I could cite to any number of articles, but everyone that reads this knows that San Diego's transportation system is crap. Complete lack of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, slow buses, a trolley system that doesn't run to the most populous regions of the city, ever-widening freeways, and no hope for improvement any time in the next 20 years. How did it get so bad?
There are any number of reasons, but here is a big one. Although already having considerable power, in 2003 the state legislature gave SANDAG all authority over transportation policy in the County of San Diego. The City obviously has some control over its own streets, but if you want major projects to happen, you have to convince the SANDAG staff and board.
And who is this SANDAG Board of Directors? Pursuant to state law, the SANDAG Board consists of 21 members. Those 21 members come from 18 cities in San Diego County. The City of San Diego itself gets two members, the County of San Diego gets two members, and the other cities get one member each.
For any new policy to pass, it has to pass two thresholds under state law and the resulting SANDAG bylaws. Luckily, the votes of the Board are weighted by population, totaling 100 votes. Since the City of San Diego has a little over 40 percent of the entire population of the county, it gets 40 votes. Everyone else gets at least one vote, but weighted by population. Under this formula, the outer cities can still outvote the City of San Diego, but the City has considerable weight and could pull in close-in cities like National City and Chula Vista to get a majority of the weighted vote.
But then it gets more complicated. Not only does a vote have to pass the weighted vote, it also has to gain a majority of the individual votes. That means the far flung cities of the county can effectively control the actions of SANDAG. It's like the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives rolled up into one.
What this means, if effect, is that the rural and suburban cities of the county get to control all transportation policy. Is it any wonder that all the money is spent of expanding freeways so residents of these cities can get into the urban core? Why would Oceanside and Santee vote to spend money on trolley lines existing solely within the City of San Diego? Why fund bike lanes in Hillcrest when we can build bigger roads far from the core?
The structure of SANDAG makes any changes to the transportation status quo entirely impossible. The City of San Diego needs to control its own transportation policy and have the money to back it up. If the State wants to make any headway on reaching its emission goals, SANDAG as currently formed has gotta go. The question is, will anyone undertake such a reform?