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As local leaders have squared off over SANDAG’s priorities, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has been steadily moving along a bill meant to keep SANDAG’s financial picture from getting even more dire.
Months before Hasan Ikhrata announced his plan to remake transportation in San Diego, thrusting the regional planning agency into the center of a region-wide debate over spending priorities, he set the table with a brash plan that needed help from Sacramento to have a chance of working.
As local leaders have squared off in the time since, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has been steadily moving along a bill meant to keep SANDAG’s financial picture from getting even more dire.
The long-term blueprint for growth in the region that the agency had been working on, and was due to be adopted at the end of 2019, was simply incapable of meeting state carbon emission reduction mandates, he told SANDAG’s board back in February. There was nothing left to do to get the agency below the requirement to cut emissions by 19 percent of 2005 levels by 2035.
So he asked the board to junk the plan and start from scratch on a new one that might not be finished until 2022. But that plan, he said, would not only meet those requirements, but it would do so meaningfully, by truly remaking the region’s transportation system.
The idea came with considerable risk. Having an up-to-date regional plan is both a state and federal requirement. Not having one can mean shutting off the flow of state and federal funds that largely pay for all the highways, trolley lines, bus improvements and environmental mitigation projects that SANDAG handles.
For an agency that is already way short of funds to pay for everything voters have been promised – as Ikhrata also outlined for the board at the same February meeting – the last thing it needs is to lose a source of revenue.
Enter AB 1730. The bill would grant SANDAG a two-year extension to adopt a new plan during which it would remain in the good graces of the state of California.
The delay is necessary, according to a state analysis of the bill, because of SANDAG’s financial scandal, the governing changes it underwent through AB 805 and the hiring of a new director who has changed the agency’s direction.
“Although meaningful change has occurred, lasting changes to develop the right transportation system in the San Diego region will not happen overnight,” the bill’s analysis says. “Local governmental entities, environmental advocates, and community groups agree that San Diego cannot do its part to combat climate change without drastic change, which requires proper planning. Under current deadlines, the region will not be able to accomplish this, and will be unable to make real progress.”
AB 1730 passed the Senate’s housing committee this week. During that hearing, a city representative said Mayor Kevin Faulconer strongly supports Ikhrata’s vision, calling it a commitment to meet the aggressive climate goals the city has adopted and arguing that it was worth taking the time to do the plan right, rather than rushing to meet the existing deadline.
Sen. Anna Cabellero called the request an unusual way to do business and asked whether there was any precedent for it. Gonzalez said she was unaware of anything similar. Bill Higgins, from the California Association of Council of Government, said there was no simple path to the state’s newest emissions targets and SANDAG, as the first agency to have to meet them, was in a unique situation.
“If you’re going to have a vision, you have to have buy-in,” said Higgins. “This is to give the community a chance to build a new vision for the region, and that takes time.”
Gonzalez, though, used the hearing to emphasize just how much the agency had transformed in the last two years. She said the old agency would have just passed a bad plan that would have provoked a lawsuit.
“I can’t possibly describe to you how different of an agency we have today,” she said.
– Andrew Keatts
Another week, another ruling against law enforcement leaders trying to stonewall records requests under SB 1421, the law that went into effect Jan. 1 requiring certain police misconduct records to be made public.
This week, a Sacramento judge in a tentative ruling found the Sacramento County Sheriff’s office violated the California Public Records Act and must begin releasing records under the law, the Sacramento Bee reported. The Bee and the Los Angeles Times had sued for records going back five years.
It was a familiar outcome by now. Though the law has only been in place for six months, it’s already faced an avalanche of court challenges, some of which began before the measure was even in place.
The challenges have not gone well for law enforcement. A quick rundown of some of the notable cases:
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who’s made his name by launching dozens of lawsuits against the Trump administration, found himself on the other end of the equation after he refused to release records on state law enforcement officers’ misconduct.
Becerra only reversed course once a San Francisco judge ruled he must turn over the records, citing a 1st District Court of Appeal ruling that found SB 1421 applies retroactively to records generated before 2019.
Police unions representing eight local law enforcement agencies sued to block the release of records under SB 1421, arguing the law did not apply retroactively. Voice of San Diego joined with other media outlets in the region to argue that the records should be made public. A judge ruled in March that the agencies must release the records.
Before that ruling San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore initially tried to charge news outlets requesting records hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to obtain them, but backtracked following criticism.
In one of the first rulings after the law went into effect, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that the law applied retroactively, after two police groups sued to block the release of records.
The Downey Police Officer’s Association lawsuit over its obligations under SB 1421 included a twist: Not only did the union believe it should not have to release records, it wanted permission to permanently destroy them. A judge ruled against the union.
Contra Costa County
A Contra Costa County judge was the first to rule after the law went into effect that it should apply retroactively and that police groups must begin disclosing records generated before Jan. 1, 2019.
Police groups representing officers in Walnut Creek, Antioch, Concord, Martinez, Richmond and at the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department appealed the ruling, but the state appellate court declined to hear the case, leaving the earlier ruling in place.
A poll released this week found that a strong majority of Californians support the type of changes that SB 50, a plan to allow more home-building near transit that was shelved earlier this session, would make.
Mark Baldassare, the head of the Public Policy Institute of California, which conducted the survey, told the Los Angeles Times that the most vocal opponents of the bill probably didn’t represent the general public.
“This particular solution, which has been very controversial in the Legislature, is not very controversial when it comes to the general public,” he said.
Those remarks reminded me of an interview I conducted with Assemblyman Todd Gloria last year about the housing measures that were then moving through the Legislature.
He said that when lawmakers consider developments or housing policy proposals, they tend only to hear from those who are the most fired up in opposition. He said when he first ran for City Council, he was asked at a forum whether he supported a proposed development in Kensington, and he responded that he did. He was booed. He said he thought for sure he’d tanked his candidacy, but on Election Day, he won.
“Sometimes the loudest voices are not the voices of everyone. And when you talk about voices, you have to really consider: Who are we talking to? It’s often people from a negative point of view who will take the time to come to a public meeting on a Tuesday at 2 p.m., as opposed to someone who is supportive of it,” Gloria said. “There has to be some experience among the decision-makers to understand the difference between loud voices and the will of an overall community.”