The San Diego Association of Governments is on track to collect billions of dollars less than officials said it would from a sales tax hike voters approved 12 years ago, throwing into question whether it will have the money to pay for many of the projects that measure promised.

The causes of the shortfall, unreported until now and only disclosed in a complex budget analysis document, could also jeopardize many of the promises in another sales tax hike SANDAG is pushing on this November’s ballot, Measure A.

SANDAG leaders obscured the size of the shortfall in the one place they disclosed it. They have not told the public of risks that they won’t get the $18 billion they say Measure A would generate over 40 years, meaning some of the promised projects in the ballot measure may not get funding.

“It’s very significant, because voters are being misled, possibly deliberately or certainly with negligence,” said Peter Kiernan, an attorney with Schiff Harden who specializes in public finance and infrastructure and who worked as special counsel on those issues for the city and state of New York.

“If your revenue modeling is proven wrong, you have an obligation to change it. And if they’re not willing to admit that it’s been proven wrong, then they’re not looking at the facts,” he said.

Voters in 2004 approved an extension of TransNet, a half-cent sales tax to fund freeway widenings, light rail expansion, habitat preservation, bike lanes and road improvements across the county. The tax went into effect four years later. So far, SANDAG has collected 25 percent less revenue under TransNet than it promised voters on the ballot.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

If sales tax revenue grows at the rate it has grown since the end of the recession, TransNet would end up bringing in around $9 billion for transportation projects – or $5 billion less than voters were told.

SANDAG officials acknowledge they have not made any substantial changes to the agency’s forecasting methodology since then — including in the forecast used to project $18 billion in new revenue from Measure A, another half-cent sales tax increase facing voters on this November’s ballot.

Campaigns for and against Measure A are focusing on how the $18 billion it’s expected to raise will be spent – whether enough of it goes toward transit, for instance, or if North County receives its fair share. It turns out there are serious questions over whether the $18 billion they’re fighting over will materialize at all.

A SANDAG official also confirmed that money from Measure A could be used to backfill any shortfall from the previous tax – though he said he’s confident that won’t be necessary. But there’s a chance that voters weighing in on Measure A could be approving a tax to pay for projects that were already supposed to have funding, not the new projects that are the subject of the current campaign.

A Major Revenue Shortfall

When SANDAG started collecting the extension of TransNet tax in 2008, the economy had cratered from the Great Recession and revenues were already way below expectations.

Tax returns improved after the recession ended – though not enough to approach initial estimates. For the last two years, tax revenue growth has actually declined, meaning the gap between SANDAG’s initial revenue expectations and reality has widened recently.

To date, SANDAG is $500 million short of the $1.9 billion it expected to collect by now. If revenues grow at the average rate they have since the recession, they’d collect $9 billion over 40 years, not the $14 billion promised to voters. That would mean $5 billion less to spend on new regional transportation projects.

SANDAG’s chief economist Ray Major said the revenue shortfall is merely a function of the recession.

“While revenue receipts tend to fluctuate in the short term, in the long term, peaks and valleys tend to even each other out,” Major said in a written response. “Currently, we are just a decade into the TransNet extension so it’s premature to conclude that by the end of the measure, we would be short of funds to complete our projects.”

Marney Cox, the agency’s special projects director and former chief economist, said SANDAG doesn’t know how much money it now expects to collect through TransNet. He said it’s immaterial whether it brings in the projected $14 billion, the $9 billion it’s on pace for or some number in between.

“At this point in time, it’ll be sufficient to pay for all the projects, so you can put whatever number you want on it,” Cox said.

The Problems with the Recession Explanation

SANDAG claims the primary reason for its lagging revenue is the Great Recession.

Other experts aren’t so sure.

For one, SANDAG’s sales tax revenues have improved since the recession ended, but they’re still nowhere near the agency’s initial expectations.

Throughout the country, state and local governments are noticing slow sales tax growth, and project the sluggishness will continue. A survey of state forecasts from the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a public policy research group within the State University of New York, said states anticipate a slowdown in sales tax growth in 2016 and 2017.

