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After weeks of inaction following the revelation of SANDAG’s deceptive use of faulty revenue projections, two weeks ago the SANDAG board of directors approved an “independent examination” into the agency’s economic forecasting scandal. SANDAG’s board suggested it should self-select the so-called “independent investigator” candidates through a private internal selection process. No mea culpa was issued at the board meeting, and SANDAG’s executive, Gary Gallegos, and the board failed to own up to their role in the $4 billion deception.
On Friday, SANDAG’s executive committee will likely finalize its decision about who should conduct the investigation.
While an investigation is a small step in the right direction, it is not enough. SANDAG has lost the trust of the community and an examination alone, performed by a person of the board’s choosing, will not restore that trust. It is only through an exhaustive independent investigation with an investigator chosen by outside stakeholders, an apology issued by the board for deceiving San Diego families and meaningful reform to the agency’s governing structure that the agency can restore that trust.
The Quality of Life Coalition, a diverse collection of working families, businesses and community and environmental organizations that we’re part of, opposed Measure A for several reasons. The deceptive plan failed to provide the quality transit options, good-paying local jobs and climate solutions for our community needs. And the 100,000-plus members of the group were justified in their hesitancy to trust this agency that has consistently failed to deliver meaningful transportation options.
We are living in precarious times when it comes to faith in public institutions. “Alternative facts” and incessant lies are being pumped out of the White House. San Diego cannot afford to see SANDAG follow a similar path of deception. We need SANDAG to start doing better for San Diegans right now so we can improve our quality of life, grow a vital local economy and sustain our environment. Unfortunately, we will never get to a place where the public can approve a SANDAG initiative so long as it chooses the easy route over full transparency and community involvement that will prevent future public deception.
Credibility and trust are not things one can bestow upon themselves. Criminals don’t choose their own prosecutors, and an untrustworthy governmental institution that deceived the public to the tune of $4 billion should not choose its own investigators.
To restore public confidence, the board must take the following actions:
• A community-led process for selecting an independent third-party investigator to produce a thorough report and recommendations to avoid future deception. The investigation must include an analysis of: What Gallegos and board members knew about the deceptive projections and when they knew it; SANDAG’s suspect projections for greenhouse gas and air pollution reduction and the impact of the potential adjustment of the year-of-expenditure revenues on the operation and construction of transit projects in the Regional Transportation Plan.
• A community-led hiring of a permanent independent public advocate or ombudsman who will have a significant degree of independence, full access and represent the interests of the public.
We want a SANDAG we can trust. We urge the board to take the action necessary to build that trust.
Alternatively, we will have no choice but to take these demands to the state attorney general and the state Legislature.
The future of our region depends on SANDAG having its house in order, and a new governance structure in place to ensure a scandal of this magnitude never happens again.
Nick Segura the business manager for IBEW Local Union 569 and Joyce Lane is the chair of the public policy committee Sandiego350. Their commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.