The San Diego Association of Governments, the agency responsible for building our transportation network, will have to ask voters to approve new funds in the near future to build the projects that allow us to efficiently move about our region.

Letters logoBut they can’t, because they’ve lost the trust of voters. That is the simple truth after Voice of San Diego revealed Monday that SANDAG’s executive leadership – director Gary Gallegos, chief deputy Kim Kawada and chief economist Ray Major – deceived their board of directors and the voting public by advancing Measure A, a ballot initiative to fund regional transportation projects, that they knew over a year ahead of the vote would fall short of its promises.

To restore the credibility of the agency in the eyes of the voting public, as well as the credibility of the board of directors to effectively guide its staff, all three SANDAG managers must be relieved of their positions – either by resignation or termination.

From the earliest rumblings that SANDAG would put a measure on the November 2016 ballot asking voters to fund transportation projects via a sales tax increase, the amount we were told it would raise over 40 years was always $18 billion. And then they started shoehorning attractive-sounding projects into that number. That’s when advocacy groups joined together to form the Quality of Life Coalition. I wasn’t part of that group, but I supported their goal of wanting to ensure that SANDAG would craft a measure with projects representative of a broad swath of regional transportation goals, and most importantly, that were honestly deliverable.

In negotiations with SANDAG, the coalition had specific projects that would need to be included or reprioritized to gain their support. What came out of those negotiations was actually a decent (if imperfect) advancement of the group’s transportation goals.

That should have been a giant red flag. As coalition projects went in, other projects didn’t necessarily come out of the original SANDAG list. But the $18 billion price tag always remained the same.

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

Then there was the Purple Line. A late addition to the project list, it was a promise to build a new trolley line following the 805 freeway from San Ysidro to Kearny Mesa within 15 years of the measure’s approval. Many people were convinced to support Measure A on that promise alone. But it came with a huge caveat – ballot language that said SANDAG was only required to put forth its best effort to complete the project – that belied its promise. And many transportation advocates have felt the sting of these broken promises before.

In the end, the Quality of Life Coalition came out against Measure A. They simply did not believe that SANDAG would deliver on its promises. We now know that with an accurate revenue projection, it never could. And after Monday’s revelations, we know that its executives intentionally kept that fact from the elected leaders they asked to sell the measure, and the public they asked to approve it. They lied.

In two interviews with both Voice of San Diego and The San Diego Union Tribune, Gallegos has twice sought to brush this violation of the public’s trust under the rug while simultaneously looking to lay blame at the feet of a previous agency economist.

That economic models are imperfect, that they require tweaking – indeed, sometimes even an overhaul – is not a controversy. But Gallegos is only kidding himself if he believes he didn’t have a responsibility to amend their forecast, publicly, to SANDAG’s board of directors, to ensure that the public was adequately informed of what they were really voting for.

In continuing this self-deception, Gallegos only continues to whittle away at the credibility of an agency that requires the public’s trust for its success.

As the board of directors settles in for its annual board retreat this weekend, its members need to confront the cold reality that Gallegos, Kawada and Major cannot rehabilitate this breach in the eyes of the public, and therefore must make the hard decision of moving this agency forward under new executive leadership. Nothing short of the ability to continue our region’s advancement is at stake.

Andy Kopp is an East Village resident. Kopp’s 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: Letters, Opinion, SANDAG

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    Michael Livingston
    Michael Livingston

    ""So, if indeed the projection should have been $14B, and the project list adjusted to remove some, do you think those groups would have been in support? Not likely.""

    While that's your opinion and you are entitled to it, the integrity and character of the officials responsible is the question. To lie upfront and attempt to excuse themselves when caught voids their priviledge to manage public funds. Further, to not amend the revenue projections and streamline the proposal before putting it forward when there was adequate time for changes is inexcusably poor management, another nail in their coffin.

    Our elected officials owe it to the public to appoint a new team of highly ethical individuals and oversee their efforts responsibly.

