OCEANSIDE — After adopting a resolution favored by a 4-1 majority of the Oceanside City Council during its March 24 meeting, city staff is preparing to send a letter to regional transportation and infrastructure agencies voicing the city’s opposition to any proposed tax increases coming down the pipeline.
Specifically, the letter will be addressed to the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and North County Transit District (NCTD).
“San Diegans already pay some of the highest tax rates in the country, including the highest sales tax, the highest gas tax, the highest income tax and some of the highest property taxes,” Councilman Christopher Rodriguez said, reading from a resolution he drafted along with Councilwoman Kori Jensen.
According to Rodriguez, who also serves as the city’s representative on the SANDAG board, the regional agency is considering sales tax hikes to fund its “5 Big Moves” plan, which would dramatically change San Diego County’s transportation systems.
The adopted resolution states the Oceanside City Council will refrain from voting to increase city taxes this year, instead relying on cost-efficiency reforms to balance its budget. The resolution also asks staff to communicate the council’s opposition to state tax increases to both the governor and state legislature.
The 5 Big Moves plan was designed to respond to the county’s need to meet state and federal greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements, bring high-speed rail, work shuttles, a large transportation hub and other changes to the region.
According to Ray Major, SANDAG’s chief economist, SANDAG needs to get about one-tenth of commuters off the roads to help alleviate traffic congestion. In 2019, during a presentation on the 5 Big Moves plan to Oceanside City Council, SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata explained that SANDAG is not allowed to relieve congestion by adding lanes to highways due to legal restrictions.
The plan will cost an estimated $177 billion over 30 years and will require new sources of revenue. According to Voice of San Diego, Ikhrata is seeking a sales tax increase on the 2022 ballot.
“It is appalling to me the gross lack of usage of our existing tax revenues from the feds, state and TransNet, which primarily funds SANDAG operations,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez notes that small businesses and families of Oceanside are still struggling financially due to COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, reasoning that increased taxes would only further harm their economic recovery.
Mayor Esther Sanchez was the only council member opposed to the resolution.
“Council has never taken a position regarding whether to support or not support a tax,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said the resolution and its letter will have no legal effect and doesn’t really make sense considering that there isn’t an officially proposed tax increase this year or next.
Councilmember Peter Weiss, who supported the resolution, said he previously spoke with county supervisors about his concerns regarding the SANDAG plan.
“My concern was that SANDAG has failed the voters of San Diego County in that voters approved a TransNet extension which includes very specific roadway projects that would have benefitted North County, but SANDAG is no longer pursuing those projects,” Weiss said.
Weiss is referring to when SANDAG knowingly misled voters in 2004 about how much money the agency expected to raise from a new sales tax. By 2017, the tax generated about $5 billion less than the $14 billion it promised voters the half-cent sales tax would raise.
The agency knew in 2003, a year before voters approved the increase, that the plan wouldn’t generate enough money. Still, voters ended up paying additional taxes for 13 years based on false projections that were on the ballot.
“With that violation of trust they don’t deserve a second or third chance,” Weiss said.
Deputy Mayor Ryan Keim had similar concerns as Weiss.
“I would not be comfortable going back to the voters for a tax, especially if we didn’t follow through with our commitments from the first one,” Keim said. “I think it’s an important message to send that you can’t mismanage projects or taxes and then just say ‘oops, let’s raise taxes again.’”