Commentary: Sandbagging SANDAG

On Friday January 13th, an orchestrated walkout at SANDAG by Del Mar’s representative, Councilmember Terry Gaasterland, and a group of Republican board members, put Del Mar on the losing side of SANDAG’s leadership elections. It also put Del Mar in conflict with neighboring North County coastal cities Solana Beach, Encinitas, and Carlsbad, in marked contrast to the decades of cooperation between these cities on key issues coming before the SANDAG Board.


At the SANDAG (San Diego County Association of Governments) meeting on that Friday, it soon became clear that Gaasterland had caucused with Republican representatives to put forward Gaasterland and Republican Poway Mayor Steve Vaus for Chair and Vice Chair positions, using  substitute motions to highlight opposition to proportional (weighted) voting at SANDAG, as provided for by State law, and to signal opposition to key elements of SANDAG’s Regional Transportation Plan that support climate goals.


After Nora Vargas, Chair of the County Board of Supervisors, was nominated as SANDAG Chair, a substitute motion nominated Gaasterland, who then presented a rambling narrative that departed from her (and the majority of the Del Mar City Council’s) support for the SANDAG Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). Instead, she supported widening freeways and focusing on single car trips in stark contrast to the adopted RTP. She also proposed abolishing the weighted vote enshrined in state law and returning to the tally vote where Del Mar gets 1 vote for 4000 residents and the City of San Diego gets 2 votes for 1.3 million residents.


After Gaasterland failed to win election as Chair, Vargas was elected Chair and Sean Elo-Rivera, Council President for the City of San Diego, was elected Vice Chair by weighted votes as called for in the SANDAG by-laws, a substitute motion by the dissenting group to elect Vaus as Vice Chair having failed.


Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner was then nominated for 2nd Vice Chair. Though the dissenting group had articulated diversity and small-town representation as rationales for their actions, it made a substitute motion to elect Gaasterland instead of her neighboring small city representative.  The initial vote took place as a “tally vote” – each SANDAG Board member getting one vote, regardless of the proportion of the total population represented.


Gaasterland won the tally vote by one vote, but a weighted vote was called for, which State law provides can be requested by any two representatives. Before that vote was taken, Gaasterland joined eight Republican representatives (Terry became a registered Democrat in Aug. 2022) in walking out of the meeting, leaving a minimum quorum of 10 board members present. The substitute motion for Gaasterland was then defeated in the weighted vote, and Heebner, the person with the most years of service on the SANDAG board, was elected Second Vice-Chair by a unanimous (10-0) vote.


Because Gaasterland had walked out, Del Mar was marked “absent” when our neighboring city’s Mayor was elected to a SANDAG leadership position. Our coastal neighbors Encinitas and Carlsbad joined Solana Beach’s representative in garnering this leadership position for a woman from a small north coastal city, as did our Supervisor, Terra Lawson-Remer, but Del Mar was missing in action for this achievement.


Gaasterland serves as Del Mar’s representative to SANDAG, and it is her duty to uphold positions adopted by the City Council, which had previously expressed majority support for the RTP, which Gaasterland then voted for at SANDAG.  Her taking opposing positions in her remarks is an affront to the Council, which might wish to reconsider her position as SANDAG representative.


More importantly, by siding against neighboring coastal cities, the spirit of cooperation among our coastal allies has been tarnished by one person’s ambitions.


When the Del Mar City Council discussed the SANDAG walkout at their January 23rd meeting, Gaasterland’s actions were criticized by Council Members Druker and Worden. Dave Druker said, “we can’t spend our political capital” on matters not related to our top priorities, and we can’t afford to alienate “our Democratic elected officials” whose help we need to fund those priorities, which are “get the trains off the bluffs, get affordable housing on the fairgrounds, and protect our citizens against sea-level rise.

On Jan. 28 SANDAG set up a booth at the Del Mar Farmers Market to display seven conceptual options for pedestrian rail track crossings along the Del Mar bluffs and to solicit feedback from the public. The options include a combination of trails, crossings, ramps, and stairs to the beach. Photo by Julie Maxey-Allison