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If you woke up to a feeling of déjà vu, you are not alone. We are living in the era of the San Diego Association of Governments – the transportation planning agency that has become the bloated face of regional government corruption from which broken promises and lies are spewed.
Back in February, on the heels of a Voice of San Diego exposé detailing SANDAG’s willful deception of the voters on the amount of money (and thus infrastructure projects) that would be generated by ballot Measure A, I made the case for the agency’s executive leadership to resign or be fired. They violated the public’s trust, from which the hope of any future ballot measure to fund regional transportation projects resides. Neither happened. Since then, the steady pour of further deception, deeper obfuscation and greater malfeasance – from both the senior leadership and some members of the board of directors – has continued with breathtaking regularity.
To recap: SANDAG denied the public the truth on how much revenue would be raised by the TransNet sales tax extension in 2004. SANDAG denied the public the truth on how much the projects that TransNet was supposed to build would actually cost. SANDAG denied the public the truth on how much revenue the Measure A sales tax increase on the 2016 ballot would generate. And SANDAG denied the public the truth on when it knew those things and who knew them. Senior staff members have tried to bury their willful deception under an avalanche of technical jargon that amounts to nonsense – or lay the problems completely at the feet of a former employee. It’s scandalous.
At the outset of these reports, many activists and negotiating partners of SANDAG chose not to call for the resignation or firing of Executive Director Gary Gallegos, almost certainly strategizing under the assumption that if they were unsuccessful in that effort, he would retaliate in future negotiations. At the time, I considered that a mistaken calculation, as time and public silence would galvanize his support on the board and only strengthen his position. That looks right today.
Last Friday, the board was set to discuss a counter ballot proposal, a “self-reform” measure, as an attempt to undermine or stop AB 805, the SANDAG reform bill written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher. The bill – which I support – is designed to remake the board’s voting structure more equal across the county’s populations, and instill stronger public accountability measures.
Many board members are against it. In the face of overwhelming reporting on these issues, La Mesa Councilwoman Kristine Alessio still said that she hasn’t seen enough evidence of wrongdoing to make any judgements. National City Mayor Ron Morrison questioned the notion of journalism itself, and alluded to VOSD’s reports as something akin to fake news. El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells told Gonzalez Fletcher directly that he was against AB 805 because he was determined to fight against communism.
All of these people were dead silent during the early revelations of SANDAG’s deceptions, but now feel the freedom to hunker down in defense of the agency’s leadership and their own inaction as board members, happy to resort to scaremongering about The Red Tide. Does that sound to anyone like a group of leaders getting ready to enact meaningful reforms on themselves?
Full reform at SANDAG includes AB 805 in concert with new staff leadership. One will not be successful without the other. There is no mechanism that can be legislated ensuring the truthfulness of those who’ve given up on it – and sense of honesty must be restored before the voting public will open the purse again to continue funding the transportation projects our growing region desperately needs for economic prosperity, regional affordability, climate action, and more.
This latest revelation peels back a deep layer of deception that should cause everyone from average citizens to activists and electeds with integrity to say, “Enough is enough” and publicly demand a change of leadership. Anything less is an acquiescence to the status quo.
Andy Kopp is an East Village resident and community activist.