I’m pleased to report some good news today. San Diego’s regional transportation agency is going to change the way they do business, thanks to AB 805, legislation introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher and signed by the Governor on Wednesday.
This is a big deal, even if most of the benefits are in the future. The balance of power is shifting to areas of the region where most people live. The old boy network’s influence over long-term planning for San Diego County has been diminished.
This is a good thing for the quality of the air we breathe, the needs of lower income and minority communities, and the future of transportation. No longer will the State of California’s environmental standards be relegated to a lower priority in planning.
In 2016, SANDAG went to voters (Measure A) asking for a half-cent increase in the sales tax to fund a laundry list of projects. An unprecedented coalition of labor, environmental and community groups opposed it, citing a lack of vision concerning infrastructure needs and climate change.
Given the makeup of the organization’s board and the staff hired to serve them, Measure A was likely the best compromise that could be expected. This best compromise wasn’t good enough for voters and it lost at the ballot box, while other communities throughout the state mostly made it past the high threshold needed to tax projects.
According to one elected official I spoke with, any hope for a more comprehensive and environmentally aware plan would have to wait until the electorate of the smaller cities in the county got around to electing leaders who weren’t climate change deniers. ( I think the actual words used were “small-minded.”)
As it turned out, the impetus for change was buried in the details of Measure A. The projected income from the proposed tax increase was needed to backfill shortfalls in revenues due to faulty projections in an earlier tax increase.
SANDAG later commissioned an outside investigation from an Orange County law firm, which confirmed that agency staffers and executives knew its revenue estimates were overstated but presented inflated numbers to voters anyway. It also found that the agency hid and deleted public documents to cover up the scandal once Voice of San Diego began writing about it.
The agency’s longtime executive director, Gary Gallegos, resigned a week after the release of the investigation.
Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill capitalized on the scandal. The bill would create a new performance auditor and audit committee to oversee issues like those Voice of San Diego uncovered. It also remakes the agency in ways that boost Gonzalez Fletcher’s political goals – making the agency more labor- and transit-friendly – that aren’t directly related to the scandal.
“This is a good day for the silent majority in our region who have been ignored and paved over for far too long,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher
As is the case with any shift in direction by large entities, this won’t come easily. Supervisor Ron Roberts has asked staff to draft a measure for the 2018 ballot undoing AB 805.
Here’s a snip from the Union-Tribune:
Opponents have called it “all-out assault” on local control.
Poway Mayor Steve Vaus called the approval of the legislation “very disappointing and a dark day for regional cooperation in San Diego County.”
Tony Krvaric, chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County, said the agency overhaul is “a shameful power grab by Sacramento Democrats, leaving the majority of cities in our county at the mercy of the two largest.”
Here’s what the currently entrenched crew would like to keep in place, via a SDYimby blog from 2015:
…The city of Del Mar has 4,161 residents. The City of San Diego has over 1.3 million residents. Even when accounting for the two “votes” afforded to the City of San Diego, this means that each resident of Del Mar has almost 163 times the voting power of a resident of the City of San Diego. Given the size disparity, the eleven smallest cities can control the actions of SANDAG, but only represent about 14 percent of the county’s total population.
The problem is more stark when viewed through the lens of demographics. On average, the “whitest” cities in San Diego have seven times the voting power of the cities with the highest percentage of hispanic residents. Del Mar, which is only 4.2 percent Hispanic, has 62 times the voting power of Chula Vista, which is 58.2 percent Hispanic. Similarly, geographically, the 13 cities that could be considered to be located in the North or East County (i.e., rural and suburban) can prevent SANDAG from taking any action.
What you need to aware of will be an insidious campaign claiming a small minority of cities are now squashing the views of many other cities. Don’t be fooled. That ‘small minority’ of cities has most of the population in the region. And most of the minorities. And most of the existing pollution.
We may end up being blessed because Measure A didn’t pass, by the way. Recent developments in technology and engineering portend a vast shift in transportation means and methods in the coming decades.
Some futurists are even saying individual car ownership may soon be a thing of the past. Transportation that users summon and use as needed would, for instance, radically change the way we looking at parking.
We’ll see. I’m still waiting for my flying car and personal jetpack.
In the meantime, let’s cheer for this win. The way things are going in Washington, we needed some positive news.
Looking for some action? Check out the Weekly Progressive Calendar, published every Friday in this space, featuring Demonstrations, Rallies, Teach-ins, Meet Ups and other opportunities to get your activism on.
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