That’s why outside experts aren’t as comfortable as SANDAG that the low sales tax returns will take care of themselves over the next 30 years.

“It is multiple items that are leading to a really weak recovery in sales taxes,” said Lucy Dadayan, a senior policy analyst at the Rockefeller Institute. “It’s observed all across the country. (SANDAG’s) claim about this being from the recession is partially true, but it’s also a changing nature of our reality.”

Dadayan said sales taxes since the recession haven’t rebounded nearly as fast as income taxes. She said it is possible consumer behavior changed due to the recession, but states are also losing out due to low gas prices and an increase in online shopping. That’s meant many states and local governments no longer get a cut of their residents’ purchases.

SANDAG’s Cox said San Diego has seen sales tax collections fall for two region-specific reasons, too. The collapse of the Peso has cut down cross-border spending, he said. And as the housing market pushed some residents to relocate to southern Riverside County, he said, some of their daily shopping now happens outside the county as well.

SANDAG’s forecasting model didn’t account for any of those things in 2002. And they haven’t been incorporated into the model that was used to project that Measure A would generate $18 billion.

Cox said that’s a good thing.

“You have to be patient about trends,” he said. “We end up being a little patient before we recommend permanent changes to the way we do things.”

Bill Glasgall, director of the state and local program at the Volcker Alliance, a foundation focused on improving the performance of government at all levels, said he’s skeptical that the shortfall should be primarily attributed to the recession.

“In general, the recession is fading in our rearview mirror,” he said. “But sales tax growth in general has been positive but weak. It’s basically flat. The driver for that weak sales tax growth is internet sales and low gas prices, and nobody projected this.”

Obscuring the Shortfall

The TransNet package voters approved included something meant to bring comfort to residents parting with more tax money – an independent watchdog group that would look after the funds and ensure they were being spent appropriately.

SANDAG disclosed the revenue shortfall in a document submitted to the Independent Taxpayer Oversight Committee.

But in a number of ways, the document obscures the straightforward fact that SANDAG isn’t collecting as much revenue as it told voters it would.

If you were to compare the revenue SANDAG predicted would come in when Transnet was approved with the revenue it’s actually collected, the shortfall would be clear. SANDAG didn’t do this. Instead, it used a different set of predictions that it adjusts each year. When the revenue actually collected is compared against those yearly estimates, the shortfalls appear much smaller.

But in a paragraph just below that table, SANDAG staff describes how the tax isn’t bringing in as much money as they said it would on the ballot.

In other words, the paragraph describes something entirely different than the table that precedes it.

SANDAG diminished the size of its revenue shortfall in another major way too.

It didn’t compare revenue collections to the $14 billion voters were promised. It adjusted the forecast for inflation to the first year it started collecting the tax, 2009, which reduced the size of the shortfall to about 12 percent, instead of 25 percent. Nowhere in the oversight document did SANDAG compare its actual revenue to the original $14 billion projection.

Cox defended that way of accounting for the agency’s revenue shortfall.

“You have to know what the revenues would be in 2008,” he said. “When we got there, we had to make the adjustment.”

Richard Carson, an economist at University of California at San Diego, said it’s perfectly reasonable to measure the shortfall from the original $14 billion that appeared on the ballot, because that’s what voters were promised. He said SANDAG shouldn’t be faulted for over-estimating how much revenue it would bring in, but the fact is it has now collected 25 percent less revenue than it told voters.

“The common sense way to do it is, ‘What did the voters see?’ and that’s the way you’ve done it,” he said. “The fact that they were off, well everybody who was forecasting these things was off. And they’re trying to say, ‘Well by the time we started collecting money, we had adjusted and we weren’t so surprised.’ But it’s still about what people would have been making their decisions on, and what they’re saying doesn’t change any of that.”

Kiernan said you can’t blame SANDAG for getting the forecast wrong, because “the land shifted under their feet,” but he said the agency deserves plenty of scrutiny for refusing to openly acknowledge the severity of the shortfall.

“Given the facts, they should in their periodic disclosures, their continuing disclosures and official public statements, they should be telling this story,” he said. “They have to come clean on this. It’s very dramatic.”

