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Following SANDAG walkout, Del Mar council asks city attorney to look at weighted voting structure

Following a contentious San Diego Association of Governments meeting earlier this month, Del Mar City Council members asked the city attorney during a meeting Monday to review the regional planning agency’s weighted voting process.

A vote at SANDAG starts with a simple majority vote among the 21 board members, who each represent one of the county’s 18 cities (plus an additional representative for the city of San Diego and two more representing the county government). Pending that outcome, board members can also ask for a weighted vote, in which the value of each vote is based on the size of each representative’s constituency. That allows a small group of SANDAG board members who represent bigger cities to overrule a majority of board members who represent smaller cities.

The weighted vote came into play during a meeting Jan. 13, when county Supervisor Nora Vargas and San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera were elected chair and vice chair of SANDAG, respectively.

Del Mar City Councilmember Terry Gaasterland joined a contingent of small-city board members who walked out of the meeting in protest as the board voted on whether to appoint Gaasterland second vice chair. (Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner was ultimately elected to that post.)

The Union-Tribune reported that Elo-Rivera said it was a “legislative tantrum” and “shameful.”

“This is about proportional representation, and I do not believe that the residents of Del Mar are 350 times more important than the residents of San Diego,” he said during the meeting.

SANDAG’s previous voting structure required a successful majority vote and a weighted vote. The new system, established by Assembly Bill 805 in 2017, allows the weighted vote to override the simple majority vote. Board members who represent smaller cities, including Del Mar and Solana Beach, have complained that their big city colleagues are content to use the weighted vote to their advantage and forgo any attempt at building a more regional consensus on divisive issues.

Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, the former Assembly member who authored AB 805, wrote in a Union-Tribune op-ed in 2017 that AB 805 “changes the voting structure so that SANDAG representation is more proportional.”

“We can all agree that the needs of tiny, affluent Del Mar are much different than most other cities in the county,” she wrote.

During the council meeting Monday, Gaasterland said she wanted to question whether AB 805 actually does allow the weighted vote to overrule the simple majority vote. The council asked the city attorney to look into that and other questions related to AB 805, but it’s unclear what could come of it.

“The people of the San Diego region need to know their tax dollars are being well-spent and it’s being considered and processed in a way that’s equitable and fair,” Gaasterland said.

Del Mar City Councilmember Dwight Worden said he supported the old SANDAG voting structure, but “like it or not, it’s a dead issue.”

“There is not a will among the controlling majority of SANDAG to change this,” he said. “If we ask them to, all we’re doing is picking a scab.”

Del Mar City Councilmember Dave Druker said the city needs to continue working cooperatively with SANDAG and the Democrats who hold majorities at various levels of government for projects such as moving the train tracks off the bluff. The city will need a lot of outside funding.

“We need to create the relationships so that we do not look like we are being obstructionists and we are not working with the other Democrats in this county,” he said.