By Doug Porter
The board of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the county’s regional planning agency, is putting together a proposal for a one-half cent sales tax increase for voter consideration in November 2016. The proposed name for this package is “Keep San Diego Moving Forward,” but it’s also been referred to as the quality of life measure.
Two things need to happen for this sort of scheme to reach the two-thirds voter approval threshold; large numbers of endorsements from governments and groups in the region, and a wish list of projects to draw in voters who would then feel they’re getting some benefit from the additional taxes.
Since SANDAG essentially failed (they agreed to look at it again in the future) to modify its long-term regional planning away from prioritizing auto-centric projects, the subject of more immediate funding for transit and alternative transportation will likely play a significant role in selling this idea.
An Opportunity to Change Priorities
SANDAG’s last idea for a Regional Transportation Plan went down in flames after the courts agreed the agency had not fully complied with state mandates in preparing its environmental impact report. There is an appeal headed to the State Supreme Court. Odds of a reversal: snowball, meet hell.
In advance of an early October vote revising the Regional Plan, Circulate San Diego and the Climate Action Campaign released a report pointing to a significant shortfall to fund and prioritize sufficient public transit and active transportation.
From the sdnews.com:
Climate Action Campaign and Circulate SD revealed the significance of the report’s findings and were joined by American Lung Association, the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, SanDiego350, IBEW 569, and the California Nurses Association in calling on the city to vote ‘no’ on SANDAG’s Regional Plan and rewrite it with a heavier emphasis on transit.
“Pollution from cars and trucks is the largest driver of climate change in San Diego and impacts the region’s quality of life, health, as well as our ability to compete in a 21st century economy,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of Climate Action Campaign. “It’s imperative that the City of San Diego and SANDAG work together to allocate enough resources to offer real transportation options.
“The city is doing what’s necessary by proposing visionary, enforceable goals in its Climate Action Plan, but SANDAG isn’t pulling its weight. That’s a problem because SANDAG controls the purse strings,” she added.
The board of SANDAG voted 19-0 to approve the updated plan, spinning the decision to make it appear as though it would spend 75% of its funding on public transit, bicycling and walking projects in the first five years.
…Nicole Capretz, the leader of Climate Action Campaign, said the first five years of funding for the 2015 plan was actually determined by the 2011 plan, so citing that as an achievement in the current plan doesn’t make sense.
“The next five years for SANDAG is always pretty much fully baked,” she said. “When we adopt a 2015 transportation plan, it’ll be 2019 before it’s updated. So really, what is most important is not the first five years, but the second five years.”
She said the overall plan only devotes 50 percent of its funding to public transit, which is not enough.
The bottom line here is the plan will not comply with state requirements for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the long run.
The November 2016 proposal provides opportunities to address that deficiency. What should be done is to insist on advancing transit and active transportation projects earlier than is contemplated by the recently-adopted Regional Plan.
Opposition Could Be Decisive
A coalition of environmental groups pushing for more funding for non-highway projects should have a big impact on the choices getting made as SANDAG puts together its voter-appeal wish list.
From the Union-Tribune:
Attorney Marco Gonzalez said environmental groups he represents would oppose the new measure if “it has one cent toward road building and funding.”
Any organized opposition would be hard for the measure to overcome based on preliminary polling.
People surveyed last month supported the measure just above the two-thirds rate required when it was first explained to them, but support dipped to about 56 percent when potential counter arguments were mentioned, SANDAG officials said.
Along the “less highways” line of thinking comes an article in CityLab saying the concept of induced demand (new roads encourage more people to drive) has found its way into the thinking at Caltrans, the state agency responsible for transportation planning, construction, and maintenance.
What’s significant about the Caltrans acknowledgement is that induced demand creates something of a mission crisis for transportation agencies that spend most of their money on building new roads. (The same can be said for peak driving.) A 2014 assessment of Caltrans, conducted by the State Smart Transportation Initiative, specifically cited induced demand as a research finding that had yet to filter down “into the department’s thinking and decision making”:
For example, despite a rich literature on induced demand, internal interviewees frequently dismissed the phenomenon.
The thinking at this point, according to David Garrick, writing in the Union-Tribune, is that somewhere between 33% and 40% of the $300 million in annual revenues raised will be pledged to the county’s 18 cities on a per-capita basis for infrastructure projects.
The rest of the monies would go to water, infrastructure and transportation projects throughout San Diego County of SANDAG’s choosing. Surveys of what has voter appeal will play a role in making those choices.