The Consequences of the Shortfall

The revenue shortfall carries clear consequences.

Multiple experts said SANDAG would have to build fewer projects than promised, or find money from another source to make up the difference.

Plus, they said, the shortfall itself threatens to erode public trust.

“They promised people a set of improvements,” Carson said. “Now they either have to cut back on the improvements because they’ve taken in less revenue, or they have to pay for the revenue shortfall from another source.”

Kiernan agreed.

“To continue building the planned transportation infrastructure, they’ll have to take money from elsewhere,” he said. “That’s if they continue projects as planned, as opposed to just abandon them.”

“It really isn’t complicated,” said Robert Puentes, president of the ENO Center for Transportation, a think tank focused on transportation policy that is currently monitoring regional transportation sales taxes across the country. “They have to roll back their ambitions, and they have to manage public trust. Eighty percent of these ballot measures passed because people are willing to invest in infrastructure when it’s transparent. If those promises aren’t met, it’s going to whittle away at public confidence.”

“We ask a lot out of individuals to make these decisions, and it’s harder to ask them to do that without giving them all the information,” said Sarah Swanbeck, executive director at UC Berkeley’s Center on Governing and Investing in Our Future, who is currently working on a transparency in budgeting project.

One additional source of money that could make sure projects promised in 2004 are still finished is the new revenue from Measure A, if it’s approved.

Cox acknowledged that could happen, though he said he doesn’t think it would – for two main reasons.

One is that SANDAG received more in state and federal funding for its projects than it assumed it would under TransNet. That’s meant building more projects than officials might have expected so far, given the size of the shortfall.

But counting on that going forward is risky, multiple experts agreed.

For one, it counts on political compromises at the federal level, even while the two parties are as far apart on policy as they’ve ever been.

“The federal-state-local relationship is just being completely upended,” Puentes said. “A major reason a lot of places are raising money at the ballot locally is so they don’t have to deal with the federal government.”

For another, it means competing with other regions for a finite amount of money.

“You can say, ‘We’ll try to do this’ and have a reasonable amount of certainty, but it’s still discretionary money, so there’s no way of knowing you’ll get it,” Kiernan said. “The secretary of transportation can either be fired, or become the secretary of the treasury. And even if you get the money you want, it may not be the year that you want it.”

Local money that you control is better than federal or state money that you don’t. In fact, SANDAG says as much in the ballot language for Measure A, which it describes as “a 40-year, half-cent sales tax ($308 million annually) that Sacramento cannot take away.”

The other reason Cox is adamant that SANDAG will still meet its promises to voters is that the agency aggressively took advantage of lower construction costs in the early years of the measure, hoping to get more done with every dollar it spent.

“We were out there getting as many projects under contract as possible, because prices were exceedingly low,” he said. “The fall in prices is the most important thing, because our purchasing power was elevated.”

Indeed, the state’s construction cost index fell nearly a quarter from 2007 to 2009 and stayed low through 2012. But construction costs have come roaring back and are now at about their 2007 peak.

In the end, Cox’s argument for why voters should expect SANDAG to complete all the projects it promised in 2004, without dipping into the new money potentially secured by Measure A boils down to: Trust us.

The 2004 vote was an extension of TransNet, which was first approved in 1987. SANDAG built all but four projects in that measure, and those four projects were put into a lockbox and prioritized in the extension. One of those is the trolley extension from Old Town to University Town Center, which broke ground Saturday, just shy of 30 years after it was initially approved.

“The true measure of this is, when you ask taxpayers to extend the program, and two-thirds of them say yes, and so they must have thought we did pretty good,” Cox said.

But Measure A is different. Voters have to approve a 40-year tax with 40 years of new spending, without the benefit of seeing how the TransNet extension performed in the end.

Cox thinks SANDAG will be able to make up for the missing TransNet revenue by 2048 and build all the projects it promised.

He thinks voters should take a leap of faith that he’s right.

The Problem for Measure A

There’s reason to believe Measure A itself won’t bring in the $18 billion voters are being promised, regardless of what happens with TransNet.

