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SANDAG road funding isn’t an “either or proposition” says Mayor


Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara, who sits on the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) board, would like to see a more compromise, more give and take, on discussions of how to spend TransNet funding. See related story, this page.

“It is a fallacy of argumentation — either this or that with no third option,”  the mayor said in an interview on Tuesday. He finds fault in arguments by both those who want to put all of SANDAG’s eggs in the expansion of mass transit, and those who want all the money put to funding improvements to four major highways that SANDAG considers “peripheral,” because they serve North County rather than San Diego County’s core.

“Those people have less faith in SANDAG than I do,” said McNamara, “but like self-driving cars, it’s a long way between proof of concept and a mature system serving public transportation. I like some of the concepts of Elon Musk too, but I’m not getting in a que to go the Moon just yet!”

McNamara sympathizes with the views of Supervisor Kristin Gaspar (who represents Escondido) and Supervisor Jim Desmond. “There is a point to that; where you say there has been a bait and switch. You could also make the case that we need some monies to get started on public transportation. The staff needs two years to do the analysis of what they are going to build. It’s not like we have a plan to review at this point,” says McNamara.

“Let’s say, I need some money. Do we need every single road project we’ve got on the docket form the TransNet money, or can we redirect some of those monies elsewhere? Are some ‘absolute musts’ or are some ‘nice to have.’ I don’t think that discussion has been had. I feel like people are drawing lines in the sand. SANDAG is the 600 pound gorilla, and taking all the money and it’s something that brings people to downtown San Diego. There is this concern that we are getting screwed in this deal. I feel there can be some middle ground here but people haven’t thought it through.”

The proposed transit system “is going to be incredibly expensive, no matter what. It’s going to be up to the elected community and whether they have the will to fund it.” He points out that last November Proposition 6, which would have repealed a recent gas tax, failed statewide—but passed in San Diego County. “So that didn’t pass, but they are going to spend more money on transportation?” he asks.

He refers to discussions about the Del Mar bluffs that are collapsing at a faster rate than anyone predicted. Amtrak runs along those bluffs next to the Pacific Ocean. “It’s expensive to bolster so the trains can continue to run there. North of the bluffs you can turn a couple of miles inland and parallel Interstate 5. The cheapest estimate to do that is $1 billion a mile.” But the question is, who is going to use public transportation? 

“Escondido has the highest ridership of the Breeze. If the Coast Cities are becoming upper middle class, then why are we spending more money on mass transit for them if they aren’t going to ride it? Shouldn’t we instead extend the Trolley to Escondido?  That analysis has not been done,” he says. “You can go to SANDAG’s war room and you see this is where a lot of people live and a lot of people work, but you don’t know if this cluster travels to that cluster.”

TransNet has a lot of money subsidizing public transport, which is utilized by 4%. “What if I want to go to the airport from the Escondido Transit station? It would take all day,” he says. “If you go other mature regions that have transit systems, the cities were built along them and expanded as the city grew. That didn’t happen in San Diego. It’s not like the planning commissions of the various cites said, ‘Where is the transit system?’ Everyone agrees we should have one, the problem is deciding where. I don’t think the money is there.”

McNamara sees North County’s leadership complaining that, “Yes, we are going to do a transit system our and our systems will get worse, and San Diego will get the Violet Line. That’s a legitimate concern, especially if air quality is degrading because you are leaving cars in traffic.”

He feels there are things that could definitely be done to improve traffic along Hwy 78. “Like an HOV connector and getting rid of that light at the other end of the 78. That’s why I say it’s not all or nothing.” 

McNamara wants to get away from the “all or nothing approach. I don’t think you are going to move forward if you don’t go that way.”

The political facts of life are that “if Chula Vista and San Diego votes a certain way, it doesn’t matter what the rest of us think. Right now San Diego and Chula Vista’s goals overlap. It’s in their interest to vote the same way. There is a little bit of ‘What are we, chopped liver?” and our needs don’t count,” says McNamara.

It reminds him of reading about how during the debates at the U.S. Constitutional convention that the small states and the large states had to find a way to compromise. The result was the Senate, representing each state, and the House, representing the population. 

“When I hear the discussions at SANDAG it reminds me of that. Yet if ever there was something that I think requires a ‘keep calm and carry on’ approach, it’s this one. You don’t want to make it partisan. You don’t want to make it winners and losers. You really want to keep everything in check and figure out what the common good and find a measured way to move forward.”

At the end of the day, he says, “Clearly we need a public transportation system. The numbers say we will be going from 3.4 million to four million in the next twenty years.” 

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