One of San Diego’s most productive lawmakers has her sights on one of the region’s largest agencies.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher has introduced a bill, scant on details for now, that would fundamentally reform the San Diego Association of Governments.

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The planning agency collects a countywide half-cent sales tax to build transportation projects throughout the region, and to dole out as infrastructure funding to individual cities. It also competes for state and federal money to help pay for major projects like freeway expansions and new trolley lines.

In November, voters rejected Measure A, a new transportation tax proposal by SANDAG.

Voice of San Diego has since revealed agency staffers knew there were significant flaws in the forecast it used to estimate how much revenue that tax would bring in, months before the board approved putting the measure before voters. The errors also mean SANDAG’s existing tax has a severe revenue shortfall.

Gonzalez Fletcher’s new bill would reform the beleaguered agency, though it does not yet specify how that would happen.

“The assemblywoman believes there’s a lot to be desired in transparency, accountability and in the goal of reducing carbon emissions through expanded access to transit,” said Gonzalez Fletcher’s chief of staff, Evan McLaughlin. “With the failure of Measure A and subsequent reporting by you, it shows that this model isn’t the right model for delivering solutions to San Diego’s transportation needs, and especially her district’s needs.”

The proposed reforms, McLaughlin said, could include changes to the board’s organizational or voting structure.

Right now, the board is composed of one representative each of the 18 cities in San Diego, plus two representatives each from the city of San Diego and the county of San Diego. The board’s votes are measured two ways, and each action needs to pass both of them. One is a simple tally of all of the board members, and the other is a vote weighted by population that gives more sway to the city.

In practice, it means the city of San Diego can effectively veto certain items with its weighted vote, but it still needs support from smaller cities to pass issues through the tally vote.

“I think the issue of accountability is real, and even though there are elected officials on the board, it does appear it’s more removed than what people think when they go to the ballot to elect a mayor or councilmember,” McLaughlin said. “We’re trying to think about how to raise the profile of an agency that brings in billions of dollars for one of the most basic functions of government.”

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Todd Gloria – who as a San Diego city councilman was on SANDAG’s board for years – has introduced a bill of his own that might make it possible for SANDAG to adapt to the failure of Measure A.

His AB 1324 would let an agency like SANDAG levy a tax on a specific portion of its jurisdiction, rather than the entire thing. For instance, SANDAG could propose a tax for transportation on the city of San Diego and the South Bay only, leaving out tax-averse North County.

That very arrangement was a primary topic of conversation at SANDAG’s annual board retreat earlier this month. After Measure A fared well enough to pass in certain areas, like the South Bay, and struggled in the more suburban and rural northern parts of the county, board members kicked around the idea of passing a tax on only the portion of the county that wanted one.

Andrew Keatts

Weber Hosts a Perfectly Polite Town Hall

There was a lot of love — and lemonade and cookies — at Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s state of the district address Wednesday evening at the Lemon Grove Community Center.

Weber said she’d been asked earlier that day whether she was nervous about holding a town hall meeting, given the angry crowds who’ve been confronting federal lawmakers over the last couple weeks. But among the 60 or so folks who showed up, there was little frustration with state government. The most critical audience question had to do with why California requires that all cars get smog checked.

Since her election in 2012, much of Weber’s focus has been on criminal justice reform. On Wednesday, she walked the audience through her 11 bills signed into law last year, seven of which had to do with criminal justice issues, ranging from a fix to the bail system to ensuring that low-level felons serving time in county jail can vote. At least six of the bills Weber’s introduced so far this year address criminal justice and public safety issues.

Photo by Kelly Davis
Photo by Kelly Davis

Weber, who chairs the Assembly budget subcommittee on public safety spending, said the goal is to set policy that emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment.

“Whatever we’ve done thinking we’ve been hard on crime, we’ve not done well,” she said.

When an audience member asked for Weber’s opinion on a bill introduced last week by San Diego Sen. Toni Atkins and Bell Gardens Sen. Ricardo Lara that would create a single-payer health care system in California, she said she didn’t see the bill getting very far while everyone’s focused on saving the Affordable Care Act. “Eventually we will move towards [single-payer],” Weber said, “but right now our main concern is keeping what we have.”

