by Photo courtesy of Nora Vargas via Twitter

The San Diego Association of Governments appointed county board of Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas as president and City of San Diego Council President Sean-Elo Rivera as Vice President of the region’s largest transportation agency. 

San Diego Mayor and former SANDAG Vice Chair Todd Gloria nominated Vargas and Sean-Elo Rivera to their respective positions. The agency also elected City of Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner as Second Vice Chair. 

“I don’t take this responsibility lightly,” said Vargas, who recently became the first Latina Chairwoman of the County Board of Supervisors. “I appreciate that you have entrusted me with the opportunity to serve as the next chair and am committed to making sure that we’re elevating transparency and accessibility, not only within the board but more importantly, for the communities that we represent.”

SANDAG is the region’s metropolitan planning organization and a council of governments, bringing together local decision-makers to develop solutions to regional issues including improving equity, transportation, air quality, clean energy, economic development, goods movement, public health, public safety, housing, and more.

Chairwoman Vargas and Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera won their respective position with minority votes, but the majority of the weighted vote. Republican Board Members nominated Democrat Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland and Republican Steve Vaus for Chair and Vice Chair. Still, neither received the needed amount of votes, although they both received the majority of votes from the Board.

Republicans representing more than half a dozen cities stormed out of the public hearing on Friday morning after the election. Gaasterland, who was joined by Republicans on the board, voiced frustration with the agency’s voting system which gives members from larger jurisdictions more influence. The Del Mar official, alongside representatives from the cities of Coronado, El Cajon, Escondido, Oceanside, Poway, San Marcos, Santee, and Vista, walked out of the meeting.

Gaasterland was nominated to be the Second Vice Chair of SANDAG, winning enough votes with the tally vote. Democrat Mayor of Solana Beach, Lesa Heebner, was then nominated to be the Second Vice Chair of SANDAG and was elected with a unanimous tally vote among remaining board members. 

In 2017, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 805, penned by former San Diego Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, to establish the agency’s weighted vote system. Before AB 805, SANDAG’s board would take a tally vote from each city as well as a weighted vote according to the population of each city. Measured would require approval from both votes to pass. 

Now, cities representing the majority of the county can influence the weighted vote, and overrule the Talley vote.

Those who walked out, and Imperial Beach Councilman Jack Fisher, signed a joint letter prior to the meeting, requesting the board to stop its weighted vote practice. Representatives for San Diego, San Diego County, Chula Vista, Carlsbad, Encinitas, National City, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, and Solana Beach did not sign the letter

“The implementation of the weighted vote system has eliminated input from small and mid-sized cities while reducing board collaboration and public trust in the SANDAG Agency,” a letter sent to SANDAG on Thursday said. “Reforming this voting procedure is critical to ensure the voices of all cities in the county are heard.” 

SANDAG is scheduled to discuss the matter on Jan.27. 

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