The forecast the agency used to produce that total – which didn’t undergo any major changes since 2002, despite SANDAG’s revenue shortfall – has an aggressive view of how much San Diegans are going to spend in the coming decades.

The agency’s forecast says the amount that the average San Diegan spends per year, adjusted for inflation, is going to rise and keep rising for the foreseeable future, surpassing the highest point it ever reached since 1970 and nearly doubling the county’s historic average.

The typical San Diegan has spent about $15,000 a year on stuff that’s subject to SANDAG’s sales tax. That number surpassed $17,000 in 1978 and again in 2006, and has been as low as $13,000.

SANDAG expects to achieve a new all-time high by 2025, and then keep climbing. By 2039 it expects that number to reach $21,000, or about 30 percent above the historic average.

If the county doesn’t reach that unprecedented spending level, then SANDAG won’t collect the $18 billion its promising voters, and won’t be able to build all of the new projects that would pay for.

“Wow. Now that’s extraordinary,” Puentes, the president of the transportation-focused think tank, said when he saw the chart of the agency’s expectations for local sales.

“Typically you can’t expect much more than the historical average,” Dadayan, the sales tax-focused researcher, said. “And you should be very conservative, usually less than the historical average. It’s better to collect more money than to underperform.”

Cox stood by the model and its expectations. The growth rate it expects isn’t as steep as the one the county saw from 1970 to 1978, he said, and is comparable to the one it saw in the mid-‘90s.

If voters approve Measure A and the agency ends up being wrong, SANDAG would again be collecting less tax money and building fewer projects than it promised voters.

    This article relates to: 2016 Elections, Must Reads, Politics, SANDAG

    Written by Andrew Keatts

    I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at or 619.325.0529.

    Jay Berman
    Jay Berman

    Most people in the county use roads and highways, few, use public transit, maybe 3 or 4% yet we spend so much on it.  Roads and Highways should get most of the funding, mass transit, the least, this makes sense as you will NOT get people out of cars and into slow and inefficient mass transit. Smooth running highways produce much less emissions  than traffic jams. 

    Walt Brewer
    Walt Brewer subscribermember

    Examining the dollar projections in 2004, and recently for Measure A, can be valuable for future  plans.

    However for reasons given a few weeks ago as below, there are compelling reasons to apply them to significant re-allocations in the overall plan.

    Richard Rider
    Richard Rider subscribermember

    Unlike the private sector, these government employees suffer zero negative consequences if -- well, WHEN -- their economic forecasts are wrong.  And they are ALWAYS wrong.  They have been for decades.  By a lot.  And always wrong while making the case for higher tax rates.

    It's important to understand that these bureaucrats are not incompetents. Most SANDAG 'projecters' are well versed in finance and statistical analysis.  They are very bright people.  They actually PROFIT from being wrong, as long as their figures oversell the need for their bureaucracy and their services.  

    In the private sector, the employer (say, an insurance company) wants an accurate analysis of what the future will be. They are constantly reassessing what risks and business opportunities await them.  If these private sector analysts are wrong, they are replaced by better analysts.  Not so at SANDAG.  Au contraire

    Everyone down at SANDAG understands the game.  Sell the public on the need for very expensive, inefficient transportation solutions and then retire with a huge pension.  Such an agency flies below the radar when it comes to pay and benefits.  It's a chummy club that delights in making brash -- hell, FALSE -- predictions, while facing zero chance of getting fired for doing so. Indeed, PROMOTION awaits the most dishonest SANDAG analyst.

    Richard Rider
    Richard Rider subscribermember

    SANDAG blames the shortfall on a recession. Stated differently, SANDAG is projecting forty years of booming sales tax revenue with no recessions.  

    Gosh, what could go wrong?

    Mystic Traveler
    Mystic Traveler subscriber

    Anything that Ron Roberts supports is something to be very cautious about voting for.  Especially anything related to development.

    merlot4251 subscriber

    A picture says 1000 words and your two charts say it all.  Thank you Andrew and also thank you for reminding me that I am already paying for one program for improved transportation, Transnet  that I had forgotten about. With the recent huge increases in water and SDG&E rates along with health insurance increases, I was undecided about whether to vote for a tax increase for the next 40 years.  Not any more.

