The San Diego region is spending $14 billion on transportation and infrastructure improvements through the TransNet measure, and an independent watchdog group is supposed to keep an eye on the spending. How’s that going? You be the judge.

As our Ashly McGlone reports, “it’s not clear at all how independent the oversight committee actually is. The current chairman of it also represents contractors making millions on the project and lobbies the very government officials he’s overseeing.”

SANDAG says there is no conflict, and that the committee members are chosen for their specialized knowledge. Current and former committee members, for their part, say they’re not conflicted because the group doesn’t actually get into the weeds of how funds are spent — “a defense which, itself, raises questions about whether the watchdog group is doing what it was created to do,” McGlone writes.

Meanwhile, another tax boost may be on the way.

Oceanside’s Slim-Fast Road Plan

Highway 101 is one of the most legendary roadways in the nation, but its jaunt as Coast Highway through Oceanside is anything but picture perfect. Its businesses helped give the city a seedy reputation.

Now, “Coast Highway is the kind of place where you can order octopus sushi at the gastropub, and get a title loan next door,” reports VOSD contributor Ruarri Serpa. That’s good, right? Well, gentrification always comes with a price. In this case, critics are upset about plans to turn a three-mile stretch of the street into an urbanist paradise of fewer cars and more cyclists and pedestrians.

“Much of it is coming from residents who live in exclusively residential areas east of I-5, and even those from the northern and southern ends of Coast Highway who feel like they are losing access to the rest of it,” Serpa reports.

Serpa also writes this week’s North County Report, which notes news about the big battle over a mall in Carlsbad (the vote is next week), Oceanside Councilman Jerry Kern’s cancellation of his campaign for Assembly, public art in Carlsbad and things on tap for bans in Escondido and Del Mar.

Opinion: The GOP’s Lock on City Council

Vladimir Kogan, a former San Diegan who’s now assistant professor of political science at the Ohio State University, predicts that Republicans will gain a majority on the City Council for the first time in more than 20 years. Why? Because it’s pre-destined, he argues in a VOSD commentary.

“The credit — or blame, depending on your point of view — goes to the San Diego Redistricting Commission, the seven-member citizen group that’s formed every 10 years to set new boundaries for City Council districts,” he writes. “The maps the commission drew in 2011 made it very hard for Democrats to translate their large voter majorities into a sufficient number of City Council victories.”

ACLU and Allies: Investigate SDPD

The ACLU and other groups are calling for the feds to investigate the San Diego Police Department’s treatment of mentally ill people. The organizations point to the controversial fatal shooting of a mentally ill man in the Midway area. VOSD drew attention to the case last year and pushed for the release of security video of the shooting.

“A series of incidents raises serious concerns that SDPD has a pattern or practice of violating the fundamental rights of people with mental illness or experiencing a mental health crisis,” a letter from the organizations says. (KPBS)

Mayors Head to Faraway Cities on Taxpayers’ Dime

NBC 7 dug into municipal expense reports and found that the mayors of 17 of our 18 local cities spent $37,000 in taxpayer money to travel around the nation and the world. (National City hasn’t responded to a Jan. 19 request.)

Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas went to Paris for a climate conference, staying at a four-star hotel and eating at a French restaurant derided online for its “barely okay” pizza and hot dog.

The World Wildlife Fund picked up a few thousand dollars of the mayor’s expenses. She says her visit helped raise the profile of Chula Vista, which is San Diego County’s second-largest city and one of the nation’s 100 largest.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer was reimbursed for $8,900 in travel, but his office says he pays for his own meals and other expenses besides travel and lodging. The mayor of Imperial Beach went to Mexico City for a conference, helping give his city the second-largest total mayoral travel expense in 2015. In eight cities, the mayors either didn’t go anywhere on city business or weren’t reimbursed for their travels.

Tech County Sees Blue

The 538.com site takes a look at tech hubs like San Diego where there are fewer “ordinary” jobs than elsewhere. These places tend to like Democrats, although San Diego seems to be less blue than places like D.C., Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and San Jose. “Red metros have a higher share of routine jobs, and their economies are therefore more at risk from automation. Blue America is not only at lower risk from automation, but stands to reap more of its benefits because tech hubs — where the developers of the algorithms and robots are — lean strongly blue.”

Quick News Hits: I’m in the Money (Well, 87 Cents)

Looking good! The historic art deco-style Silverado Ballroom in City Heights is restored and back in business after its renovation spent years in limbo. The ballroom is expected to host a restaurant and events. (KPBS)

No one appears to be manufacturing meth in tented houses “Breaking Bad”-style, but someone’s been using them for another purpose: stealing stuff. The SDPD says it’s gotten 19 recent reports of burglaries of homes undergoing fumigation. Now, a suspect is under arrest after allegedly being caught in the act. (NBC 7)

Missing something?

U-T columnist Logan Jenkins actually had a good experience in an emergency room. Not a local one, mind you.

Amazon, which seems to deliver just about everything other than motherly love (and that’s surely on its to-do list), will now bring food from local restaurants to your door within an hour. But it’s only available in certain ZIP codes. There’s no extra charge, at least for now, if you meet a $20 minimum. (City News Service)

In other food news, the local Bracero Cocina de Raíz restaurant is up for a prestigious James Beard award, as is the Polite Provisions bar. Addison at the Grand Del Mar is up for two.

You can see if the state has unclaimed money for you via claimit.ca.gov. As the Reader reports, big entities are owed big money: SDG&E ($77,000 owed in a single claim alone), Scripps Health (almost $100,000) and the U-T ($8,882).

And then there’s me. This is true: I’m owed 1 cent and, in another claim, 86 cents.

Woo-hoo! Drinks on me. Well, drink on me. OK, maybe a tip on a cup of coffee at Denny’s.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego and national president of the 1,200-member American Society of Journalists and Authors (asja.org). Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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