Previously, we shared about the massive changes occurring in San Diego. Due to effective advocacy by coalitions like Quality of Life combined with strong investigative journalism by Voices of San Diego, San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has new leadership that is helping the region plan smarter, promote equity, and invest in more sustainable transportation choices. However, there’s been pushback to this new effort.
At the same meeting where Ikhrata unveiled the Five Big Moves (to unanimous Board member support), he also expressed interest in amending TransNet, a half-cent sales tax that residents voted to extend in 2004, which funds a list of transportation projects throughout the region. At this point, nearly all of the projects left on the TransNet project list are costly freeway expansions, which, if built, would make it much more difficult for SANDAG to meet its climate goals. Meanwhile, money earned from TransNet has been significantly below projections, meaning that there isn’t enough money to fund the remaining projects in the first place.
Ikhrata has recommended an amendment to TransNet, redirecting the small amount of revenue to fund early environmental review of projects that will ultimately be included in the 2021 RTP/SCS, rather than regressive freeway expansions that would undermine the RTP/SCS as a whole.
But this amendment to TransNet has split the SANDAG Board, with members arguing that a reallocation of TransNet dollars would go against the will of the voters. Many regions in California face a similar issue with sales tax measures: if voters approved them, do local and regional agencies need to go back to the voters if they see a need to amend the sales tax measure? As of now, this issue remains a Gordian knot that Ikhrata and advocates are hoping to untangle before a vote on the issue is put forth before the Board, possibly in just a few weeks. Depending on how SANDAG Board votes, this amendment to TransNet has the potential to shape future for sales tax measures across California. While the SANDAG Board remains in support of the Five Big Moves, amending TransNet will continue to get stickier as the rubber hits the road.
It’s essential for advocates and concerned residents to continue to apply pressure to both SANDAG staff and the members of the SANDAG Board, letting them know that without an ambitious but achievable transportation revolution like Five Big Moves, it’s difficult to imagine how San Diego will be able to hit state-mandated climate targets, let alone cities’ Climate Action Plans, many of which have aggressive transportation mode targets.
SANDAG's RTP/SCS update process timeline. Source: SANDAG
Journalism, advocacy, and the increased political popularity of tackling climate issues may be largely responsible for the major shifts at SANDAG over the past few years. But it remains to be seen if and how the ideologically wide-ranging SANDAG Executive Board will ultimately approve an RTP/SCS that truly sends the region down a new path. Advocates and allies are working against the clock to educate Board members on the importance of seriously tackling the climate crisis in a way that centers equity and builds a strong middle class.