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State mandates work, it turns out.

A Voice of San Diego review found more than a dozen San Diego companies have added a woman to their board of directors within the last year following the passage of SB 826, which requires publicly held companies based in California to have at least one woman on their boards. The law’s first set of requirements kicked in Jan. 1.

Less than a year ago, San Diego still had more than 20 companies with no women on their boards. Many of those company boards have since brought on a woman.

This week, the secretary of state’s office released a new statewide report on companies’ progress complying with SB 826. But the report isn’t necessarily a great window into how many companies actually have a woman on their board of directors; rather, it simply documents companies that have filed a 2019 Corporate Disclosure Statement, which includes a question about their board makeup. Only 330 of 653 companies filed a statement, and of those, only 282 reported themselves as in compliance with the law. But many companies that actually do have at least one woman on their board appear to have not filled out the form.

San Diego-based Qualcomm and Jack in the Box, for example, don’t appear to have filed their forms, according to the report. Yet both have multiple women on their boards.

Among the companies that still have no women on their boards is Harrow Health. The company’s CEO Mark Baum declined to comment on SB 826, but a company spokesperson said that Harrow Health relocated its administrative and legal operations to Nashville, Tenn., last year, meaning it’s no longer subject to California law.

Three local companies that do not appear to be complying with the law — RA Medical Systems, Tracon Pharmaceuticals and Reven Housing Reit — did not respond to Voice of San Diego’s requests for comment.

Tandem Diabetes Care Inc. is one of the companies that brought a woman onto its board in 2019. The company said the decision was made separately from the state mandate.

“Our desires to bring her on aligned with the timing of (SB 826),” said Chief Administrative Officer Susan Morrison. “One didn’t respond to the other.”

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a co-author of the bill, said the results so far are validating.

“It is incredibly encouraging to see that SB 826 is working — working for women, businesses and our economy,” Atkins wrote in a statement to VOSD. “As principal co-author of the bill with Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, it was our goal to see increased gender parity in boardrooms because having more women in the boardroom makes sense for both profitability and for equality. California is setting a precedent for the entire nation to follow.”

SB 826 allows the secretary of state to impose fines of $100,000 on companies that fail to report their information and that fail to meet the law’s requirements. Companies that commit multiple violations could be hit with a $300,000 fine each time.

Paula Valle, chief communications officer for the secretary of state, said her office can’t discuss enforcement of the law because of two pending lawsuits seeking to invalidate it.

One is a federal lawsuit filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation; the other was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by the conservative group Judicial Watch and is set for a hearing next week. Filings in the federal case challenging the law show it’s currently set to go to trial in April 2021.

Waldron’s Attempt to Rein in SANDAG Is Back

Assemblywoman Marie Waldron has reintroduced her bill to scale back the ability of big cities to dominate decision-making at the San Diego Association of Governments.

The bill, AB 3248, is identical to last year’s AB 1398 and would require two-thirds of San Diego County voters to approve any changes to spending in TransNet, SANDAG’s 2004 voter-approved sales tax for regional transportation projects.

TransNet is in the grips of a financial crisis, with revenues coming in far below expectations and project costs far exceeding them. Nearly four years after Voice of San Diego first revealed the crisis, elected officials on SANDAG’s board now acknowledge that it won’t be possible to build everything voters were promised when they approved the initial ballot measure.

But the debate over how to spend the remaining funds has created a schism on the board, with officials who represent rural areas insisting continued commitment to freeway projects and the agency’s leadership and urban elected officials pushing instead for a shift to transit projects that can meet the region’s state-mandated emissions reductions.

“Revenues from the half-cent sales tax are coming in way under expectations and not all projects will be completed by 2048,” said Alex Khan, Waldron’s legislative director. “Priorities may need to be shifted. However, these shortfalls should not come at the disproportionate expense of highway and road projects anticipated and paid for by rural San Diego.”

Waldron’s bill could have a tough road ahead. Urban leaders gained the upper hand at SANDAG thanks to AB 805, passed by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez in 2017 in response to the agency’s funding crisis and public misrepresentations around it. Waldron, a Republican, would not only need to get the bill through the Assembly’s Democratic supermajority, but also through Gonzalez’s powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee.

AB 3248 is eligible for committee votes on March 23.

— Andrew Keatts

Schools Worry About Contractors Under AB 5

San Diego school districts are nervous about the prospect of losing some services they provide as a result of AB 5, the state law limiting when employers can classify workers as independent contractors.

As VOSD’s Will Huntsberry reports, superintendents from various San Diego school districts said they use contract workers ranging from athletic coaches to nurses to dance and music instructors.

Many school officials expressed hope that they’d be able to work with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez on obtaining exemptions from the law. But Evan McLaughlin, Gonzalez’s chief of staff, said districts might indeed need to change their working relationships with some contractors. Public school jobs have historically come with benefits — and Gonzalez isn’t interested in creating “a race to the bottom,” McLaughlin said.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez tweeted that she submitted changes to AB 5 to the legislative counsel’s office regarding musicians. She wrote that she’s obtained consensus around certain issues impacting musicians but not all of the issues she hopes to address. On the issues around which she is able to gain consensus, Gonzalez wrote, she’ll include an urgency clause — meaning if those changes pass, they’d go into effect immediately.

How San Diego Legislators Fared in the Primary

This week’s primary election was good to incumbent lawmakers: Atkins and Assembly members Randy Voepel, Marie Waldron, Tasha Boerner Horvath, Brian Maienschein, Shirley Weber and Lorena Gonzalez all finished in first places in their races — but they’ll all have to do it again in November.

Maienschein secured 53 percent of the vote against Republican June Cutter in his first race as a Democrat.

San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward handily won the primary in the race to replace Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who’s running for mayor. He’ll face Sarah Davis once more in the fall.

Gloria and state Sen. Ben Hueso, who are both on their way out of the Legislature as they aim for other elected offices, also had good nights. Gloria finished first in the race to become San Diego’s mayor, and Hueso finished first in a crowded primary for a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

Sen. Brian Jones, however, who ran for Congress in the 50th District, finished in fourth place, failing to make the November runoff.

Atkins, the state Senate president pro tem, ran unopposed in the primary.

At the San Diego County Republican Party’s Election Night gathering, party chairman Tony Krvaric — whose job is to recruit candidates for public office — lamented that it was “shameful” that Atkins didn’t have an official challenger on the ballot. He applauded Linda Blankenship for launching a write-in campaign. Blankenship said on stage that the campaign was successful and that she’ll be on the ballot in November.

Golden State News

Bella Ross contributed to this report.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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