At their April 6 meeting the Escondido City Council expressed skepticism about a possible SANDAG ½ cent tax increase proposal that has lots of goodies for the city of San Diego, such as increased mass transit and even a boutique gondola ride between Balboa park and the downtown area, but not much for infrastructure needs in North County. It would, however, make the widening of Hwy 78 and improvements to that highway’s intersections with I-15 and I-5 a “high priority” project.
SANDAG stands for San Diego Assn. of Governments. It is a regional body that makes regional decisions for its 18 member cities and the County of San Diego.
Earlier this year SANDAG unveiled two proposals for dividing up the $18 billion that it hopes to raise from the potential tax increase. One plan would devote more resources towards helping cities solve infrastructure deficits. The other would be more geared towards highways and major transit upgrades, but with little for local infrastructure.
Now SANDAG is considering a “draft hybrid” plan that includes elements from both proposals.
At the April 6 meeting Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, who represents the city on the SANDAG board, noted that the proposed new tax would be added to ours sales tax and would be considered part of Transnet funding.
If the ½ cent measure goes on the November ballot and if the voters approve it, the city would receive about $3.3 million annually in funds to improve and maintain its transportation system.
Abed told the council, “I believe the final format of this is out of balance. We have fourteen percent only [in both proposals] for freeways, and fifty six percent goes to open space. Freeways get only fourteen percent, which is $2.5 billion, while public transportation gets almost $11 billion. Most of that is in San Diego. Basically we are subsidizing big time public transportation in San Diego.”
The mayor said he feared that the 14% devoted to freeways wouldn’t last nearly enough before the funds run out. “It’s not going to last long enough,” he said. “We have barely enough. I think we are going to run out of money again and SANDAG is going to come before us again.
Councilmember Ed Gallo, who also serves on the North County Transit District board, made the point that in previous incarnations of Transnet funding promises were made that ultimately didn’t happen, even though the tax was voted in.
“The idea on the first Transnet was to widen Hwy 76,” said Gallo. “Thirty years later and they are still not done with finishing Hwy 76. The money that was supposed to go to North County went down to San Diego. Hwy 78 has the worst congestion. We are supposed to get a third of everything because a third of the population is in North County.” He suggested that Abed seek the assistance of Fifth District Supervisor Bill Horn, who also serves on the SANDAG board.
“Horn is one of the biggest proponents on your side,” he said. “This is a huge amount of money and these taxes are not going to go away,” said Gallo.
Councilmember John Masson declared, “We are in this predicament because the bureaucrats in Sacramento mismanaged our affairs. People are sitting in their cars on freeways. This increases greenhouse gases, which supposedly we are supposed to be fighting.”
Masson added, “My big concern is we are not spending enough on moving cars. I think there is a group of people who believe that if you make it hard to drive, that people will be forced into mass transit.”
Masson noted that the SANDAG staff and board were recently surprised and shocked by a poll showing that the public supported reducing traffic congestion and fixing potholes over mass transit.
He said that 12 percent is for operations. “I’ve got a lot of concerns about this,” said Masson. “I’m generally not a guy who wants to raise taxes. Right now it’s not at the point where I would be willing to support it.”
Councilmember Olga Diaz joined in the consensus. “I would agree that it’s not a good deal for North County. Are we getting at least our share of the taxes back?”
Diaz suggested that the region should be broken into quadrants and let each quadrant decide how to spend its own money. “Right now North County is subsidizing San Diego city,” she said. “Does mass transit work for every community? San Diego has different densities than we do in North County. We’re like twenty or thirty years different than them. Our population is not as dense. Can we support something like this? I’m not so sure.”
Abed noted that the SANDAG perspective looks at the entire system of the region, from a regional perspective.
“I’m not going to go against the will of the public to pass this measure. I believe Hwy 78 is the number on issue to fix,” said Abed, who promised to take the council’s concerns to the SANDAG board.
Diaz added, “I still don’t see our residents subsidizing San Diego. We don’t even use that mass transit system. I don’t think I would support it without spending a proportionate amount on North County.
Councilmember Mike Morasco reiterated the sentiments of the other members, and poked fun at the “gondola” that would be built under the current plan.
“We keep trying to force mass transit systems on people. The only way they are successful anywhere is where they are being subsidized. The only way the systems are used anywhere is because so many are subsidized.”
Morasco declared, “I believe the taxes we have paid have been grossly misused. I could never support the amount going to toward mass transit and open space.
The system that is functional for us in North County is not going to be taken care of by enhancing mass transit. My advice is not even to come close to supporting this because it isn’t functional. Our taxes are already outrageous. We aren’t even waiting until the applicable taxes run their course we are going to keep adding them. We are getting close to having a ten percent tax on anything we buy.”