    I found the comments by Mr. Major and Cox arrogant, callous, and flippant.  It is Business Management 101 that you need to do periodic revenue projection updates,  especially after an impact like the Big Recession.  Also please identify for us who exactly are the members of the Independent Taxpayer Oversight Committee.  They all need to be fired for negligence.

    Thomas Theisen
    Thomas Theisen subscribermember

    I already voted for Measure A, but now I feel like I've been had.  Don't know if i will ever trust SANDAG again. Moreover, can someone concisely identify all the politicians who were responsible for hiding this information so I can avoid voting for them again?  Don't know if I would have voted for Measure A if I had the information, but it is now very unlikely that I will ever vote to support another SANDAG tax measure.   The well has been poisoned. Good job VOSD bringing this to light before most people vote. 

    ZachW subscriber

    I don't trust SANDAG and voted No on this. SANDAG is a dysfunctional, clandestine agency that needs to be reorganized. KPBS did a good comparison on the structure of SANDAG compared to Los Angeles' planning agency. The problem with SANDAG is it's weighted to rural/suburban governments like Vista, El Cajon, Santee, etc that all have disproportional votes on urban infrastructure in the core of the city of San Diego. Furthermore, SANDAG has a long history of making grandiose plans then failing to implement them even when they are given extra funding. They've had different plans and timeframes for a trolley line linking downtown to midtown (Balboa Park, Hillcrest, North Park). If you look at their past "plans" they had this trolley line, then they changed it to a "streetcar" then they scrapped it altogether. Now, they've apparently decided this "purple line" that goes from the border to Kearney Mesa takes precedence over any light rail in the dense mid-city areas bordering downtown. They've scrapped any light rail in this central urban area in their long-term 30 + year plan. It's frustrating that they just scrap plans and re-do timelines and change priorities without explaining why. Why was a trolley line linking the mid city area with downtown a priority for 20 + years according to their previous plans, and now it's completely scrapped in favor of the border to Kearny Mesa "purple line." Did they do some sort of research showing this is a better use of light rail and, if so, why don't they make their reasoning public? Could it be the "purple line" passes through more cities with weighted votes in SANDAG's draconian voting structure such that a trolley line concentrated wholly within the city of San Diego had no chance to pass regardless of if it makes more sense from an urban planning perspective?

    Bottom line is that SANDAG doesn't deserve one red cent of our money until they are restructured so the City of San Diego is making decisions for ourselves, not the mayors of Santee, Escondido, and Imperial Beach

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    SANDAG’s chief economist explains the shortfall as the result of the recession?  News Flash:  President Obama claims we’re out of the recession, yet the shortfall seems from the graph to be growing annually.  Not to worry, it’ll straighten out over time.  Right, and this guy will be long retired with a fat public pension, so no repercussions (at least to him).

    SANDAGs’ special projects director (and former chief economist) says it’s immaterial whether the sales tax brings in 14 mil, 9 mil or whatever, the amount will be enough to pay for all the projects.  Huh?  I guess he’s on a retirement track too.

    Looks like SANDAG will have to prioritize it’s spending.  You can bet that freeways will fall off the list first unless they are somehow forced to follow the public’s priorities.

    Where does SANDAG get people like this?  Are they so sure they can just float another sales tax increment and get public approval because it says “transportation” in the proposal?  This is nuts but it’s hardly unique. Look at the high speed rail project, sold to the public on false promises.

    Of over 30 propositions voters are asked to decide in November, I counted 8 that would either raise taxes or issue bonds to pay for stuff, largely infrastructure projects (assuming you count the Chargers boondoggle as infrastructure).  This is simply insanity.  When H.L. Mencken penned his immortal words about the intelligence of the voters, I’m sure he had not a clue as to the myriad and complexity of issues they would be asked to decide.

    One thing is obvious:  propositions that cover 40 years are bovine scatology.  I’ll never vote for one. 

