SANDAG Approves $500,000 for Federal Investigation Response

SANDAG approves $500,000 to respond to a federal investigation, which may be related to its failed administration of the toll collection system on state Route 125. The agency has already spent $150,000 on outside attorneys and expects to need an additional $350,000.

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SANDAG Approves $500,000 for Federal Investigation Response

SANDAG Approves $500,000 for Federal Investigation Response

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has approved a $500,000 expenditure to respond to federal investigators. The investigation, launched by the U.S. Department of Justice, remains unclear in its scope and focus, but it may be related to SANDAG's failed administration of the toll collection system on state Route 125.

Why this matters: This investigation has far-reaching implications for the integrity of regional planning agencies and their ability to manage public funds effectively. The outcome of this investigation could set a precedent for accountability and transparency in government agencies, potentially leading to reforms and improved practices across the country.

SANDAG has already spent at least $150,000 on outside attorneys to represent it before federal investigators and expects to need an additional $350,000. The funding request was approved unanimously by the executive board, and the money will come from reserves from the agency's Overall Work Program.

The toll collection system on state Route 125 has been plagued by problems, including inaccuracies in the contractor's data, which were disclosed publicly in November. SANDAG has come under fire for its failed administration of the system, which has cost the agency millions of dollars in lost revenue and wrongly charged thousands of drivers.

During the board meeting, San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones, an executive committee member, questioned whether SANDAG could be reimbursed for the investigation costs if it is mostly focused on the state Route 125 issues. "If the DOJ inquiry is deemed to be mostly on the state Route 125, is it possible that we get reimbursed?" Jones asked. "I don't think we should be spending taxpayer dollars on contractors who have failed us."

However, SANDAG deputy general counsel Amberlynn Deaton noted, "But we don't know the scope of the DOJ investigation or whether it involves those contractors." The agency has resolved the account discrepancies and hired a new vendor to run the collection system, which will cost about $30 million over the next several years.

SANDAG is a regional planning agency with a $1.3 billion budget. A series of reports by the SANDAG Office of the Independent Performance Auditor found that the agency has a long history of failing to properly monitor contractors or even the oversight contractors hired to monitor outside vendors.

The federal investigation was first reported in late March. The agency's Overall Work Program budget is expected to decline from about $99 million to just over $80 million in the proposed budget that begins July 1, with the reserve fund expected to exceed 10% of the work program funding. Mario Orsoto, a longtime California Department of Transportation official, has been named as the new CEO of SANDAG, effective later this year.