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A citizen's half-cent sales tax initiative to help fund SANDAG's future transportation goals did not submit enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, according to the Registrar of Voters. Photo via Facebook/SANDAG
Photo via Facebook/SANDAG
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Half-cent sales tax initiative fails to gather enough signatures

REGION — A half-cent sales tax initiative floated by a coalition of special interests to help fund the San Diego Association of Governments’ “5 Big Moves” failed to gather enough signatures for the November ballot.

According to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, the measure fell short by more than 15,000 signatures. The group Let’s Go! San Diego, consisting of labor unions, environmental groups and construction firms, submitted 141,326 signatures and needed 109,999 valid signatures to get on the ballot. The Registrar of Voters projected just 94,787 based on its random 3% sample.

However, union officials are questioning the Registrar of Voters’ projected count, claiming the county department had missed 22,990 signatures, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The Registrar of Voters said it “carefully conducted the count according to appropriate procedures” and is committed to a fair and secure election process.

“There’s a big discrepancy between what we turned in and what they counted,” Dan Rottenstreich, spokesman for the campaign, told the UT. “The question is, ‘What’s going on here?’ Is there a clerical issue with the registrar, or did our petition gathering firm have some issue on their end?”

Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall, who has been against the plan for myriad reasons, said he was still processing the news but believes the matter is likely not finished as the unions may officially challenge the Registrar’s count.

According to Hall, if the measure fails, it puts SANDAG in a challenging position since the tax appears to be a significant starting point for funding the controversial 5 Big Moves plan.

According to SANDAG’s financing projections, the regional planning agency would collect $21.6 billion from three tax proposals, including $3.4 billion from the half-cent sales tax through 2025.

“They didn’t choose to have their own ballot measure,” Hall said of the SANDAG board. “With an agency that’s supposed to have so much credibility, why weren’t we doing this ourselves? They relied on a third party if you will, and apparently, they didn’t get it across the finish line. I’m not sure where we go from here.”

SANDAG Chairwoman Catherine Blakespear has refused to put the agency’s tax proposal up for a vote after several requests from other board members over the past seven months.

SANDAG’s plan calls for at least $172 billion (using 2020 dollar estimates) to be spent on transit projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build up the region’s transit network. However, with the apparent failure of the special interest measure, the SANDAG board has until mid-August to approve its own tax proposal for voters.

Many of the board’s Democrats refused to discuss or take a vote to put the measure on the November ballot. Any tax proposal from the agency would require two-thirds approval from voters, while the special interest measure only needed a simple majority vote since it was a citizen’s initiative.

Earlier this year, Terry Gaasterland, of Del Mar, urged the board to put its own measure on the ballot to show voters a sign of partisan unity for the massive regional transportation plan. Gaasterland said Let’s Go! San Diego’s ballot proposal was poorly written and hard to understand, raising questions on how exactly the group’s proposal would be executed if enacted.

Despite pleas from Gaasterland and others on the board, Blakespear did not call for a vote, nor has she placed the item on the agenda for discussion.

The citizen’s tax initiative called for the money to be spent on some road repairs but primarily for transit improvements and upgrades. However, the measure did not have a sunset clause, which gave opponents on the SANDAG board concern as it would take a future vote of the people to quash the tax, Gaasterland noted earlier this year.

SANDAG’s plan, independent of the special interest coalition, called for two tax proposals — one this year and another in 2028. Additionally, the plan outlines a third tax measure in 2026 for residents in the city of San Diego.