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    The problem is predictors. Bring in your Harry Potter wizards and your top economic advisors on the future and an eight year old hits the spot with darts. The whole thing is a crap shoot. What isn't a gamble is reality. People are spending to buy cars just to spend time in bumper to bumper traffic for less than $15 an hour. Who wins? The people that make roads, own gas stations, and can work at home. The problem we have today is the problem that was presented in 1970 and our duly elected "representatives" blew it all off. The trolley system in San Diego is just a beginning. The bus system is abysmal. If my kid is sick and I live in San Ysidro it will take me a day off from work, a whole day making bus connections, and I'll be home with my child late at night. And, all I wanted to do is get the kid to Children's. If I had a car, I'd do the whole thing in two hours . Our mass transit system is just window dressing. People in Spain think traffic jams are cool. Why? Because they just want to experience the American horror. They have had a great mass transit system since before the mid 1960s. 

      The glamorous image of riding a Porsche Carrera fast through the winding roads to Tecate are still available for those with bucks between the hours of 9am and 3pm. The rest of us rise up at 3am to beat the traffic at 5 to drive to Kearney Mesa before 6am only to test the will of our bosses to let us leave work at 2 to beat the traffic going home. People that make a lot of money on that road are also spending a lot of money to do it. 

    It's that money that is hurting San Diego.  Money that could easily be spent to produce more, but is spent just "getting there". 

      We in San Diego are 50 years late.  We need to wake up from a pot haze, our surfer haze and our communal Alzheimers haze.  Our little town is way behind the proverbial eight ball. 

    Walt Brewer
    Walt Brewer subscribermember

    @John H Borja  Why? Please read up on the mid 1970s Gov Brown era. mass transit will accommodate travel growth, reduce road expansion to reduce pollution.

    Instead cars absorbed 95% of growth.

    Simultaneous introduction of all cars with doubled mpg  was ignored.

    Cars continue to improve and are by far, not mass transit, the reasons for cleaner air. More improvement; 54 mpg starting 2025, electrics.

    But the mid 1970s dream continues; get people back into cars. Spend as much Transnet for 30 years on mass transit is less than 2%, as road ravel which has doubled.

    What do you expect?

    Walt Brewer
    Walt Brewer subscribermember

    @Richard Rider @Sara_K 

    Yes. If the $40 Billion planned for mass transit were used for freeway lanes, at typical daily use,~20,000 daily passenger-miles per lane mile, the freeway daily flow would be 23 million passenger-miles daily.

    Mass transit flow is ~2 million.

    At current ridership levels, trolley route land use is at least twice freeways.

    Richard Rider
    Richard Rider subscribermember

    Excellent work, VOICE!!  But you're dealing with one tree in a towering forest of SANDAG lies.  

    As far as I've been able to tell from over thirty years observing SANDAG, this agency ALWAYS lies about projections.  The lies are intended to dupe the public, the media and the politicians into funneling more money their way.

    Sure, they could just be honest projection errors.  But when EVERY projection error overstates SANDAG's predicted project benefits while understating the costs, the pattern is too consistent to write off to chance.  And it's not like they "just miss the mark."  

    SANDAG projections are usually wrong by AT LEAST 40% -- and often much more.  The latest example is the Midcoast trolley spur. Originally projected at $1.2 billion, it's coming in somewhere north of $2.1 billion.  You'll find the original ridership projections are FAR higher than than they now predict, which in turn is STILL higher than what the spur will experience one year after completion.  Mark it on your calendar to check that I'm correct.

    VOICE should do a look back at SANDAG projections on each regional rail line when first proposed -- the projected cost and the projected ridership.  With the possible exception of the highly successful (by public rail standards) Tijuana Trolley, I think you'll find they always "erred" -- because of their pro-choo-choo bias.

    Over the years I've contended with a lot of dishonest politicians and bureaucrats.  In the 1990's EVERY City Manager in the county (sophisticated financial analysts all) lied to their city councils about the viability of huge, underfunded. retroactive guaranteed pension increases for their public employees (and for themselves).  But to date I've found no local government or government agency more blatantly dishonest than SANDAG.  Arguably CalPERS is worse, but they are a STATE agency.

