Sean Elo and Nora Vargas
San Diego city Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera, left, and county Supervisor Nora Vargas were elected as the new board leaders at the San Diego Association of Governments meeting on Jan. 13, 2023. (Sandy Huffaker for inewsource)

Nine board members at the San Diego Association of Governments walked out of their first meeting of the year over growing frustrations that the agency’s weighted voting structure is weakening the voice of the smaller cities they represent.

The move is likely to continue board discord as SANDAG continues to grapple with a series of controversial audits and divided decisions over its long-term transportation planning.

“We saw no point in continuing,” said Steve Vaus, Poway mayor and the city’s representative on the SANDAG board. “You saw the discussion about the weighted vote. They keep pushing it aside, but the only way this county’s going to come together and meet the needs of all the people in all the county will be if we have a collaborative, collegial, cooperative board.

“That’s not happening now. So there’s no point being there.”

Since 2018, state law has allowed a weighted voting system at SANDAG that gives more power to San Diego County’s larger cities. It means that representatives from just three jurisdictions — the city of San Diego, the county and Chula Vista — can make up the majority vote for a board made up of 19 local governments.

Supporters say the voting system gives proportional representation to residents of larger cities, while opponents say it’s diminishing the voices of smaller cities. Previously, the SANDAG board had to have a majority tally vote and a weighted vote to pass items. 

Now, just the weighted vote is needed. That came into play last week, when the board ushered in its new leadership. 

County Supervisor Nora Vargas will serve as SANDAG chair and San Diego City Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera as first vice-chair, both of them being appointed with a weighted vote.

Read the full article on inewsource.org.

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Ellen Bullock