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As SANDAG Begins Transit Webinars, Area Business Leaders Raise Concerns

REGION — On June 27, the San Diego Association of Governments launched its summer webinar series, which by the end of the season, will explain each of the “5 Big Moves” in its newly launched mass transit plan from a variety of viewpoints.

The webinar included discussion about topics ranging from “seamless mobility,” “unconstrained autonomy,” and “smart roads” in laying out what “Complete Corridors” — one of the “5 Big Moves” — could ultimately look like in San Diego County. Presenters included SANDAG’s Coleen Clementson and Alex Estrella, Ben Sumers of McKinsey & Company and Jonathon Hart of CDM Smith.

“It is these five moves together that provide the strategy for a bold new vision for the San Diego region’s transportation system,” said Coleen Clementson, special projects director for SANDAG, in introducing the webinar presentations. “We all know we can’t build our way out of congestion, although population growth is continuing and congestion continues to build on our local highway system. However, we can explore ways to improve our roadways, providing compelling transportation alternatives to driving.”

Sumers further laid out the concept of “seamless mobility,” or “a future in which the boundaries between private shared and public transit are blurred.”

“It’s placed where people have clean, cheap and flexible ways to get from point A to B,” said Sumers. He also pointed out that in a city the size of London, McKinsey research has shown a single minute of traffic congestion every day for a year can cost the economy $1.4 billion in GDP.

But as the webinar series got off the ground, leaders of all of the North County chambers of commerce situated along State Highway 78 published their own letter just a day earlier to SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata raising questions about how or if the region will be served by the moves. Echoing some of the concerns raised by conservative representatives in the region, such as San Diego County Supervisors Kristin Gaspar and Jim Desmond, as well as San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones, the chambers teamed up with the North County Economic Development Council in pointing to what they wrote are previous promises thus far unkept by SANDAG.

“(W)e are writing to express our strong opposition to any changes to the funding commitments laid out in the 2004 Transnet renewal ordinance,” wrote the organizations. “We believe such changes would hurt North County’s competitiveness, would break faith with voters who supported the 2004 measure and are extremely premature given SANDAG’s analysis of future Transnet revenues.”

The business community leaders pointed to the priority project list created by SANDAG for TransNet, the fund for road and infrastructure projects under the banner of Proposition A — passed by San Diego County voters in 2004 to fund TransNet via a half-cent sales tax through 2048 — as something which should be completed before shifting funds toward “5 Big Moves” projects.

“A feature of nearly every successful self-help sales tax measure passed in California, the project list provided voters assurances that if they supported the measure investments and improvements would be made in their communities,” they wrote. “Voters view project lists a promise and a commitment that all areas of the county will benefit from the tax.”

Two of the projects on that the TransNet list were State Highway 56 and 78, two of the three main east-to-west highways in North County. Public officials representing communities situated along both the 56 and 78 corridors have called for those highways to receive an upgrade and expansion. The business community letter continues that call, honing in on the 78.

The business leaders also wrote that, if those items on the list are left unfinished, it will mean voters will be less likely to trust SANDAG if it comes to voters for a new ballot referendum in the future to fund the “5 Big Moves.”

“To us, it seems highly unlikely that you and others could convince voters in North County that a future project list would be worth more than the paper printed on since SANDAG will have convincingly demonstrated a proclivity to treat projects lists as only suggestions,” they continued. “Nor will passage be likely if staff continues to not listen to North County elected officials who are articulating the passionate views of their constituents.”

The united letter amounts to another hurdle SANDAG will have to clear in selling its new proposal to the public in the months ahead. The organization says it will have a more clear outline of what its plan, still in formation phase, will look like by the fall.

The next SANDAG webinar will take place at noon July 10, focusing on the “Transit Leap” move. Speakers will include Katie Chalmers, the service planning supervisor for King County Metro in Washington and Ben Porritt, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Virgin Trains.

Photo Caption: Screen capture of 5 Big Moves Webinar Series on the  official website for SANDAG’s SDForward campaign.