    Walt Brewer
    Walt Brewer subscribermember

    @Richard Rider  The Mid-Coast example of course triggers the question about real cots for all the projects to year 2050 in S D Forward.

    Andrew's fine article deals with collections. What a bout spendings?

    I don't believe the Recession is over. Sinificant odds for high inflation if we keep trying to print money.

    Them bigger collections? But even higher costs?

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    If the sales tax in Los Angeles passes and San Diego's does not, San Diego businesses should benefit from people travelling from LA to make large purchases like automobiles.

    That being said, consider me unsurprised that tbe benefits of the last tax hike were over promised and under delivered. San Diego is unable to spend money efficiently and spends exorbitant amount on simple jobs, the $5 million lifeguard tower comes to mind. Rail money doesn't go very far when budgeting $100 million per mile, like the extension to UCSD. Count me as unsurprised when that project comes in behind schedule and over budget, lets try to predict the excuses: they will blame the contractor, they will blame last minute changes, they will blame the neighbors...

    Rachel Laing
    Rachel Laing subscribermember

    @Sean M Little known fact: Sales taxes on car purchases are based on the city/county of residence of the buyer, not the location of the seller.

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    The other peculiarity is cutting library hours in half then open up the new downtown central library.

    I personally would support a road building if it wasn't all going to carpool lanes that cost 150% more to build and are available for use by a tiny minority of drivers.

    Scott Lewis
    Scott Lewis moderator administratormember

    @Sean M FWIW, sales tax on autos is calculated from where your car registration is, not where you buy the vehicle. 

    Sara_K subscribermember

    Roadways are more expensive for long-term maintenance than light rail transit maintenance costs.

    Measure A would widen freeways (SANDAG calls HOV lanes 'transit'), when they've already proven our existing roads are too expensive to maintain.

    San Diego needs functional, integrated transit. Not more polluting, expensive roads.

    Richard Rider
    Richard Rider subscribermember

    @Sara_K Not true -- not PER PASSENGER MILE.  A rail line carries a tiny fraction of the traffic on a freeway.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Sara_K We can't afford to maintain the roads we already have, yet they want to build more. That's a pretty good way to make San Diego go bankrupt!

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    Electric vehicles don't pollute and the demand for self driving electric cars is going to be huge. They will be around way before the new UCSD trolley route is _scheduled_ to be finished in 2021. (But we all know that construction is going to be delayed).

    You won't have to worry about your electric car going on strike because the city wants it to pay more for its own healthcare and pension costs. The city won't have to pay someone to stand around and show people how to use the electronic ticket machine either. i do grant that cost is not a concern that most mass transit advocates are concerned with.

    Richard Rider
    Richard Rider subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Richard Rider You're missing the point. It's what the road or rail costs TAXPAYERS per passenger mile.  

    If rail were attractive, it would be getting larger ridership. It's not.  While rail ridership as grown modestly in San Diego, it's estimated that 75% of that rail riders are former BUS riders -- buses that are often discontinued when the rail lines open.

    Since 1985 LA transportation agency has spent NINE BILLION DOLLARS on public transit (almost all on light rail), and 30 years later FEWER people use public transit in the region than they did in 1985.  Not just a lower percentage -- FEWER actual riders.

    Moreover, the car example includes depreciation and maintenance on the car.  The rail figure is the direct OPERATING costs -- with no provision for the depreciation or major repairs.

    MORE important, look at YOUR reference -- the the bottom of the DOT summary.  Compare buses and light rail, which look to cost about the same. But capital costs for buses is a tiny fraction of trains, yet it appears that the two have the same cost.  Obviously your metric is flawed.  That's OPERATING cost -- ignoring capital costs, including maintenance.   Buses work better, get people closer to where they want to go, and cost FAR less than the choo-choos.

    In addition, remember that rail doesn't bring people to their home.  Normally a car is needed to get to and from the train station, which makes trains usually less swift and FAR less flexible than cars -- a "cost" a train rider pays for such a rigid 19th century system of transportation.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Richard Rider "While rail ridership [has] grown modestly in San Diego, it's estimated that 75% of that rail riders are former BUS riders -- buses that are often discontinued when the rail lines open."

