By Miriam Raftery
“I will argue that my minority and low income citizens have just as much right to be fairly represented as San Diego and Chula Vista.”—Lemon Grove Councilman Jerry Jones
April 23, 2017 (San Diego’s East County) – Assembly Bill 805 passed the Assembly Local Government Committee on Wednesday by a 5-4 vote. The measure claims to reform SANDAG, but in fact gives virtually all power to the cities of San Diego and Chula Vista, leaving East County cities and other communities in our county powerless to add agenda items to benefit other cities or block objectionable measures at SANDAG, the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) and North County Transit District.
Now East County cities are fighting back. On Tuesday, La Mesa’s City Council will consider a proposal from Council members Bill Baber and Kristine Alessio to hire a legislative lobbyist to advocate on La Mesa’s behalf against AB 805, which was authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), according to the agenda.
El Cajon’s City Council has voted to oppose AB 805, as did Lemon Grove and La Mesa. East County Assemblyman Randy Voepel, former Mayor of Santee, voted against the measure in committee.
Gonzalez-Fletcher, who represents San Diego and Chula Vista, has said the measure is needed because SANDAG was “caught misinforming the public” on costs of a recent failed transportation ballot initiative, Measure A. But her bill goes much farther than requiring an independent audit and investigation. It shifts the balance of power to give a majority vote to San Diego and Chula Vista, which she justifies based on their larger population size.
Lemon Grove Councilman Jerry Jones has sent a letter opposing AB 805 to the Assembly Transportation Committee, where it will next be heard. Jones writes, “Allowing San Diego to make decisions unilaterally with a `weighted vote only’ at SANDAG would be the end of the regional collaboration and decision making. There would simply be no incentive for them to work collaboratively with the other jurisdictions in the region or to embrace the consensus we’ve come to know in the region.”
He also objects to the bill granting chairmanship to San Diego and Chula Vista on a rotating basis, shutting out other cities and the county from a leadership role on SANDAG.
Jones argues that SANDAG is not broken, as Gonzalez-Fletcher contends, noting that regional collaboration has in fact produced two successful measures in the past, Transnet and Transnet II, both approved by voters. He added that SANDAG is investigating the error on Measure A estimates, which he says are tied to complexity of algorithms. He adds that he expects to see "procedural and structural recommendations" made as a result of SANDAG's own investigation.
The bill has been amended to remove one objection raised by small cities in the region. Originally it required that only mayors could serve on the SANDAG board, but that was deleted after objections from cities with part-time mayors who work day jobs that would make it hard to attend a SANDAG meeting.
Jones accuses Gonzalez-Fletcher of trying to take power from “everyone and every jurisdiction” outside of her district, and provided map overlays to prove his point. “I will argue that my minority and low income citizens have just as much right to be fairly represented as San Diego and Chula Vista,” Jones told East County Magazine.
While accountability and transparency elements of the bill have merit, Jones concludes, “Good decisions and change are made from proper examination of facts and not political vendettas.”
View the latest amended version of the bill here.