The audience was pleased to hear that Weber, Atkins and Assemblyman Todd Gloria had formed a committee to look into homelessness in San Diego. They weren’t nearly as pleased about a bill that would raise money for road repairs via a gas tax. When Weber tried to gauge support for the bill, no hands went up. She reminded the audience that infrastructure upgrades comes at a price.

“People like the lifestyle in California, which is an expensive lifestyle,” she said. “You go down to Louisiana, and you might lose your car in a hole.”

Kelly Davis

• In a new Voice of San Diego op-ed, Weber urges the San Diego Police Department to adopt the provisions of her 2015 law, the Racial and Identity Profiling Act, ahead of schedule. The law requires law enforcement agencies to collect basic data about who officers pull over, in order to track and guard against racial profiling.

On Monday, San Diego State researchers are set to deliver a final report on traffic stop data from San Diego Police.

“Initial findings confirmed what many of my constituents have asserted for years; and what some of my neighbors, former students, my friends and my own son have recalled from their own experience: Black and Latino drivers are stopped, searched and questioned at rates higher than their share of the San Diego population,” Weber writes.

What San Diego Reps Were Up to This Week

• In an op-ed, Assemblyman Randy Voepel makes the case for Republicans’ transportation funding bill, of which he’s a co-author. Whereas Democrats’ plan involves new revenue via a gas tax, Republicans want to take money that’s currently diverted into the state general fund and ensure it goes to transportation.

“Each year, $1 billion is diverted from gas tax revenues to the General Fund; this translates to more than $400 million taken from funding for local streets and roads. It’s an unjustified raid of critical transportation funds,” Voepel writes.

• State Sen. Toni Atkins and Assemblyman Todd Gloria spoke out this week against President Donald Trump’s decision to roll back protections for transgender students who want to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. Atkins and Gloria are both members of the state’s LGBT legislative caucus.

Atkins has written several bills that boost protections for transgender Californians and simplify processes to change genders on state forms.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law making single-stall public bathrooms in California gender-neutral. A 2013 law allows public school students to use the bathrooms that correlate with their gender identity.

• Sen. Pat Bates and Sen. Joel Anderson both expressed outrage after their colleague, Sen. Janet Nguyen, was removed from the Senate chamber after criticizing a former Democratic lawmaker over his stance on the Vietnam War.

The circumstances of Nguyen’s removal were remarkably similar to one earlier this month in which U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was silenced – also for speaking out against a male lawmaker.

“This sad episode is a textbook case of men trying to silence a woman whose views they did not like,” Sen. Pat Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, said in a statement.

Anderson sent a series of tweets in support of Nguyen and sharply criticizing Senate Democrats.

#1A #stopbullying #LetJanetSpeak Senate new policy: GOP minority to been seen but not heard?

— Joel Anderson (@JoelAndersonCA) February 23, 2017

• Assemblywoman Marie Waldron wants to raise the age at which you need to get a fishing license – from age 16 to age 18. This, she writes in the Valley Roadrunner, “is especially important for youth living in inner cities or underserved communities.”

Golden State News

• Federal officials have blocked hundreds of millions of dollars meant to modernize California rail lines. Republicans in Congress targeted the project because they believe it would ultimately benefit California’s high-speed rail project, which they hate. (Mercury News)

• This profile of California Senate leader Kevin de León explains why he goes by that name, as well as his upbringing in San Diego and Tijuana. (Sacramento Bee)

 California farmers are ditching their famous raisins in favor of almonds and pistachios. (Wall Street Journal)

• A federal judge has blocked the state from enforcing the most California law ever – the one that restricts websites from publishing actors’ ages. (Politico)

• “President Donald Trump’s immigration policies threaten to crack a foundation of the American economy: the residential real estate market.” (Bloomberg)

• The president of the California State University system told students in a memo this week to immediately call campus police if they’re approached by immigration officers on school grounds. (Campus Reform)

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