A tweet from Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez pushed me over the edge on the subject of SANDAG, regional planning organization for San Diego County.
Gonzalez was responding to a statement from El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells at an SANDAG board meeting last week seemingly questioning her origins and, by implication, her citizenship.
A further communication between the Assemblywoman and the Mayor, also posted on twitter, clarified his intention: to say she was somehow against “American values.”
I’ve been holding off writing about AB805, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’ legislative plan to reform SANDAG, mostly because I felt the subject matter was complex and didn’t quite know how to explain the problem any better than Andy Keatts at VOSD. (h/t to Andy)
(I’ve been meaning to get to it, but keep getting distracted by you-know-who in DC.)
After reading the exchange, I realized SANDAG having a lot of moving parts wasn’t the same as its being complex.
Actually, it’s quite simple: some advocates of traditional “American values” have control of a massive government entity touching every human in the region and are using it to benefit their own narrow aims.
The phase ‘Traditional American Values’ is used as code for ‘good’ in the expression of conservative political thought; by implication–and I’m fairly certain, intent– anybody who lacks those values must be ‘bad.” (An interesting short discussion of this topic can be found here.)
as I’ve said b4. They hate #AB805 b/c a woman of color is challenging to takeq power away from the GOB (good ‘ol boys). How dare you?!
— David Alvarez (@AlvarezSD) July 28, 2017
I had an afternoon-long conversation with a local elected official (it was off-the-record, so I won’t name this person) about SANDAG during the run up to the 2016 general election.
This official was trying to sell me on Measure A, an increase in the sales tax to fund infrastructure was on the ballot, and I listened to what was presented as the progressive argument in its favor.
Many progressives (including the editorial board of San Diego Free Press) opposed Measure A because we felt it did not do enough to address climate change and didn’t consider local labor issues.
The pro-Measure Argument was essentially ‘it’s the best we’re going to get’ and ‘something is better than nothing.’ Labor and environmental groups largely opposed this half-a-loaf approach. So did I. None of us knew how much we were being lied to.
In the conversation I referenced above, this ‘best we’re going to get’ argument was extended to include ‘given who we have on the SANDAG board.’ That day, and at other times since then, I’ve learned there are elected officials in San Diego on the board who (mostly privately) say they think climate change is a hoax. This must be one of the ‘American values’ we heard about.
Getting a tax increase ballot measure passed in California these days requires putting together a huge coalition. I think the reasoning of the Measure A backers was that voter frustration with infrastructure shortcomings was sufficient to win a two-thirds majority. They fell short by by a nine percent margin.
Thanks to Voice of San Diego’s reporting, we’ve learned the financial assumptions underlying SANDAG’s sales pitches in past election were erroneous. Lots of finger-pointing over who is responsible for spreading this bs has occurred.
Here are the first three paragraphs from the most recent VOSD story by Andy Keatts:
An internal document obtained by Voice of San Diego shows that SANDAG staffers offered SANDAG board members and the public explanations for its ongoing scandal that they knew were false or incomplete.
It also shows the agency discussed in November 2016 how it had misled voters on a ballot measure in 2004 – at least nine months before the deception was revealed by Voice of San Diego – but declined to tell the board or the public.
In an investigative series, Voice of San Diego has revealed that SANDAG misled the public on two separate ballot measures. One was passed 13 years ago, after the agency told voters the tax would bring in far more than the agency actually expected.
At a minimum, the staff hired to perform the agency’s functions knew lies were being told. At a maximum, the agency’s management knew and failed to inform the board and to take corrective steps until stories appeared in the news media.
As an editorial at La Prensa put it:
Who’s to blame? The elected officials that serve on the SANDAG board, many of which have been on the Board since before the 2004 TransNET? Or Gary Gallegos, SANDAG’s long-serving Executive Director that pulls down over $404,000 a year, more than the President of the United States? Even if they fire him today, his taxpayer-funded pension will probably still net him over $300,000 a year for the rest of his life.
This was not an innocent comedy of errors, but, instead, a systematic ploy to hide the truth from the public. These are public employees paid to serve our community, and instead, they seem to think they are running their own little world of building blocks, using our tax money as their piggy bank.
SANDAG’s highway signs tout their use of TransNET with the slogan “Keep San Diego Moving”.
Now, heads must roll at SANDAG to keep San Diego moving forward with honest, transparent leadership that voters can trust to continue planning San Diego’s way of life.
The history of SANDAG’s misrepresentations when it comes to the subject of climate change, as spelled out by the Cleveland National Forest Foundation’s Duncan McFetridge is, as he put it, a story that rivals the water wars portrayed in “Chinatown.”
In other words, SANDAG has a truth problem. An agency supposedly considering the interests of all county residents has consistently acted against the public interest.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’ recognized SANDAG’s problems stemmed from its internal culture driven by the makeup of its board and the personalities of the people who served on it.
She drafted a bill (AB805) creating an independent auditor for SANDAG and make substantial changes in its voting structure.
From another article at Voice of San Diego:
Currently, items that go before the SANDAG board need to be approved by a majority of all 19 local governments in the county that sit on the board, but also need approval by a vote in which each city’s vote is weighted relative to its population. AB 805 would shift SANDAG to a proportional vote, giving the county’s larger cities, like San Diego and Chula Vista, greater sway in regional decision-making. It would also give the Metropolitan Transit System and the North County Transit District the authority to levy their own taxes; currently, only SANDAG has that authority.
The legislation has been endorsed by San Diego, Chula Vista, Lemon Grove and MTS; cities that together represent more than half of the county’s population. It has been opposed by El Cajon, La Mesa, National City, San Marcos, Solana Beach, Poway, Vista, San Diego County and SANDAG’s board.
SANDAG hasn’t taken kindly to the idea of Sacramento raining on their parade. The board has discussed putting forth a ballot measure ‘reforming’ the agency. In other words, the fox has volunteered to guard the henhouse.
The idea of the agency’s governance structure not being the problem, as put forth by defenders of the current system seems to be based on the notion of voters in these smaller cities suddenly noticing the actions of their elected officials in their capacity as part of SANDAG’s board. Riiight… So all we have to do is convince voters in several cities to change leadership.
I get it that smaller cities are not happy with bigger cities having more clout. Unfortunately, the ‘American values’ more typically found in their political leadership have (often) not included the need to consider the health and well-being of the whole, as in the County, the State, the nation, and the planet. I can even people saying understand AB805 has flaws; we’re here now, and it’s the best path forward.
The most concise argument against the status quo at SANDAG I’ve seen came from a comment in VOSD by Don Wood, who signed the 1988 ballot argument (ultimately) creating the agency.
To say that SANDAG, in its current form, has been a disappointment would be an understatement. When the politicians on the SANDAG board are in the pockets of highway contractors and sprawl developers, you get endless extensions and expansion of the local highway system, generating more air pollution and longer commutes than drivers would have experienced if SANDAG had focused on improving roads and streets, public transit and bike path networks in a more limited central part of the county. Instead we’ve seen new freeways built to subsidize new sprawl housing subdivisions far out into the rural areas of the county, frittering away grant money in order to keep sprawl developers and freeway contractors happy and political contributions coming in to SANDAG board members, who don’t seem to have figured out that campaign money from mass transit contractors is as good as money from freeway contractors, something politicians in LA figured out two decades ago.
Having an agency consider the best long term interests of the people in the region while caring for a planet as a whole would be the best ‘American value’ I could think of.
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