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A meeting of the SANDAG board of directors. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Two acronyms – six letters total – eventually took down San Diego’s most powerful public agency.

In 2015, SANDAG Chief Economist Ray Major and Dmitry Messen, a senior modeler at the agency, exchanged a series of emails that blew up in 2017 when Voice of San Diego received them as part of a public records request.

Major asked Messen whether it was true whether an official agency forecast was really showing that it expected wages in San Diego to increase twice as much each year in the future as they ever had before. The agency was building a sales tax proposal based on those outrageously high predictions.

Messen confirmed that was the agency’s view.

“OMG,” Major wrote.

“I can think of another popular 3 letter acronym,” Messen said.

“Wtf,” Major wrote.

The exchange sparked a scandal over the agency’s erroneous projections – and its unwillingness to disclose the mistakes when it knew there was a problem, or before asking voters to approve a new 40-year sales tax. An outside investigation confirmed staffers knew there were fatal problems with the agency’s forecast before the 2016 election, and that executives took steps to shield damaging information and communications from Voice of San Diego’s public records inquiries.

Gary Gallegos, who as SANDAG’s executive director had become synonymous with the agency, was forced to step down. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher used the scandal to pass a state law revamping the agency, transferring power from smaller, rural and conservative cities to larger, urban and liberal ones.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego in 2017.

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org...

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