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AB 805 Opens Up New Opportunities for San Diego's Other Transit Agencies

AB 805 would create new opportunities for taxpayer protection and the relatively poorly funded North County Transit District.

Why is SANDAG so deeply invested in thwarting Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher’s AB 805, a reform bill that would increase oversight, transparency and accountability, while also empowering local transit agencies in northern and southern San Diego County through new funding mechanisms?

SANDAG’s current regime is digging in their heels here, not because of governance issues, but because they simply cannot see a financially secure future without cars and the sales tax revenue they generate.

As a dissenting councilwoman from one of those small cities that opined we would be disenfranchised by the bill’s proposed governance structure, I have a very different opinion of the benefits and opportunities associated with the AB 805’s proposed reforms, specifically for taxpayer protection and the relatively poorly funded public transit agency, the North County Transit District.

The state of California is invested in decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, as evidenced by state laws like AB 32 and SB 375. SB 375, signed into law in 2008, makes it clear that the largest single source of greenhouse gases in California is the transportation sector, specifically, automobiles and small trucks.

SANDAG’s prevailing philosophy has been to prioritize freeway expansion over public transit. In fact, freeway expansion versus public transit was the main complaint people had about SANDAG’s Measure A, last year’s failed proposed tax increase to pay for transportation projects. San Diego labor groups, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, environmental groups and transportation justice activists aligned opposed Measure A.

Freeway expansions increase the amount of cars on our roads, leading inevitably to more greenhouse gas emissions, a fact that may account for the newest iteration of SANDAG’s regional transportation plan projections for greenhouse gases increasing rather than decreasing.

SANDAG forced litigation that attempted to address this dilemma to the California Supreme Court when it appealed a Court of Appeal ruling that said there were significant deficiencies in the environmental impact report for SANDAG’s regional transportation plan. The Supreme Court ruled narrowly in SANDAG’s favor last week, but by declining to take up the majority of the lower court’s ruling and leaving those pieces in place, the court made clear there remain significant, unmitigated impacts in SANDAG’s regional transportation plan.

In other words, SANDAG has a half-baked environmental impact report for a regional transportation plan spanning three decades that actively trends in the opposite direction of statewide greenhouse gas reduction goals.

As noted in the Supreme Court ruling, the attorney general stated that SANDAG’s environmental analysis “understates and obscures the extent to which the [regional transportation] plan‘s emission impacts run counter to the state‘s climate change goals.”

Coupled with the recent scandals Voice of San Diego has exposed, it is little wonder that calls for reform are gaining traction.

AB 805, among other things, would empower San Diego’s two main public transit agencies to levy their own taxes and obtain bonding authority where they have had to traditionally rely on funds allocated through SANDAG. For the North County Transit District, this would lead to effectively bolstering public transit in North County. This fact is passed over quickly in the main argument forwarded by those opposed to AB 805, which has focused on the bill’s proposed governance structure, saying it will lead to the tyranny of the majority.

North County has struggled with insufficient public transit for years, a reality I have experienced personally and frequently as a public transit user. This is not because of a lack of demand, but lack of political will. The problem exists with the elected officials on the North County Transit District board who are not themselves invested in improving public transit. This has ultimately led to an extended period of limited funding from SANDAG.

A dearth of public transit funding lowers the quality and availability of public transit, which effectively keeps cars on the road and gas demand up.

Keeping cars on ever-expanding roadways is actually a lucrative prospect for some cities.

National City, for example, is the “Car Capitol of San Diego” with its Mile of Cars, which has been the No. 1  source of sales tax revenue for decades. Carlsbad, which has its own Mile of Cars, also provides the city with its No. 1 source of sales tax revenue, above property taxes and transient occupancy taxes. In 2017, El Cajon added its 12th auto dealership and a leader there stated that it “wants to be the driving force in auto sales in San Diego County.” Poway saw its auto industry move from No. 3 sales tax revenue source in the first quarter of 2011 to No. 1 in 2016.

AB 805 would accomplish the necessary reform needed at SANDAG to protect taxpayers and to open up San Diego’s future to a less car-centric, cleaner and more efficient regional transportation system focused on transportation justice. A future like that is an ominous threat to city representatives who are beholden to the revenue generated by cars. This is why the AB 805 movement needs your support. Let your elected representatives know that you support SANDAG reform through AB 805.

Cori Schumacher is a member of the Carlsbad City Council.

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