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Small Cities Pan SANDAG Reform Bill, But Author Fights on

Smaller cities across San Diego are lining up against AB 805, the measure to remake SANDAG. But the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, found a way to mention it to Gov. Jerry Brown when he asked her to support his recently passed transportation bill.

Small cities throughout the county are lining up to tell Sacramento they aren’t too keen on a plan to dramatically reform SANDAG.

National City, Coronado, Poway and Escondido have all passed resolutions opposing AB 805, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher’s move to increase oversight of the scandal-plagued agency and overhaul its decision-making structure.

La Mesa and Encinitas are set to consider resolutions too. And a committee for the Metropolitan Transit System opposed the measure Thursday.

You could say they don’t like it.

The bill would enact a series of oversight-related reforms to SANDAG, after Voice of San Diego revealed the agency knowingly relied on flawed revenue forecasts for an existing tax increase and a proposed tax measure, and failed to disclose for a full year an $8 billion cost increase in projects from the existing tax measure.

Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill would also make the votes on SANDAG’s board proportional to each city’s population, giving bigger cities more say on decisions. And it would make the two largest cities – right now, San Diego and Chula Vista – the chair and vice chair of the board.

Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, in comments before the Escondido City Council voted to oppose the measure, said the measure would disenfranchise smaller cities.

“This is unprecedented overreach by the state on local government,” he said. “This is nothing but political grandstanding by Assemblywoman Gonzalez (sic), and I think she’s using the problem with overprojections to really pass a bill to break down (SANDAG).”

Escondido City Councilwoman Olga Diaz said she opposed making the mayors of San Diego and Chula Vista permanent chair and vice chair – but wanted to request changes to the legislation, instead of opposing it outright.

“Sacramento is not doing anything to us,” she said. “Our local representative, who is from San Diego, and represents a portion of our county, proposed this. From that perspective, it is initiated locally.”

She said the measure came from Gonzalez Fletcher because SANDAG failed to oversee itself.

“You guys say it all the time: local control. Well, who had control?” Diaz said. (Disclosure: Diaz is a member of Voice of San Diego’s board of directors.)

La Mesa Councilman Colin Parent issued a memo supporting the bill, saying La Mesa would be a net beneficiary of a stronger San Diego, since the cities share a border – and therefore freeways and transit lines. Councilwoman Kristine Alessio wrote a memo opposing it, arguing the changes would hurt smaller cities and turn SANDAG into an extension of the city of San Diego.

Gonzalez Fletcher said she doesn’t expect the votes to influence the Legislature. National City, she joked, doesn’t stand a chance to lobby its Assembly representative to change positions (it’s her). She also said National City voted against its own interests in opposing the bill.

“It’s San Diego – it’s the epitome of the old boy’s network,” she said. “They’ve maintained their personal power for decades, and this upsets that.”

She said she’s open to changes to the bill after hearing some concerns, like over the requirement that each city is represented on the board by its mayor, not a Council member.

She also said she’s already discussed the bill with Gov. Jerry Brown. He came to her asking for her support for his transportation plan, and she brought up AB 805.

“If he’s going to talk to me about my vote for transportation funding, I’ll talk about my bill to reform our transportation agency,” she said. “I know he doesn’t like to look at local things, but SANDAG is written into state law, so this is how it has to be fixed. He said we’ll definitely follow up and look at it. I took it as a chance to talk about transportation issues as part of a broad discussion.”

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