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Leading up to last November’s election, SANDAG told voters Measure A would raise $18 billion over 40 years through a sales tax increase, and the money would be used for transportation projects around San Diego. Before the vote, Voice of San Diego revealed the proposed tax would have actually only raised just $14 billion. After Measure A failed, it was discovered some SANDAG officials knew about the error ahead of time.
Some San Diegans were left with a bitter taste in their mouths and a desire for accountability and transparency. As the dust settles, efforts have shifted toward preventing similar problems in the future and determining what reforms need to be made to SANDAG, the regional association responsible for transportation planning and expenditures, to make it a more transparent and effective organization.
One proposed solution comes in the form of Assembly Bill 805. Supporters of this bill adamantly claim it will improve regional planning and further hold SANDAG accountable. The fundamental premise of this bill, however, seems to run counter to that goal. AB 805 forgets that the key to good governance is communicating effectively with taxpayers.
While there are justified concerns that small cities could usurp the agenda and large cities could do what they want without buy-in across the region, the biggest downfall of AB 805 is its failure to address the root causes of last November’s mishap.
Within the agency, SANDAG faces critical communication issues. SANDAG needs to provide its members with concise and relevant reporting on projects and proposals that will affect their constituents. This process is currently hindered by the sheer volume of information SANDAG publishes. Simplifying the reporting process and establishing better procedures to communicate important updates and analysis back to constituents will play a crucial role in improving planning efforts and holding local officials accountable. AB 805 currently lacks a coherent approach to this facet of the problem.
This is not to say that the bill is a complete failure – it contains provisions for an oversight committee and for addressing environmental goals. Knowing that those concerns can be addressed locally, however, we are wary of solutions handed down from Sacramento.
There are alternative ways to ensure that SANDAG corrects its mistakes moving forward that don’t need to pass through the capitol. Here is a list of six recommendations, released by the Taxpayers Association, that SANDAG could use to improve transparency and efficacy.
The governance structure of SANDAG itself is not flawed. Most issues stem from the lack of simple and intentional dialogue between members of SANDAG and our elected leaders who are responsible for providing direction to their representatives at SANDAG, keeping up with the work SANDAG is doing in their backyards and reporting back to constituents.
Before we rush to change local decision-making processes through new legislation at the state level, we need to hold our elected leaders accountable to do the work we elected them to do: communicate effectively with taxpayers, collaborate at the SANDAG table and lead.
Without this course correction, no amount of legislation from Sacramento would prevent issues similar to those that surfaced during the campaign for Measure A from reoccurring at SANDAG.
Haney Hong is president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. Cameron Gyorffy is a policy analyst for the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.