By Jim Miller
Last week I ceded my column space to Jana Clark, a board member of both the Cleveland National Forest Foundation and Save Our Forest and Ranchlands who explained why environmentally-minded San Diegans should vote no on Measures A and B for a sustainable future for our region.
This followed a piece I co-authored with Nicole Capretz of the Climate Action Campaign and Nick Segura of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569 explaining why progressives from labor, community, and environmental groups should say No Way to Measure A.
This week, I am pleased to share my usual spot with David Harris from SD 350 and Ruben Arizmendi, Chair of the San Diego Sierra Club, who will explain how Measure A is a manifestation of a “planning as usual” mindset that gave our region a transportation plan that “flagrantly disregards the State’s GHG [greenhouse gas] reduction mandates.”
Flawed Transportation Plan Underlies Measure A
By David Harris, SD 350 and Ruben Arizmendi, Chair, Sierra Club San Diego
Why are most labor unions, numerous environmental groups, and several local elected officials opposing the proposed ballot measure that would utilize a half-cent sales tax increase to improve roadways and public transit? Aren’t we all tired of driving on deteriorated roads and congested freeways?
Yes, of course, but looking beyond the potholes and into the future, we need to ask what should our transportation system look like 20 or 40 years from now?
Measure A on the November ballot follows the “planning as usual” approach. It gives allocations of funding to every city but fails to address our long-term transportation problems. This measure does not substantially decrease greenhouse gas emissions that are already endangering our quality of life; nor does it create a more efficient system to meet the mobility needs of a growing population.
Measure A would lock in the half-cent sales tax for the next 40 years. Although sizeable funding is eventually slated for public transit and alternative modes of transportation, costly freeway expansion projects still tops the list of priorities. Based on a number of traffic studies, transportation experts have demonstrated that widening highways increases rather than decreases traffic congestion. Adding lanes induces additional travel demand, bringing traffic congestion back to its original level.
Investing now in a more efficient, less polluting transportation system will put San Diego on the road to becoming a sustainable city and county. We cannot afford to delay the planning and implementation of an environmentally sustainable transportation system, as billions in taxpayer dollars could be wasted on asphalt and concrete.
What many citizens may not know is that Measure A spending priorities are based on the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), which was adopted last year by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). The RTP allocates $214 billion toward various transportation-related projects including freeway expansion, public transit and bike paths. The RTP will influence growth over the next 35 years, as new housing tracts, business parks, transit hubs, and public facilities are built along the arteries of transit.
Since the transportation sector accounts for 44.5% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the RTP will shape San Diego County’s carbon footprint in the 21st century and beyond. The RTP fails to take into account one overarching consideration: greenhouse gases must be drastically reduced in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
This plan flagrantly disregards the State’s GHG reduction mandates, which were developed over the past ten years through bipartisan collaboration. These mandates currently require a 40% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 and an 80% reduction by 2050 (with respect to 1990 levels). The mandates have been enacted in either gubernatorial Executive Orders or State legislation (AB 32 and SB 32). Not only does the RTP fail to achieve these goals – it fails to make any meaningful reduction in GHG emissions whatsoever.
The City of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), has been applauded as an outstanding model for cities throughout the country, and significant reduction of GHG emissions from transportation – specifically by reducing miles driven – is a major component. Unfortunately, the projects defined in the RTP will preclude the City of San Diego, as well as many other local cities, from achieving its target for decreasing vehicle trips and the associated GHG emission reduction goal.
SANDAG has the discretion to shift funds away from freeway expansion and to projects that will improve public transit and active transportation- but past performance tells us it won’t. The decision makers at SANDAG have a responsibility to take the climate crisis into consideration, reduce GHGs to the State-mandated levels, and foster sustainable growth.
This requires expanding our public transit system and especially building out the light rail trolley system, starting with the mid-coast blue-line extension. Other beneficial actions include making zoning more transit-oriented, supporting active transportation, and improving the way we pay for the use of roads and parking. These actions will make it much more convenient for people to get around without their cars.
Marshall Saunders, founder of the Citizens Climate Lobby, recently spoke at the Climate Summit in Solana Beach. He recalled the moment at which he decided to get involved in climate action: “I used to think that the important people were taking care of the important problems… I don’t think that anymore. It’s up to each one of us to preserve this climate, this civilization, this planet.”
Just as each of us is responsible for contributing to global warming through our daily activities, so too can we act responsibly to reduce our impact and become part of the solution. And, we can also exercise our citizen power by voting in the upcoming election.
Your “no” vote on Measure A will send a direct message to elected officials that San Diegans won’t approve a tax hike unless we are offered a smarter plan, one that recognizes the reality of climate change and invests in “greener” transportation future for all San Diegans.