The Escondido City Council voted 4-1 (with Diaz voting no) to oppose Assembly Bill 805 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales-Fletcher, a bill which would restructure the San Diego County Association of Governments (SANDAG) giving more decision-making “weight” to the city of San Diego and Chula Vista.
Gonzales-Fletcher represents the South Bay in the legislature. SANDAG is responsible for regional planning. It is an agency few voters actually know much about. It recently put Measure A on the ballot, which failed to garner enough votes in November. Gonzales-Fletcher’s bill is in response to a scandal that erupted on SANDAG last month about why staff’s projections for how much money Measure A would have raised so differed from reality.
This issue was brought to the surface by Voice of San Diego, an online publication that discovered Transnet sales tax funding had brought in 25% less than had been projected many years ago when that sales tax increase was approved by the voters—and that SANDAG’s staff was using the same formula to project what would have been raised by Measure A.
This discrepancy prompted Gonzales-Fletcher’s bill, which most San Diego cities, especially the smaller ones, oppose as a power grab by South Bay and San Diego City. Since SANDAG was created by the legislature, it has the authority to change its structure—and if it followed Gonzales-Fletcher’s proposal, it would not be to the benefit of the rest of the county. At least that’s how Mayor Sam Abed and Deputy Mayor John Masson, who both represent Escondido on the SANDAG board, put the matter Wednesday.
“AB 805 is sponsored by Gonzales [her actual full name is Gonzales-Fletcher] which has triggered a lot of concerns by the SANDAG board members, eighteen cities and the County,” said the mayor.
Noting the concern among SANDAG board members about the discrepancy in calculating sales tax revenues, Abed said, “We have worked well together. We have hired a special auditor, and that doesn’t mean that SANDAG isn’t working well together in a bipartisan way. What AB 805 would do is change the existing structure, change the balance of power, polarize it and disenfranchise smaller cities. It gives a selected few cities a disproportionate advantage.”
Abed, who has served on the SANDAG board for ten years, called the bill “an unprecedented overreach by the state. This is nothing but a political grandstanding by Assemblywoman Gonzales. She is using the problem over the projection to try to break down the existing structure.”
Abed claimed the bill would “disenfranchise Escondido. San Diego and Chula Vista will be making the decisions for the entire county.” He agrees with the bill’s provision to create an audit committee to monitor such projections, but opposes the rest .
Measure A would have given a large portion of the sales tax to San Diego’s trolley system and buses, while shortchanging spending on Hwy 78, said Abed. If the power structure was altered to weight San Diego’s influence that would spend even more of North County’s money on San Diego, he said.
“We need those freeways to bring goods and create jobs, just like we need public transportation, the bike paths, and infrastructure. This is a political approach to give San Diego and Chula Vista the balance of power on everything,” he said.
Abed said most of the cities that belong to SANDAG have put AB 805 on their council agendas to take a formal position on.
Masson called AB 805 “a classic overreach from Sacramento to get into our business. If these votes go to San Diego and Chula Vista, we won’t see any more road spending.”
Councilmember Olga Diaz said she pulled up the bill and read it. She disputed that it is “Sacramento” making a power grab. “A local representative who is from San Diego is proposing it. It’s not Sacramento sending us something,” she said.
She described how the SANDAG “blow up” happened because of the Voice of San Diego expose.
“This thing was uncovered and snowballed and needs to be dealt with.” Diaz said she hadn’t heard enough from the SANDAG governing board on how it intends to hold the organization responsible. “I do like the audit committee,” she said. “This should make its way into the government structure. I don’t like weighted voting. I don’t like less power for Escondido but I also recognize that other agencies pay more than we do. I don’t think we should have weighted voting either. We’re all in this together. Our residents work in other cities. I want to hear what we are going to do in the absence of this bill.”
She said she preferred to send a letter to Sacramento detailing the positives about the bill and its negatives, and suggesting modifications, rather than simply opposing it.
Abed said he agreed that projections were off on the sales tax, and attributed this to staff relying on an economy growing 3%, when it was actually closer to 1%. “The question of accountability is this: did they hide this from the board and voters? At the executive committee, we decided to send it to an independent investigation to see if staff hid it from the board. But why disenfranchise all these cities? We are working fine right now.”
Councilman Ed Gallo said Measure A didn’t fail because of a misrepresentation of how much money it would raise. “The reason it failed was that south end of the county likes transit and North County likes their cars more so they didn’t vote for transit and environmental. Gonzales is from Chula Vista and wants to appease her constituents. ‘Let’s change government structure so south county gets more votes.’ We don’t want Sacramento people coming down telling us how to run our organizations. Stay out of our business. You’ve got your own things to worry about it.”
Councilman Mike Morasco said Transnet 1 & 2 were examples of “How Escondido was underserved. This proposal puts Escondido in an even more vulnerable positon and limits our control. It would be worse for Escondido and better for the district Gonzales represents. It is biased and self-serving. It IS state controlled, otherwise it would be taken care of locally. The audit committee makes total sense and should come back as a separate bill but everything else is a bunch of malarkey and a power grab. It is someone taking something that doesn’t benefit them as much as they would like and making it benefit them more.”
“If it turns out that there was deception, heads will be rolling,” added Masson.
Diaz said it was appropriate for action to come from the state because SANDAG was created by the legislature. She was the lone vote on the council against the resolution.
On Friday, April 14, Abed, along with members of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Board of Directors, will hold a news conference to publicly oppose AB 805.
The news conference will take place at noon in front of the SANDAG headquarters at 401 B Street in San Diego immediately following the Board of Directors meeting.