Memo from Del Mar city attorney evaluates weighted voting at SANDAG

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

The Del Mar city attorney affirmed the way that the San Diego Association of Governments has been applying its weighted voting structure, according to a memo presented during a Feb. 21 City Council meeting.

A 2017 law by then-Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, AB 805, allows a weighted vote to supersede a simple majority vote among the 21-member SANDAG Board of Directors (one board member for each of the 18 cities, plus an additional representative for the city of San Diego and two who represent the county). Votes are weighted based on the size of each board member’s constituency, which allows as few as four board members to overrule the rest of the board.

Representatives from small cities such as Del Mar have complained that the new structure has marginalized their voices on controversial issues such as housing and transportation.

Before AB 805, the SANDAG board needed a successful tally vote and weighted vote to approve items. Since the bill was passed, items can pass on the weighted vote alone, even if the tally vote falls short.

Proponents of AB 805 say that the new voting system more accurately reflects the majority of San Diego residents, whereas the previous system gave more leverage to small-city board members whose constituencies are small fractions of the county population.

The latest controversy surrounding weighted voting at SANDAG came during a January meeting when the board elected its chair and vice chair. Del Mar City Councilmember Terry Gaasterland joined a group of smaller-city board members who walked out of the meeting in protest over the weighted vote.

During a meeting later in January, Gaasterland asked the city attorney to evaluate questions she had on AB 805, including whether the weighted vote was meant to override a simple majority vote and whether there were any Brown Act implications. The Brown Act is a California law that outlines transparency requirements that government bodies have to follow. One of its provisions prohibits a majority of members of a government body, such as a city council, to meet and discuss public business without properly notifying the public.

But a memo from Del Mar City Attorney Leslie Devaney said that “the weighted vote structure is without limitation as to whether the action subject to the tally vote passed or failed.” The memo also rejected the notion that a small group of SANDAG board members are in violation of the Brown Act if their weighted vote total adds up to more than 50%. The law is “based on individual members rather than voting weight,” the city attorney wrote.

Del Mar was also part of a letter from 10 cities asking the rest of the board to discontinue the weighted voting structure. Del Mar Councilmember Dwight Worden said during the January council meeting that he supported the voting structure before AB 805, but didn’t see a realistic path to changing the current protocol.

“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.”