By Julie Thunder
On Friday September 27, SANDAG passed a $594 million dollar plan, funding both rapid transit plans and freeway improvements for the 78, 52, 67, and 94/125. SANDAG had been under great public pressure during recent months for threatening to defund the road improvements, which were promised in the TransNet tax 15 years ago, as well as for planning a “congestion pricing” drivers’ tax.
The bipartisan vote approving the balanced plan was supported by County Supervisors Desmond and Gaspar, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and Chair of SANDAG Mayor Steve Vaus, as well as many representatives from North County and East County.
Opponents of stripping highway improvements from the budget in favor of a “rapid transit only” plan included representatives from San Diego City Council, Chula Vista, Encinitas, Del Mar, and Carlsbad— all members of a partisan voting block. Despite the public outcry, this voting block was confident in jamming the unbalanced plan through because of AB 805, a bill that recently changed the weighted voting system at SANDAG, making it easier for the cities of San Diego and Chula Vista to outvote the rest of the County with minimal support from smaller cities.
Encinitas and Carlsbad representatives not only supported AB 805, effectively ceding their power to the large urban cities of San Diego and Chula Vista, but have block voted with them along party lines ever since, despite the wishes of their community on issues such as SANDAG’s mandatory affordable housing quotas and transportation issues.
According to SANDAG statistics, 97% of all San Diegans utilize their cars, while only 3% use public transportation. Hasan Ikhrata, Executive Director of SANDAG, believes that 100% of the funds should be directed towards public transportation and TransNet funds promised for roads should be reallocated to public transportation. Ikhrata was previously Director of Public Transit in Moscow and more recently served as Executive Director of the Los Angeles Association of Governments, where he advocated for electronically tracking drivers and taxing them for driving on congested roads during peak hours.
Catherine Blakespear, Mayor of Encinitas and Vice Chair of SANDAG has been highly supportive of Ikhrata and voted for the rapid transit only plan. She is consistent in her thinking that traffic failure and citizen discomfort will cause many to give up on their cars and instead opt for the train, the city bus, or ride their bike. However, studies show that a minimal number of people abandon their cars no matter how much money is spent on public transportation, especially in the suburbs and rural areas. In fact, ridership of some forms of public transit is at its lowest point in years.
Following the passage of the balanced plan, the Mayor of Coronado, Richard Bailey, said that empty trains and busses do not help improve greenhouse gasses. Mayor Faulconer indicated that Friday’s vote was important to help elected officials keep the voters’ trust by funding road improvements taxpayers have already paid for, especially because voters will likely soon be asked to approve yet another sales tax for San Diego transportation infrastructure.
Another sales tax may be needed to fully fund all the improvements because poor planning and investment shortfalls have left SANDAG with insufficient funds to meet regional needs.