The everyday view of SANDAG is that its Board of Directors, composed of representatives from 18 cities plus the County, is the key to applying political pressure for policy changes.
There’s another view, one I found in a Voice of San Diego article about the politics of SANDAG:
The basic case is that SANDAG staff, and especially its executive director, Gary Gallegos, runs SANDAG, not its board of directors.
“Most of them are part-time city (council members) and mayors,” said Steve Erie, a professor of political science at UCSD. “It’s a staff-driven agency, particularly with Gallegos, who is a master politician.”
“Staff has tremendous influence on decisions,” [ former La Mesa mayor Art] Madrid said. “The decisions are technical and controversial, and small cities don’t have resources or staff to do research. The bigger cities have staff, but they’re often working on city issues. But the rest of us, we rely on our own experience.”
The point is that the directors can’t vote on what they don’t know about. If enough of a stink gets made to threaten passage of this additional funding, they may be forced to pay attention.
Colin Parent penned a thoughtful analysis (though I’m a bit more hard-line than he is) for the Circulate San Diego blog on the prospects for a quality of life ballot measure.
Advocates like Circulate San Diego opposed the 2015 Regional Plan. If the Quality of Life measure merely funds that plan, as-is, then it would not make much sense for transit advocates to support it. As discussed in the prior post, a Quality of Life measure has the ability to advance transit projects. So that means that advocates have a very reasonable case to require Quality of Life to advance transit, and would be wise to say “no” to Quality of Life if transit were not advanced.
Circulate San Diego certainly supports asking the voters to support more transit. However, if the 2016 measure does not provide enough transit funding, it could set back the cause of transit in the region, and substantially lock-in projects and funding priorities for decades to come. If a 2016 measure were insufficient, advocates could look to 2020 for a better measure.
It is an open question as to “how much” transit needs to be advanced, and how fast. There is room for negotiation and compromise on that question, but advancement and prioritization of transit is likely a deal-breaker for transit advocates. Transit advocates are likely to review the totality of the Quality of Life measure to determine if it is sufficient to earn their support.
Three Final Thoughts
There are transportation advocates in San Diego who have long memories about SANDAG; memories that include the failed promise of a special ballot measure on open space acquisition in exchange for support on the transnet authorization in 2004.
They can also point to the lengthy delays in implementation of the CenterLine bus rapid transit project along the Interstate 15 corridor in the Mid-City area. And the Rapid Transit bus line (215) along El Cajon Boulevard that’s not really all that rapid.
Secondly, some folks may remember talk of an infrastructure bond measure for the City of San Diego.
It’s not gonna happen for two reasons:
- Keeping Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s record unblemished as he positions himself to run for higher office. He’s out this morning posing for cameras filling potholes to show his commitment to fixing things up without resorting to asking for more money.
- The inability of various factions within the political landscape of San Diego to come to an agreement on how the money would be spent…what with the stadium, the convention center and the right wing urge to exclude organized labor, they just didn’t have time to build a consensus.
Finally, if I don’t say something about how an increase in the sales tax is regressive, there will be plenty of people writing in to say I missed that fact.
They’re right. The burden of a sales tax is primarily borne by those least able to afford it. Unfortunately the people who can most afford any other flavor of tax increase have a disproportionate say in how things run around town.
It’s either a sales tax or nothing. And nothing means avoiding the question of the new permanent reality facing our planet.
From The Guardian:
The Earth’s climate will enter a new “permanent reality” from next year when concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are likely to pass a historic milestone, the head of the UN’s weather agency has warned.
The record concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere were up 43% since pre-industrial times, said the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), prompting its secretary general Michel Jarraud to say immediate action was needed to cut CO2 emissions.
The WMO’s latest greenhouse gas bulletin comes just three weeks before world leaders including Barack Obama, Xi Jinping and David Cameron meet in Paris in a bid to reach a new deal on cutting emissions.
On This Day: 1815 – American suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born in Johnstown, NY. 1987 – The American Medical Association issued a policy statement that said it was unethical for a doctor to refuse to treat someone solely because that person had AIDS or was HIV-positive. 1996 – “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap announced he was restructuring the Sunbeam Corp. and laying off 6,000 workers—half the workforce. Sunbeam later nearly collapsed after a series of scandals under Dunlap’s leadership that cost investors billions of dollars.
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