Opposition to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher’s bid to overhaul the San Diego Association of Governments, AB 805, has until recently been pretty specific.

It takes power from small and rural cities and hands it to the large and urban ones. Unsurprisingly, leaders in the smaller and rural cities don’t like that so much.

The bill changes SANDAG’s voting structure, shifting to a more proportional vote and therefore increasing the power of large cities. It also adds an audit committee, allows the county’s two transit agencies to increase taxes themselves, and in a new addition, gives the agency a major incentive to sign labor-friendly contracts. In the months since it was introduced, it’s the provision on SANDAG’s voting structure that’s been the major topic of conversation.

But in recent weeks, a few new arguments have popped up.

One is the result of a new addition to the bill. Gonzalez Fletcher last month added a provision requiring the agency to use a “skilled and trained” workforce for large projects. It’s an increasingly common state requirement that a certain share of workers on a project graduate from state-approved apprentice programs.

In much of the state, that’s a de facto boon to labor, which in some areas are the only groups that operate such programs. In San Diego, though, the Associated General Contractors operates an especially large apprenticeship program, so qualified workers aren’t necessarily union workers.

But AB 805’s worker provision gives the agency a way out of the requirement. If SANDAG strikes a project labor agreement – a contract in which a union guarantees a project’s labor needs in exchange for a contractor agreeing to hire through a union hall and pay union benefits – it doesn’t need to meets the skilled and trained workforce goals.

That too is increasingly common in the state, as some regions have struggled to meet “skilled and trained” workforce requirements.

That’s why the local Associated General Contractors group and other local leaders see the new labor provision as a way to boost certain labor groups, especially the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a local union that strongly opposed SANDAG’s failed tax increase, Measure A, last November.

“Opposition to AB 805 does not mean opposition to changes at SANDAG – these are separate issues,” wrote Eddie Sprecco, AGC’s chief executive, in an email.

The fight over AB 805 is now intertwined with the forecasting scandal revealed by Voice of San Diego that’s dominated SANDAG for months. That continued last week, when an outside investigation found the agency knew of significant problems with its forecasts for years and failed to act, and even instructed staff to hide and delete documents related to the issue.

But AB 805 opponents are now also arguing that the bill wouldn’t necessarily solve SANDAG’s problems.

“If the cities of San Diego and Chula Vista were trying to provide necessary oversight, but the other, smaller, jurisdictions impeded them, this legislation would be relevant,” Sprecco wrote. “Instead, AB 805 is a political power grab to concentrate regional planning in the hands of few downtown insiders.”

San Diego City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf made similar comments at last week’s SANDAG hearing.

“This was not a board governance problem. This was an internal problem.” Zapf said. “I think it’s contortionist at this point to say that AB 805 is any solution to an internal problem. Project labor agreement? Wouldn’t solve this problem. Changing the governance of this board to consolidate power to San Diego and Chula Vista? Would not solve this problem. These are internal processes. We are committed as a board to solve these problems.”

Zapf also said SANDAG should follow the city of San Diego’s lead, and introduce an independent performance auditor. That part, however, is something that AB 805 does in fact try to address.

Gonzalez Fletcher said late last month that the labor-friendly provision was added to fix another problem looming for SANDAG: Its need to pass a tax increase in order to pay for new transportation measures, in the wake of Measure A’s failure last year.

“We went back and looked at why Measure A failed, and one of the big problems was this hang-up on not having job quality language,” she said. “That’s why the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers and most of labor didn’t support Measure A. It became really contentious, and given how little it lost by, that was a real issue and one that doesn’t seem to be able to be worked out by the board.”

San Diego’s City Council decided to support AB 805 on a party-line, 5-4 vote, with the Republicans on the Council voting against it.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer could have vetoed the Council’s resolution, and the Democrats wouldn’t have been able to overturn it.

He didn’t do that. The decision not to exercise his veto could be seen as de facto support for the measure, as he opted not to send the message to Sacramento that the largest city in the region and the one that could benefit the most from it doesn’t want the bill enacted.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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