REGION — Concerns are growing over SANDAG’s proposed transit plan.
Five elected officials from across the county and the president of the National Black Contractors Association blasted the metropolitan planning agency’s 2021 Regional Plan, also known as 5 Big Moves, during a Dec. 9 press conference in Rancho Bernardo. The group focused primarily on key elements in the plan, such as costs, taxes and fees for motorists and potential workforce equality issues.
The SANDAG board of directors is scheduled to vote on the final approval on Dec. 10.
The plan calls for a massive investment in transit improvements, including a “Grand Central Station” in San Diego, high-speed rail and more frequent train and bus service to meet state-mandated emission and climate goals.
Also, the plan proposes adding 819 miles of managed lanes (toll roads), a four-cent per-mile road user charge, two half-cent tax ballot measures in 2022 and 2028 and rideshare fees.
“These are on top of the fees you’re already paying at the DMV and at the pump,” Supervisor Jim Desmond said. “These regressive taxes are going to hurt the working poor the most who can’t afford to live next to where they work. Parents can’t hop on a bus to go to the grocery store, orthodontist appointment or take their kid to soccer practice.”
The elected officials, consisting of Desmond, San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, Vista Councilman John Franklin and Oceanside Councilman Christopher Rodriguez, each outlined how the current plan would negatively impact residents countywide.
Desmond said the county does need a balanced transportation plan to meet the needs of the 21st century, noting the increased use of self-driving cars, electric vehicles and other technology will help the state meet its climate and emissions goals.
Abdur-Rahim Hameed, of the National Black Contractors Association, or NBCA, took issue with the SANDAG board of directors’ reversal of including the NBCA in a project labor agreement earlier this year. Initially, the board included the NBCA after Hameed called out the exclusion, pointing to the board’s equity and inclusion statement.
But just weeks later, the board cut NBCA to approve a union-based labor agreement, negotiating only with the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council. Hameed said he is tired of rhetoric and the “illusion” of inclusion and demands the same opportunities for the Black, Indigenous, People of Color, or BIPOC, community to bid and receive contracts.
“We want to hold their feet to the fire in terms of equity and inclusion,” Hameed said. “They’re basically talking about proposing a community benefits agreement, or a project labor agreement, which has proven historically to be exclusive. We have the only African American federal and state-approved apprenticeship program. I’m here to hold SANDAG to their commitment to inclusion. We’re talking about inclusion and participation.”
The group of elected officials also spoke of the plan’s cost — official estimates range between $172 billion and $269 billion. In parts of the document, the original $163 billion is still being used. A SANDAG spokesperson told the Coast News several weeks ago the $272 billion estimate, which is for the year of expenditure, includes inflation and increases in cost and materials.
Desmond said the plan adds several new taxes, road user charges and toll roads, which will negatively impact lower-income residents and burden a workforce reliant on driving. Others were worried about another potential cost increase through the project labor agreement, which some fear may run at least 20%.
Other concerns centered on the cutting of highway projects approved under the 2004 TransNet tax measure with 15 projects now cut from the plan. Rodriguez said Oceanside needs Interstate-5 to be expanded to Vandenburg Drive plus an overhaul of the I-5 and State Route 78 intersection.
Jones pilloried several board members (Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solia) for their collective last-minute rebuke of a controversial road user charge hours before last week’s meeting.
Jones questioned why top leadership waited until one week before the final vote to voice opposition to a per-mile fee, as the board has been aware of this provision for more than a year.
“SANDAG has constantly wasted our money,” Jones said. “San Diego County residents must say ‘no,’ no further raise to our tax dollars and no more broken promises. We must demand better.”
Desmond, Jones, Wells and Franklin agreed that added taxes, charges and costs for motorists will negatively impact low-income residents and those dependent on their vehicles, especially residents in North and East County.
Wells also questioned the ridership goals, which are declining and was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with more people working from home.
Managed highway lanes would add a toll to all but one lane on every highway in the region. Bus service, they said, cannot pick up the slack, especially as the North County Transit District and San Diego Metropolitan Transit System are struggling with their operating budgets.
“SANDAG has moved on a profound statement of equity, which takes into consideration our underserved communities such as our Hispanic, Black and Asian communities,” Rodriguez said. “This plan completely neglects those communities.”