REGION — Tensions are running high among San Diego Association of Governments board members over a citizen’s half-cent tax proposal to help fund the 2021 Regional Transportation Plan, which led to discussion over whether or not the agency should put forth its own half-cent tax measure.
During its March 25 meeting, the board heard a report about a coalition of environmental groups, labor unions and two out-of-state engineering firms gathering signatures for a citizen’s initiative tax proposal to be placed on the November ballot.
If passed, the proposed tax would be in perpetuity, unlike the 2004 TransNet tax, which is scheduled to expire in 2048.
John Quirk, a SANDAG attorney, said the regional planning agency can only offer an impartial analysis, fair presentation of the facts and potential impacts. Quirk said neither the agency nor the board is permitted to advocate for approval or rejection of the initiative.
Antoinette Meier, director of mobility and innovation at SANDAG, said labor unions, business and environmental groups have until May 11 to collect enough signatures and then 30 days to be verified to qualify for the November general election.
The tax, meanwhile, is one of three proposed by SANDAG for its “5 Big Moves,” a $172 billion (in 2020 dollars) plan focused on transit upgrades and development, Meier said. The controversial plan also calls for mobility hubs with flexible fleets to shuttle people around the region to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce congestion on local freeways.
There are three tax proposals in the plan, including two from SANDAG taking effect in 2022 and 2028, and San Diego Metropolitan Transit System’s measure for the 2024 ballot, Meier said. The three would total a 1.5-cent increase in sales taxes and generate an estimated combined $28.2 billion in revenue, according to SANDAG’s funding plan. The road user charge would add another $14.2 billion.
Meier said the citizen’s initiative calls for a majority of funds directed to capital expenditures with 50% on transit projects, 27% for road and highway flow, 12% on transit operations, 7% for local streets and roads, 2% for rail and transit maintenance and 2% on administrative services.
However, several board members and public speakers urged caution with this plan, including Del Mar Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland and Mike Bullock, a former vice president of the Democratic Club of Carlsbad and Oceanside.
Gaasterland said the board should take a step back “and look at what’s going on here,” noting the measure is complex.
“I don’t understand it and I’ve read it five times,” Gaasterland said. “If the SANDAG board prepares a measure like this one, there is a higher likelihood of a two-thirds vote if we do it together instead of a 50% for private interests.”
Bullock, who is gathering signatures for the measure, said he’s worried the coalition of private interests and board members do not understand the gravity of the climate crisis. Bullock said adding more lanes will not solve the problem and only increase vehicle miles traveled.
Bullock said the board doesn’t understand, although SANDAG staff appears more in line with the urgency.
“I don’t trust the people that put this thing together 100%,” Bullock said. “They don’t seem to grasp the enormity of the climate crisis and the urgency in 2030 this large reduction we need. We need to reduce driving.”