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The proposed road-usage fee is part of SANDAG’s proposed $160 billion transportation plan. Courtesy photo
The proposed road-usage fee is part of SANDAG’s proposed $160 billion transportation plan. Courtesy photo
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Escondido City Council opposes SANDAG road-user fee

ESCONDIDO — The Escondido City Council passed a resolution voicing its opposition to a proposed SANDAG road-user fee that will purportedly fund highway improvements, maintenance and upkeep and provide free transit during its Nov. 3 meeting.

The council also appointed two council members to the Clean Energy Alliance board.

The council voted 3-2 in favor of a resolution that rejects the proposed road usage fee. The initiative is part of SANDAG’s proposed $160 billion transportation plan, which could include no-cost public transit and a 200-mile, $43 billion regional rail network.

Councilmembers Mike Morasco, Tina Inscoe and Joe Garcia voted in favor of the resolution, while Mayor Paul McNamara and Councilwoman Consuelo Martinez opposed it.

“Escondido residents, businesses, students and visitors pay sales taxes and other state and local taxes when purchasing fuel for their vehicles. These taxes are intended to defray the expenses to keep our local roadways in a good state of repair … (they) should not be unfairly burdened by additional taxes to use Escondido’s local roads,” the resolution reads in part.

Martinez and McNamara both said that the resolution is premature, with Martinez adding that it doesn’t offer any alternatives or data.

“Taxes need to be voted on by the voters, and user fees are not a new concept,” Martinez said. “The language being used here, I don’t find it to be accurate language, I feel it’s emotionally charged and a resolution to kind of rile people up and I’m all about solutions.”

“I understand that you’re trying to protect the citizens … but we don’t really know what the plan is. … There’s nine years of work that still needs to be done,” McNamara said. “We’re also trying to protect the future of our children and their children, and to do that you’ve got to reduce greenhouse gases and you’ve got to give them alternate means of transportation.”

Morasco called the user fee unfair and an overreach by SANDAG.

“We have paid for these roads with blood, sweat and tears,” Morasco said. “This is not fair representation for our citizens because they have no say of how these funds are going to be expended… whether you want to call it a user fee or a tax, it still means the same thing to the bottom line of the families, their wallets and their bank accounts.”

Inscoe said that this user fee would only add to an already high cost of living.

“There’s already a high cost of living … cost of housing makes it impossible for people to move closer to their jobs in this environment, and many drive 60, 70, maybe even more miles a day to their places of work. Those that would be impacted are the ones who can sustain the cost the least,” Inscoe said.

The council heard several public comments both for and against the resolution, including one from Laura Hunter from the Sierra Club North County.

“This is a very complex and important issue … the bottom line is if you want an economy, you have got to have a transportation system, and it needs to be built, it needs to be operated and it needs to be maintained,” Hunter said. “We have got to electrify and clean up our transportation system. … When you have a user fee, you can also tailor it where maybe low-income people may not pay as much.”

Hunter added that the user fee would create more equity because, currently, those who own electric vehicles don’t pay a gas tax that funds highway and road improvements.

SANDAG’s final 2021 Regional Plan and Environmental Impact Report are scheduled to be released on Nov. 30. Following its release, the SANDAG board is scheduled to vote on the plan adoption at its meeting on Dec. 10.

Also at the Nov. 3 meeting, Inscoe was appointed to the board of directors of the Clean Energy Alliance to represent the city. Morasco was appointed as an alternate director.