ENCINITAS — Encinitas has become the first city in North County and one of the only small cities in San Diego County to support a state bill that would overhaul the San Diego Association of Governments.
The City Council voted 4-1 on Sept. 6 to send a letter in support of Assembly Bill 805, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego). Councilman Mark Muir voted against the letter.
Encinitas joins San Diego, Chula Vista and Lemon Grove as the only cities in the county to formally support the bill.
According to a news release from Gonzalez Fletcher’s office, the bill would, among other things, “change the voting structures of SANDAG, the Metropolitan Transit System and the North County Transit District to better reflect the populations they serve; create an Audit Committee that includes members of the public that oversees an independent auditor; require that SANDAG provide annual reports to the state about the region’s transit issues; permit MTS and NCTD to approach voters to raise revenue for better transit; require skilled and trained workers are employed on local transportation projects; and insist that regional transportation plans address greenhouse gas reduction rules and the needs of disadvantaged communities.”
The State Senate recently voted in support of the bill along party lines by a 25-13 margin.
Gonzalez-Fletcher praised Encinitas for its support.
“Encinitas City Council members made the right decision by seeing through SANDAG’s lies about AB 805 disempowering North County,” she said. “The status quo at SANDAG isn’t working and AB 805’s checks and balances are good for commuters, taxpayers, generating local jobs and the fight against climate change.”
The four council members who supported the bill — Mayor Catherine Blakespear, Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz and council members Tasha Boerner Horvath and Joe Mosca — said they supported the bill because it would allow for North County Transit District to put a taxing measure on the ballot independent of SANDAG.
Currently, only SANDAG has that authority, which makes it difficult for the body to craft — and pass — large taxation measures that balance the interests of the county’s various regions.
For example, North County voters largely voted against SANDAG’s most recent sales tax increase proposal, Measure A, because the measure disproportionately benefited South County.
“That is enough by itself for me to support the bill,” Kranz said. “The ability for NCTD to put a revenue raising measure on the ballot as a region makes sense. As we learned with Measure A, trying to address transportation issues regionally is a challenge.”
Kranz said NCTD could potentially use the taxation power to trench the coastal rail corridor, a long-wanted project by many North County officials that has not made it on any of the regional tax measures.
But for many small cities, it is the voting structure change that has sparked much of the dissent and criticism, as Gonzalez Fletcher’s proposal would give more power to the region’s largest cities, San Diego and Chula Vista.
The proposal would allow for two cities to call for a so-called “weighted vote” to override a previous tally vote of the body’s board of directors, which is composed of a voting representative of each of the county’s 18 cities and one county supervisor. If a weighted voted is taken, four representatives who comprise 51 percent of the voting majority could override the tally vote.
Currently it takes 10 cities to override a majority vote.
The bill originally also would have cemented the chair and vice chair positions with the city of San Diego and Chula Vista, but Gonzalez Fletcher has since amended the bill to take the language out.
Opponents have argued that the state legislature would be encroaching on the regional agency’s autonomy and have panned the bill as a “legislative overreach.”
Muir, who pointed out that Encinitas would be the lone city in North County to support the bill, said he believed the proposed change weakened Encinitas’ power on the board.
He also believed that bill was written to favor labor unions, as it has a clause that would require projects of $1 million or more to include a project labor agreement.
“I don’t see how giving the city of San Diego or Chula Vista more power helps the city of Encinitas on regional project,” Muir said. “It looks as if we are giving away power. Everybody is against it in North County. Politically, one would need to look at the politics of it.”
Muir also said that he believed SANDAG’s recent internal upheaval, which included the resignation of longtime executive director Gary Gallegos, shows that SANDAG is correcting the issues internally, making the bill unnecessary.
Boerner Horvath said she disagreed with Muir’s assertions, and argued that the weighted vote was fair because San Diego is projected to take on most of the county’s residential growth in coming years and that weighted votes are extremely rare.
“Organizations don’t correct themselves,” Boerner Horvath said. “I think it requires strong board action or an external governance change, and in this case, this is the external governance change.”
She also argued that Encinitas’ vote in the tally scenario, which is also apportioned by population, is stronger than it was before the passage of the bill.
“Maybe we will have to agree to disagree on this one,” Boerner Horvath said to Muir.
Blakespear added that she believed the opposition to the bill was also politically motivated, as Gonzalez Fletcher is a Democrat and most of the city councils in North County, albeit nonpartisan boards, are controlled by Republicans.
Muir is the lone Republican on Encinitas’ panel.
“There is no denying that party politics are heavy involved in this bill,” Blakespear said. “I think there is a subtext that is clear.”