Does SANDAG’s ‘Measure A’ amount to Bold Action on Climate Change?

by on September 20, 2016 · 0 comments

in Culture, Election, Environment, History, Labor, Politics, San Diego

ballot-box-san-diegoBy Doug Porter

Of all the local measures on the ballot, none has split local Democrats, labor, and environmental groups more than Measure A.

It proposes to fund transportation and open space projects throughout San Diego County over the next 40 years via a half-cent sales tax increase. Questions about its environmental and social consequences have been raised.

The plan, crafted by the staff of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), will raise $18 billion over its lifetime, with $4.3 billion doled out to local communities for upgrades and repairs.

Just about everybody agrees that work on local and regional infrastructure needs to continue. It’s how we get there that’s causing disagreement.

Recent Disputes

Opponents to Measure A went to court recently seeking revisions in the official ballot arguments.

From the Union-Tribune:

As a result of San Diego County Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal’s order, there will be a slight change to the official argument in support of Measure A on November’s ballot. Instead of saying that the sales tax increase will reduce the cost of mass transit fares for seniors, students, the disabled and veterans, it will instead say that it will provide money to expand mass transit services for those groups.

The ballot measure’s opponents also contended that the supporters’ argument inaccurately stated that the funds will definitively improve water quality, but Bacal did not order any changes there.

The organizations opposing as well as supporting Measure A both claimed a legal victory.

Strange Bedfellows

In a nutshell, supporters of Measure A say it’s a good plan and the best they can do without endangering the possibility of getting the support of a super-majority of voters.

There are some building trades and municipal employee unions along with enviro advocates like the Nature Conservancy on the same side with the Chamber of Commerce and the Taxpayers Association supporting the proposal.

Graphic from SANDAG

Graphic from SANDAG

Many environmentalist and labor groups say it falls way short of doing what’s needed to mitigate climate change. The Democratic Party of San Diego County officially agrees with the No on A position.

Those opposing the measure include the Quality of Life Coalition (progressive labor, community & environmental groups).

sd-quality-of-life opposing sandags

Also disapproving of Measure A is the Republican Party of San Diego, which would likely oppose any measure unless it involved child labor, slave wages, coal burning cars, and no taxes.

It’s Complicated (Or Not)

SANDAG’s plan was administrative sausage-making at its best. It boiled down to two proposals essentially pitting public transit projects against local infrastructure.

Here’s how Voice of San Diego described the differences:

The local plan would send $7.3 billion, or 40 percent of all the money the measure brings in, to individual cities to spend how they see fit. San Diego would receive $2.8 billion of that local funding, for instance. The unincorporated areas of the county would get $1 billion. Chula Vista would get $539 million.

That plan would spend another $5.5 billion (30 percent) on transit projects and operations, and $1.8 billion (10 percent) on new highway projects.

The regional plan, meanwhile, spends half its money on transit. Sounds good if you like transit, right?

But it spends zero dollars on local infrastructure projects – and transit advocates like the idea of improving local infrastructure, too. Meanwhile, it also sends more than $3 billion to highway projects, not quite twice as much as the local plan would spend on highways.

What emerged to be placed on the ballot had 42% for public transit projects; 14% for highway improvements; 30% for cities to spend on local infrastructure; 11% for open space preservation and 3% for walking and biking projects. The proposed Purple Trolley line from San Ysidro to Kearney Mesa would have a 15-year deadline.

It sounds like a compromise until you realize that SANDAG’s agenda should be broader than simply funding construction projects.

Opponents point out that there is no mechanism linking projects with reducing greenhouse gasses to meet state targets, which is kind of a big deal.

There’s more to this, including a sense that the staff at SANDAG played a larger role in advocacy than many would like. The impacts on vulnerable communities, a commitment to Project Labor Agreements, funding for vital stormwater and water infrastructure projects, along with conservation, open space, and active transportation are also sticking points.

Measure A opponents have sent a cease and desist letter to SANDAG, claiming it’s using public funds to promote the plan.

I’m keeping this short today because over the next few weeks we’ll present some of the arguments being made by progressives and (hopefully) the rational side of Measure A’s supporters.

Suffice it to say that I personally am strongly inclined to oppose the measure. I think it comes down to doing our bit to save the planet versus political pragmatism.


For More Information:

Measure A

Ballot Language–SAN DIEGO COUNTY ROAD REPAIR, TRANSIT, TRAFFIC RELIEF, SAFETY AND WATER QUALITY MEASURE Shall an ordinance be adopted to: repair roads, deteriorating bridges; relieve congestion; provide every community funds for pothole/street repairs; expand public transit, including improved services for seniors, disabled, students, veterans; reduce polluted runoff; preserve open space to protect water quality/reduce wildfires by enacting, with independent oversight/audits, a 40-year, half-cent local sales tax ($308 million annually) that Sacramento cannot take away?

A YES vote would: support raising the county sales tax by half a cent for the next 40 years for transportation and infrastructure.

A NO vote would: not raise taxes. The transportation projects that could be funded are part of SANDAG’s long-term plan. Funding for others would be uncertain.

SANDAG’s Pitch FOR Measure A

UT Op-Ed AGAINST Measure A


Finally, an impassioned speech by Leonardo DiCaprio about climate change at the United Nations answering (I think) the question posed in the headline.

Notes: Our endorsements will be included in our General Election Progressive Voter Guide, published shortly after mail-in ballots are delivered in October.


This is an excerpt from D. Porter’s column at San Diego Free Press, our associates.

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