    Doni Sexton
    Doni Sexton subscriber

    Estimates and projections are just that. Estimates on these mega projects are extremely volatile, the cost of land needed and the environmental mitigation costs are a guess and can vary due to changes in regulations when the projects actually begin development in future years. If land value goes up, cost goes up, if environmental regulations increase ( common in California even if Federal Regs don't) costs go up.

    Revenue projections over 5, 10, 20, 40 years are subject to current assumptions that can very from economist to economist. The TransNet funds are used and leveraged to bring in other funds from the State and Feds. SANDAG has done well in bringing in Billions of those other funds to the region funding all types of projects from environmental mitigations, bike and pedestrian, trolley and bus, local streets and highways. Of course we all have our opinion and favorite types of projects, and that creates the ongoing, never ending debate over which ones should be pursued. That won't stop, every advocate has their own agenda and belief of what is best for the region. SANDAG is in the middle trying to balance out all of those desires with projects that would really address environmental mandates And the needs of all the population, not just the most vocal or well organized. Everyone has a voice and should be considered but in the end, we can't all get a trophy.

    The Measure A got more than 50% of the vote, the popular vote passed it. But in California the law requires 2/3 to pass a tax. Why 2/3rd and not 4/5th or 5/8th? Why was 2/3rd selected as the magic arbitrary number? The advocates for transit, environmental and others came out strongly against it because they felt it did not have enough projects they wanted to see, and it still got the popular vote. So, if indeed the projection should have been $14B, and the project list adjusted to remove some, do you think those groups would have been in support? Not likely. Would the measure have passed the 2/3rd threshold? Not likely. In the end the people voted on the project list, not the estimate and what they said was, your close to what we want to see as projects. That's a good learning lesson. Now they should go back revise the list, revise the estimate and try again. The people want something built, the majority said that in their vote.

    Some folks that comment clearly don't like the organization and the leadership team, they have their right to an opinion. All in all, SANDAG has done an enormous amount of good for the region. Certain special interest organization and groups may not agree but, it hard when they all expect to get a trophy.

    tarfu7 subscribermember

    @Doni Sexton It's not the crime, it's the cover up. These are public officials, who just got caught withholding information in an attempt to mislead voters. It's borderline fraud.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    While I agree with this in principle, it's important to understand that the underlying problem is the governance model of the organization. The Board is largely a rubber stamp for the actions of SANDAG because none of the Board members is invested in any meaningful way in its actions. The lack of accountability of staff is not going to change unless the Board structure changes.

    Andy Kopp
    Andy Kopp subscribermember

    @Chris Brewster agreed - and I think most people who follow SANDAG understand that its structure needs major reform. As I understand it, there are electeds actively working on reforms. But until then, changing the top leadership which has displayed an incredible disregard for its board and the public, is also very important.

    Doni Sexton
    Doni Sexton subscriber

    What specific changes are you proposing and what specific problem would the change address? Too many folks (republicans) demand something is not working (Obamacare) and demand replacement ("their plan") and yet, when asked, have no clear idea of the problem or what will fix it.

    When one gets frustrated or disatisfied with a direction other than theirs it's common to complain and discredit any positive achievements. SANDAG over the years has leverage the TransNet tax to bring in Billions of additional Federal and State dollars that would never have come to the region. This funding provided massive improvements to the transit system, the environment and the transportation systems of road, pedestrian and bike facilities for the county, all cities and the state highways. Without those improvements, the region entire transportation system would not have changed much from about 20 years ago. Deteriorated infrastructure, gridlock and even less transit options would be existing today. That senario would certainly have stifelled growth and the economy of the region. While there are certain groups that may see that as attractive, most of society does not.

    So, specifically, aside from the issue in this article, what are you identifying as the problems with the organization and what change would you propose to correct each of those issues?

    John Porter
    John Porter subscriber

    Any proposed initiatives proposed by SANDAG will automatically be voted "no" by me in the future.