The SANDAG sales tax, now known as Measure A, was proposed as an opportunity for our region to take a big step forward in advancing transit. Unfortunately, Measure A falls well short of its purported objective. Measure A may leave Mid City waiting decades for new, community-advocated regional transit projects. Further, it will exacerbate environmental inequities by expanding freeways in the most overburdened communities, generate more car traffic in the urban core, and fail to increase bike mode share beyond much further than what it is today.
Unfairly Impacts Overburdened Communities:
Measure A calls for $1 billion in more freeway lanes in overburdened communities, leading to more traffic, noise, pollution, and greenhouse gasses in already overburdened communities. City Heights, National City, Southeast San Diego, western Chula Vista, Sherman Heights, and Golden Hill will be hit the hardest.
We created a map that overlays these freeway projects with a CalEnviroScreen map that represents the most overburdened communities in the region. The map shows a strong correlation between the planned Measure A freeway expansions and already pollution-vulnerable communities.
The proposed freeway expansions highlighted in bright red are a mix of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes and General Purpose lanes. Research shows that overtime additional lane generate and induce more car traffic, increasing the number of cars passing through neighboring communities. City Heights CDC supports the planned Transit Only lanes, but we do not support HOV and General Purpose lanes additions in the urban core.
Magnifying the wrongs of the past
The United States Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx spoke earlier this year about the long legacy of freeways being built through low-income communities and communities of color, creating ‘physical, economic, and psychological’ barriers. Secretary Foxx grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and experienced first-hand how a freeway built through the middle of his community ‘destroyed the connective tissue.’
“Decision makers thought of low-income and minority communities, in many ways, as the communities of least resistance. And that’s reflected in how the transportation system was built in the early days. In fact, certain of those values are still embedded in the infrastructure that we see today and use today.”
To undo these injustices, Secretary Foxx (pictured above) and President Barack Obama launched the United States Department of Transportation’s “Ladders of Opportunity” Program. One of the three principles of the program is to recognize the wrongs of the past and ensure that they’re not being repeated.
By pumping $1 billion of traffic-generating freeway expansions in the most overburdened communities in San Diego – predominantly communities of color and low-income communities – Measure A doesn’t right the wrongs of the past, as called for in the US DOT Ladders of Opportunity Program. Instead, Measure A reinforces and magnifies the wrongs of the past.
Measure A funds the highly controversial SR-94 Expansion
The most controversial project of the billion dollar bunch is the SR-94 Express Lanes project on the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway. City Heights CDC and the Environmental Health Coalition worked closely with community planning groups, hundreds of residents, and elected officials from 2013-2015 to change course on this project.
In mid-2015, SANDAG and Caltrans listened to the community and came through in a big way. Both agencies agreed to a host of forward-thinking resolutions: study two innovative community-supported, transit-priority alternatives; build a new $66 million Rapid transit station near 28th Street; and, implement and run a 3-year-long $30.9 million Bus-On-Shoulder Pilot project which will allow the South Bay Rapid to serve our communities without widening the freeway. We are thrilled to have achieved these wins.
In spring of 2016, however, SANDAG created a shockwave when they released their projects for Measure A which included funding for the old SR-94 plan which called for 2 HOV lanes – the same plan they committed to changing the summer before!
In response to this, Councilmembers Marti Emerald, Myrtle Cole, David Alvarez, State Assemblymembers Dr. Shirley Weber and Lorena Gonzalez issued letters to SANDAG and Caltrans urging the agencies to stick to the community-supported plan approved in mid-2015. In Assemblymembers Gonzalez’ and Weber’s joint letter on April 21, 2016 they wrote:
“We ask that you remove the two SR-94 HOV Lanes and the SR-94/I-805 HOV Connectors from the Potential Funding Measure and allow the pilot project and alternatives analysis process to run to completion before asking voters to support a tax which would fund projects that have the potential to negatively impact the health of the surrounding communities.”
Assemblymember Gonzalez Weber SR94 Funding Measure Letter
Despite receiving five letters from City and State elected officials in the SR-94 area, SANDAG leadership decided to leave the project in Measure A anyway. They only modified the name of one part of the SR-94 project. The main features of the project — SR-94/I-805 HOV Connectors – remain unchanged. In response, City Heights CDC issued our opposition to Measure A, stating that SANDAG’s action was inconsistent with the requests of five elected officials and repeated requests from CHCDC, EHC, and community leaders.
A “yes” vote on Measure A will give SANDAG a $147 million blank check for the SR-94 and will fund an additional $300 million worth of HOV lanes to connect the SR-94 & I-805. Voting NO on A will give the community more leverage to advocate for the innovative community-supported, transit-priority alternatives we worked hard for years to have on the table.
Youth Opportunity Bus Pass: Not a cent guaranteed
One of the biggest disappointments with Measure A is that it doesn’t include a cent of guaranteed funding for the Youth Opportunity Bus Pass (YOP), a program to assist student access to transit passes. The YOP program was shaped by the resident-led Improving Transportation in City Heights momentum team and Mid-City Community Advocacy Network to address the financial burden of transportation by providing transit passes to low-income high school students. While programs like YOP are eligible under Measure A, advocates have experienced a lot of institutional resistance from Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) to continue the program. Without a guaranteed pot of funding, the community will have to continue to pull teeth every step of the way for YOP-type programs to move forward. Affordable transit can increase ridership at the same time helping SANDAG achieve state-mandated greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.