    That's good because MTS buses cost 76 cents per passenger mile while the trolly costs 31 cents. (It's at the link I provided above.)

    "rail doesn't bring people to their home.  Normally a car is needed to get to and from the train station"

    Back when transit was privately owned and operated, railroad companies would build towns. This allowed them to speculate on the land while building demand for rail service. This is still done in places like Japan. But in San Diego, the goal of transit is not profitability, it's moving as many people by transit as possible. This is why instead of building condos and office buildings on government-owned land next to train stations, San Diego builds parking lots. So now it's easier for people to drive to the train station than to live next to one.

    To make matters worse, San Diego forces developers to build off-street parking in new neighborhoods. This brings traffic congestion in the same way that standing water brings mosquitoes, and it further makes driving more convenient than transit. This isn't a level playing field by any stretch.

    So as you can see, traffic congestion and inconvenient transit have a common root cause, one which benefits the oil companies at our expense.

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    The goal of transit is never profitability, no public transit agency is profitable, all require subsidies.

    The parking lots around the transit stations always look full. Ridership would be much lower if people couldn't park their cars around the train station. Nobody wants to live next to a train, let alone a train station. Trains are loud. There is a reason security guards are posted all around each station: stations attract crime.

    Very few people would buy residential property if it didn't come with parking. Nobody takes the bus to Costco. Where would someone who can afford a home put their car if there is no parking? Developments without parking won't sell.

    I do agree that it is a good idea to have offices near train stations so people could take the train to work. however, the supposedly "smart growth" academics in SD keep advocating for building high density, low income housing near stations. There property gets given away to the lucky lottery winners who qualify.

    paul jamason
    paul jamason subscribermember

    @Sean M Drivers enjoy massive subsidies.  Why shouldn't public transit users?

    If nobody wants to live next to a train, why is real estate booming in Little Italy?  

    If train stations attract crime, why do studies show that "the presence of transit does not lead to more neighborhood crime"?

    If no one would buy property without parking, why do millions of people around the world own residential property with no parking?

    I think you outdid yourself here Sean!

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Sean M "no public transit agency is profitable"

    The Acela Express is profitable:

    "Nobody wants to live next to a train, let alone a train station."

    Then why do people live next to trains? If they preferred to live somewhere else, wouldn't they live somewhere else?

    It's like that old Yogiism: "nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

    "Developments without parking won't sell."

    Then why do we need laws to force residential developers to build parking? Is it the proper role of government to regulate every business into profitability?

    "the supposedly 'smart growth' academics in SD keep advocating for building high density, low income housing near stations."

    We've regulated poor people out of middle- and upper-class neighborhoods. Where should we put them? Remember, many of those people don't own cars.

    Richard Rider
    Richard Rider subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Sean M No, Acela is NOT profitable.  It MAY cover it's OPERATING costs, but it doesn't cover it's FIXED costs.  But then government accounting and supporters have never grasped the concept of "profit."

    Richard Rider
    Richard Rider subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann @Richard Rider Total nonsense from anti-car advocates. REALITY CHECK:  Almost all the other states have lower gas taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, etc. -- and all but 8 states have better highways than California.

    paul jamason
    paul jamason subscribermember

    @Richard Rider @Derek Hofmann Asking drivers to pay their fair share is "anti-car"?  I drive, bike, walk and take public transit, but am somehow anti-car.  How odd.

    Anti-transit advocates never mention the massive health and climate costs of driving - $15B/year in California - which we also all subsidize:  Or the hundreds of billions in federal general funds used to prop up the bankrupt Highway Trust Fund.  And then they have the chutzpah to complain about transit subsidies.

    Carolyn Chase
    Carolyn Chase subscriber

    Let us remember the past that is being repeated. SANDAG failed to bring in the revenues promised from the sales tax hike before this one - you know - 40 years ago.... they still haven't built the trolley promised to UCSD in the original TransNet! They just rolled the project over into the new one. They also refuse to create any sort of priority list - so the transit projects fall to the bottom. Expect the same with this measure.... and the next.... and the next....