A countywide ½ cent sales tax that appears to be headed to the voters in November doesn’t have much to appeal to North County leaders, several of whom voted against it when it came before the San Diego Association of Governments board last week.
However, 13 of the 21 voting on the board supported it, which adds up to 61% of the board’s population-based weighted vote. The measure would require two-thirds of the county’s voters to vote yes to approve it.
SANDAG is a regional body that makes regional decisions for its 18 member cities and the County of San Diego.
In addition to arousing opposition in North County the ballot proposal has also sparked the ire both of conservative AND liberal groups, especially environmentalists, who oppose it for different reasons.
At a gathering of the San Diego County Republicans on Monday Fifth District Supervisor Bill Horn and Escondido Mayor Sam Abed noted that both of them had voted against the measure when it came before the SANDAG board.
Horn said that “originally I was not supposed to be there but was invited at the last second because one the SANDAG members was unable to attend” he also said he was honored to stand up for the citizens of San Diego County on this the tax increase by voting NO!”
Mayor Abed told the crowded room that he had been a member of SANDAG for the past nine years and was honored to be part of this group of county officials “despite the way the vote turned out.”
Abed and Horn weren’t alone in voting against a measure that many in North County see as overwhelmingly benefitting San Diego and especially San Diego’s mass transit needs without adequately addressing North County’s growing gridlock at locations such as Hwy 78 at Cal State University San Marcos and where the highway intersects I-5.
Joining Abed and Horn in voting no on the measure were San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, La Mesa’s representative, and El Cajon and Poway’s mayors Bill Wells and Steve Vaus. All serve on the SANDAG board.
The ½ cent tax would raise an estimated $18 billion over the next 40 years. This would pay for road improvements, additional trolley lines and open space projects.
Of that amount about 24% will be given to municipalities and San Diego County to spend for transit, road improvements, beach sand restoration and open space.
This portion was allocated after hard bargaining by city officials who wanted to be able to show their communities that each city would get something from the tax. If the ½ cent measure goes on the November ballot and if the voters approve it, the city of Escondido would receive about $3.3 million annually in funds to improve and maintain its transportation system.
However, 69% will be allocated to SANDAG to fund more than $200 billion in regional transit projects.
Proponents of the tax argue that it will attract state and federal matching funds. They say this would leverage San Diego’s funding and make both transit and road improvements possible.
Opponents, such as Mayor Faulconer, say that working families can’t afford another tax tacked on top of what they are already paying.
However, North County opponents also say they don’t want to pay for more improvements to mass transit in San Diego at the expense of road and highway improvements along Hwy 78 and elsewhere.
Environmental and labor groups say not enough money is allocated for mass transit that will reduce greenhouse gases and improve commuting times. One such group, Quality of Life Coalition, promises to try to defeat the ballot measure.
County GOP leaders meeting on Monday night oppose the tax for a different reason: that it spends too much on mass transit when most residents like to drive to work. The GOP also generally opposes most tax increase.
The draft wording on the ballot measure will be given to the SANDAG board at its May 13 meeting and the board will finalize the wording on May 27. The final vote will be made on June 24. At that point the measure will be presented to the Board of Supervisors to formally put it on the November 8 ballot.
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.
At that time the council unanimously advised Abed to vote against the measure, which he did last week.
Abed commented in April, “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.