Power Grabs Through Voting 🗳️

Power Grabs Through Voting 🗳️

There is a major issue in San Diego County with smaller cities feeling overshadowed by their larger counterparts within SANDAG and the San Diego Water Authority. This power dynamic has unfortunately given rise to a plethora of dysfunctions that pervade our local political landscape on a daily basis.

This op-ed originally ran in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Hasan Ikhrata, the departing CEO of the San Diego Association of Governments, inherited a board plagued by dysfunction when he took office in December 2018. Though not solely the fault of its membership, the dysfunction is due to a change in the voting process of the countywide transportation agency. The new process was passed by Sacramento politicians and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017. The new voting process alienated many of SANDAG members and drove a wedge into the agency that still exists today.

Then, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher led the push for the bill that created the new SANDAG voting system, which weighted each board member’s vote based on the population of the government they represented. The previous system gave each city equal clout. The passage of that bill immediately created a division between the city of San Diego and nearly all of the other 17 cities in the county. The new voting system heavily favored the city of San Diego while diminishing the votes of other smaller cities on the SANDAG board.

Despite the vast majority of state representatives not hailing from San Diego County, Sacramento painlessly passed the bill that bred regional collapse and dysfunction at SANDAG. Gonzalez Fletcher’s influence on the state Appropriations Committee helped push the flawed voting system through. Statewide, Democratic representatives fell in line obediently.

Regional collaboration, reinforced through checks and balances in the previous SANDAG voting system, was removed, and the board became ineffective and dysfunctional.

The San Diego County Water Authority has a similar, if not worse, voting system with its board. Smaller water agencies find themselves powerless against the dominance of the city of San Diego’s massive voting power when it comes to key decisions. Trust has eroded to the point where agencies like those in Fallbrook and Rainbow seek to detach from the Water Authority and turn to a Riverside County agency as a water source.

Unsurprisingly, the city of San Diego opposes the detachment decision of Fallbrook and Rainbow from the Water Authority. Its proven strategy involves bully tactics — enlisting another state Assembly member to introduce a statewide bill to alter the San Diego County voting system to suit its needs, not the region’s.

San Diego County voters were not given a direct say in the new SANDAG voting system. The SANDAG board did not vote to implement this system. And now, with the Water Authority, Assemblymember Tasha Boerner, D-Encinitas, is enabling the city of San Diego’s new power grab. The question remains: Who gets to decide on these voting systems? The distant, out-of-touch politicians in Sacramento decide.

We must genuinely act as a region to find the best regional solutions. Collaborative decision-making using balance and common sense has to guide us. However, the largest city, the city of San Diego, should not have the power to override and disregard the voices of the 17 other cities in the county.

Collaboration is paramount; it’s the fundamental principle for a healthy region. With the city of San Diego’s power grabs enabled by state politicians, it is stacking the deck. The city of San Diego’s politicians will dominate decisions looming over tax and fee increases, critical priorities for regional transportation and infrastructure projects, and many agencies feel their input won’t matter and want out.

Ikhrata was right, but the dysfunction extends beyond the SANDAG board. Power grabs from the city of San Diego and Sacramento bureaucrats and politicians prioritize their control over genuine collaboration, perpetuating the problem and fueling the fires of dysfunction.

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