ENCINITAS — Encinitas Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath stood out on Sept. 21 when she stood in front of a state building in downtown San Diego with dozens of community activists and several elected officials who implored Gov. Jerry Brown at a news conference to sign a state bill that would enact sweeping reforms at the San Diego Association of Governments, the county’s regional planning agency.
The speakers spoke largely about how Assembly Bill 805, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), would make SANDAG more accountable to residents in lower-income communities.
While Encinitas isn’t a lower-income community, Boerner Horvath said, she and the majority of the council still support the bill, which she said accomplishes several other goals that would benefit Encinitas and North County at large.
The State Senate voted earlier this month to pass Assembly Bill 805, the bill that would change the voting structures of SANDAG, the Metropolitan Transit System and the North County Transit District; 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 place tax increases on the ballot; 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.
Boerner Horvath, a Democrat, said that Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill would restore the public’s trust in the agency, which has been mired in controversy over reports that SANDAG officials made major discrepancies in revenue projections associated with a failed 2016 sales tax measure and hid or deleted emails to avoid public scrutiny. SANDAG’s longtime Executive Director Gary Gallegos resigned in August amid the mounting controversy.
“One aspect is that we need SANDAG to meet our regional transportation needs, and given the fact that Measure A (the 2016 proposed regional sales tax measure) didn’t pass and the scandal that has erupted, we need a better SANDAG,” Boerner Horvath said after the news conference. “And that means reforms from within, but it also means reforms from without.”
Second, Boerner Horvath said, the issue of adequate transit funding stretches beyond socioeconomic barriers. North County, she said, has public transit needs that haven’t been met under SANDAG’s current governance structure.
AB 805 would empower North County Transit District and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System to put their own sales tax measures on the ballot for their respective regions.
“One of the biggest issues in coastal North County is trenching the tracks from Oceanside to Del Mar, it’s probably our biggest infrastructural challenge,” Boerner Horvath said. “This bill takes the next step to provide a local regional sales tax for trenching the tracks. We would still have more work to do but this is the first step of really getting us to a place of building our rail corridor.”
Encinitas is the lone city in North County to formally endorse the bill, although Carlsbad Councilwoman Cori Schumacher has also signed on in support. Councilman Mark Muir mentioned this during the council meeting where the council voted to support the bill.
Muir and other elected officials said that the bill would reduce the power of smaller cities in favor of San Diego and Chula Vista.
At issue is a part of the proposal that 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.
Boerner Horvath at the Sept. 21 rally pointed to MTS, which has a similar “tally-weighted” voting system. The board there has called for one weighted vote in its history.
“So you look at the default voting structure of a consensus organization is the tally vote, which gives us way more voting power in the everyday operations of SANDAG than currently is the case,” Boerner Horvath said. “It actually doesn’t change the voting structure, it gives us slightly more power, contrary to what Republicans in North County would have you believe.”
Gonzalez Fletcher, who thanked Boerner Horvath for attending the news conference, echoed the Encinitas official’s critique that the opposition toward the bill is politically motivated.
“Cities like Encinitas and Lemon Grove are interested in moving our transportation planning in a more progressive way, and they are asking ‘are we planning for climate change, are we planning our transportation on environmental grounds as well?’” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “The same votes ignoring the people of color and our low-income residents are the same ones who are climate change deniers.”