The SANDAG logo on a screen at the regional planning agency’s headquarters. Photo by Chris Jennewein

San Diego County’s unincorporated-area residents represent what would be the region’s second most populous city — behind only the city of San Diego. Unfortunately, their representation on the San Diego Association of Governments board of directors does not reflect this.

Although each of the region’s incorporated cities has both a voice and a vote during SANDAG board meetings, 513,170 unincorporated area residents lack this same level of representation. City residents also benefit when the views and actions of the county’s voting board representative reflect urban interests rather than those of our rural county residents.

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To provide some perspective, six of the region’s cities are represented on the SANDAG board by voting members while each has a population of less than 50,000 residents — less than one tenth the unincorporated area’s population!

During their upcoming board retreat, SANDAG Board members are expected to discuss the continued use of weighted votes. Although this is an important governance issue, it is critical for the board to also ensure that the interests of San Diego’s unincorporated-area residents are appropriately and routinely considered.

Over the years, SANDAG has added advisory members from other regional agencies and jurisdictions to their board, providing those with additional views and voices a “seat at the table.” These members include important partners within San Diego County and also include representatives of Imperial County and the nation of Mexico as formal advisory members on the SANDAG board.

Although this inclusion may provide valuable information and insight, there remains an important void in SANDAG’s board representation — the more than half-a-million citizens who live in San Diego County and pay the millions of dollars in taxes that fund SANDAG programs and projects.

There are 28 community planning and sponsor groups in San Diego County, comprised of elected and appointed members who provide insight and conduct community-backed votes on the issues that directly impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens. Unfortunately, they have no guarantee that their views will even be considered, let alone acted upon, by SANDAG.  

Fortunately, SANDAG leadership has stressed its intent to be inclusive for all San Diegans and backed up its interest in social equity by adopting a Commitment to Equity statement to serve as a foundation for the organization’s Equity Action Plan. SANDAG staff recently stated to the board their goal to ensure that those who have been traditionally unrepresented should have a seat at the table.

These actions provide hope that this organization will allow all county residents — even those living outside of the “city walls” — to meaningfully participate in SANDAG’s decision-making process.

Adding an advisory member to the SANDAG board to represent the region’s unincorporated communities — someone well-versed in the unique challenges and needs of our county’s vast rural territory — would be a positive first step towards guaranteeing that all San Diegans have a voice and a vote when it comes to SANDAG decisions. We look forward to SANDAG’s prompt consideration and action to accomplish this goal.

If you agree with adding an unincorporated-area advisory member to the SANDAG Board of Directors, please sign this online petition.

Joel Anderson is a member of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Robin Joy Maxson is a member of the Ramona Community Planning Group. Billie Jo Jannen is chair of the Campo Lake Morena Community Planning Group.