Only 3% Funding for Active Transportation: 40 More Years, Same Problem
Measure A calls for a meager 3% of funding to be dedicated to walking and biking. This is up one percent from the TransNet sales tax extension approved in 2004.
For decades, bike mode share has hovered around one or two percent. Local, state, and federal funding for biking has also hovered around one or two percent. To break out of this rut, a significant increase in active transportation funding is needed. This is especially true if we’re committed to achieving 18% bike mode share by 2035 in the City of San Diego transit priority areas, as called for in the Climate Action Plan. Measure A won’t get us close to achieving that. Instead, it perpetuates modal inequity for active transportation for another 40 years.
The City of San Diego Pedestrian Collision Analysis found that low-income communities experience 10 times more crashes than high income communities. We need a lot more than 3% dedicated funding for walking and biking to make progress on this inequity.
Good Transit Projects, Poor Phasing: We can’t wait a decade or two or three
Measure A includes funding for several transit projects planned for the Mid-City area which we strongly support, such as Rapid Route 550, SR-94 CenterLine Transit Stations, the Purple Line Trolley and Rapid 10 on University Ave. Unfortunately, Measure A doesn’t do enough to make these projects a priority.
In SD Forward: The Regional Plan, Route 550 is planned for 2025 while the Purple Line is planned for 2035. We find these timelines to be insufficient. Our communities can’t and shouldn’t have to wait that long.
During the planning process for the Regional Plan, we advocated for a phasing advancement for the Purple Line from 2035 to 2025 and an advancement of Route 550 from 2025 to 2020. Unfortunately, these asks were not granted. These two regional transit projects, which will both connect South Bay and Mid-City communities on crisscrossing routes, modeled as high performing new transit projects in the Regional Plan. Both will be assets to the region and Mid-City, which is why we continue to push for greater prioritization.
Measure A bumped the Purple Line up to 2032 from 2035 under the condition that federal funding is secured and committed to utilizing ‘best efforts under its control’ to complete the project by that time. While a step in the right direction, we believe that this doesn’t go far enough.
Important questions have been raised in the last week about the ability to secure needed funding in time. Urban planner Dr. Murtaza Baxamusa points out in a thorough analysis of Measure A, it took SANDAG three decades to secure federal funding for the Mid-Coast Trolley, which is finally now under construction. A Voice of San Diego report indicates that Measure A might not generate the funding it anticipates and could be used to backfill previous funding shortfalls.
Route 550 is scheduled for 2025 but the project-level planning has not yet begun. Keep in mind that it took SANDAG about 10 years of project-level planning before the Mid-City Rapid on El Cajon Blvd could be complete. Purple Line still has a lot of work left to do, too. SANDAG is drafting an internal technical feasibility study, but no public review of the study has been available yet.
SANDAG has promised to utilize ‘best efforts under its control’ to build the Purple Line and a few other Urban Core area transit projects by 2032. City Heights remembers that a similar commitment to utilize ‘best efforts’ was made to our community once before. During negotiations around the State Route 15 which was built through the middle of City Heights, a commitment to utilize ‘best efforts’ was made in the adopted Memorandum of Understanding in 1992. The MOU called for ‘best efforts’ to be made to provide non-motorized access from Adams Ave to Camino Del Rio South. The SR-15 Commuter Bikeway will finally provide non-motorized access when it opens next year, 25 years after a commitment to utilize ‘best efforts’ was made in writing.
A commitment to build a Light Rail Trolley or a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line in the SR-15 was also made at this same time. The SR-15 opened for cars in 2001, but the CenterLine BRT stations still aren’t complete. They are also scheduled to be complete next year – 25 years later and 15 + years after the freeway opened to cars.
Unfortunately, these long project delays aren’t relics of the past. We’re experiencing them now with the Early Action Bike Projects (EAP) commitment that SANDAG made in 2012 to build 38 bike projects in 10 years. This 10-year timeline is approaching its half-way mark, yet only 1 of the 38 projects has been implemented. At this rate, the actual timeline may end up being twice as long as SANDAG originally committed.
For these reasons, as Measure A stands, we believe we may not see both the Route 550 and the Purple Line complete for one, two, or possibly three decades.
Unprecedented Opposition to Measure A
Measure A is opposed by over 40 community, labor, environmental, and economic organizations including Democratic Party of San Diego, Republican Party of San Diego, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Councilmember David Alvarez, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, Sierra Club, Environmental Health Coalition, Mid City CAN, San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, Bike SD, Climate Action Campaign, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569, National City Chamber of Commerce, San Diego Free Press, City Beat, San Diego Union Tribune, and more.
Because Measure A will facilitate environmental injustice, fails to provide sufficient phasing prioritization of transit projects, significantly underfunds active transportation, unfairly impacts City Heights, Mid City, and the urban core, City Heights CDC joins a large regional coalition in urging City Heights voters to say “No Way Measure A.” Please vote NO on A this November 8th.
We can and must do better for City Heights, Mid-City and the Urban Core area.
-Randy Van Vleck, Active Transportation Manager, City Heights Community Development Corporation
-Maria Cortez, Co-Chair of Improving Transportation in City Heights & President of Teralta West Neighborhood Alliance
This post was updated on October 31, 2016