


    Of course, none of these things you mentioned address the deceptions and corruption of SANDAG's executive leadership that I laid out in this op-ed. So I'll assume you have no actual objection to make.

    philip piel
    philip piel subscriber

    @Andy Kopp @philip piel Fair enough Andy, Mrs. Gonzalez Fletcher's multi tasking seems to be fairly consistent in denying opportunity based on membership to an association (union), do you feel tax payers are best served when the majority of an industry is denied / hindered in the competitive bidding process?

    Are you happy that hundreds of local state approved apprentices were denied opportunity for the sole reason they weren't union? Are you happy that union hiring halls in No-Cal and LA. empty out to do work that local contractors are denied because they didn't purchase a union card?


    "Skilled and trained workforce," catchy, has a nice ring doesn't it? Funny how those requirements go out the window IF a Project Labor Agreement using union only labor is implemented. Funnier still is reading the fine print on what exactly qualifies as "skilled and trained." Evidently the term doesn't apply to a state approved program run by the same people that run the exact same union programs with the same on the job training, the same level of education and the same pay rate. "Skilled and trained" means union to Lorena however I do agree with you, it sounds a lot better than "union only trained workforce."


    Yep, unions did fight for Prevailing Wage and were rewarded for it, just between you and I there is no "Prevailing Wage," there is a "Modal rate." To have a true Prevailing Wage we'd have to actually go out and do wage surveys to see what exactly is the prevailing wage in a given area. The unions spared us from all that work in determining what was normal in a given area by coming up with a modal method that virtually allows them to set the hourly rate tax payers pay for work by using the greatest number paying the exact same amount in a given area becoming "Prevailing."


    The only word games I see in play is your use of terms like "skilled and trained workforce." If you'd like to have an earnest discussion I'd suggest knowing what you're talking about concerning the goals and objectives of the amendment to this bill. The trials and tribulations of SDUSD would be a great place to start...  

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    @Andy Kopp @Sean M Thank you for sharing your views about how roads to be used.  AB805 proponents never suggest that it is about helping people go where they want as efficiently as possible. True the culture of institutional corruption needs to be addressed, but I don't support diverting resources from automobile infrastructure towards recreational and environmental policy goals like biking. We both know roads will never be truly safe for bicyclists while cars can drive on them. 


    Please consider that longer duration commutes means cars idle longer and emit more pollution, making the air worst for everyone. Please also that union monopoly bestowed by AB805 ensures that the least amount of actual improvements get completed and that those improvements cost the most amount of money.


    I would have more faith in a Sandag reorganization if I trusted the intentions of the person who proposed the bill and its supporters to improve efficiency and lower costs. I would also support it if I thought it was intended to help, not hurt, the 95% of the people who drive to work. It is clear from the rhetoric that this bill is written by and for recreational bicycle enthusiasts and public transportation advocates.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Sean M "Please consider that longer duration commutes means cars idle longer and emit more pollution"

    Per car, yes, if the car is not an electric car or hybrid. But a road can fit only so many cars, so it makes sense that removing cars by removing roads would reduce overall pollution. Also remember that roads attract cars so even if you widen a road to reduce idling, eventually the road will get congested again anyway and then the problem is worse unless you somehow stop more cars from being on the road. So widening roads clearly is not a good long-term solution to air pollution caused by idling cars.

    The way we've traditionally stopped more cars from being on the road is to limit development. But that drives up housing costs, so we've only traded one problem for another.

    Meanwhile it's funny how we use the zoning code to force developers to build more parking than the market wants, then we wonder why there's so much traffic. If we forced developers to build ponds of standing water, would we wonder why there are so many mosquitoes?

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    Thank you again for confirming the anti-auto nature of AB805 support. Its not about ending corruption, it's about giving the purse strings to social engineering activist groups. The promise of improved roadways is a bait and switch, the funds are to be used to fulfill utopian social engineering ideals, not to help every day San Diegans.

    Recent experiments has made it obvious that building bike lanes does not make more people ride bikes and removing roads does not remove cars. Removing roads makes cars move slower, more dangerous and pollute more. Institutional corruption and roadways causes the housing misery: more people would move to east and north counties if the traffic wasn't so bad.

    People don't appreciate failed social engineering experiments when they figure out it it negative impacted their lives to have others make choices for them.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Sean M "Recent experiments has made it obvious that...removing roads does not remove cars."

    Could you provide a link that supports this claim?

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    The city has been removing auto lanes and there is evidence traffic worstened and emissions increased, but there is no evidence the number of drivers decreased. Predictions of induced demand from alternative transportation investment are false: the recently built bike lanes are mostly empty, the additional bus routes did not lead to more bus ridership. The investment didn't pay off in Los Angeles, who spent $9 billions on public transportation only to have ridership decrease despite population growth.

    I grant that a few politically vocal people support a movement that intends to inconvenience every San Diegan for what they believe is a greater good. Thank you for allowing me to point that out.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Sean M "The city has been removing auto lanes...but there is no evidence the number of drivers decreased."

    Again, I would like to see the numbers, please. It would be nice to prove to the businesses along 5th Avenue that removing lanes won't harm their business.