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San Diego's Regional Transportation Plan will be handed over to the San Diego Assoc. of Governments board of directors later this week, but some say the plan is a missed opportunity.

October 24, 2011 1:11 p.m.


Jerome Stocks, SANDAG Board Chair and Encinitas Deputy Mayor

Elyse Lowe, Executive Director, MOVE San Diego

Related Story: Regional Transportation Plan Up For Approval


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The 2050 regional transportation plan for San Diego that covers cars, light rail, public transit, biking, and in some cases, pedestrian pathways, is scheduled to be submitted for final approval before the San Diego association of governments this week. It's a massive proposal covering a 40-year time pan with an estimated price of tag of almost $200 million. But criticism of the plan has been sharp and vary, arising from local citizens' groups and each California's attorney general. Here to talk about the plan are my guests, Jerome Stocks is a SANDAG board chair, and the Encinitas deputy mayor. And thank you for coming in. And speaking with us.

STOCKS: Thank you, it's a pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: And Elise Lowe is with the groups move San Diego, hello

LOWE: Thank you, good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Jerome, this is as I've been saying an ambitious man. I think everybody agrees on that. San Diego is the first county in California to complete a transportation plan spanning this amount of time, reducing emissions. Tell us some of the highlights.

STOCKS: Well, certainly, some of the highlights are to plan for what our future growth expectations are, looking 40 years ahead, that's a long look. We're expecting about 1.25 million additional residents in the region. We're going to have half a million new jobs, and about 400,000 new homes. It's about a $200 billion program, and in our case, about half of that will be spent on transit projects.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you had to take into consideration while you were making this plan, some guidelines from the state about reducing emissions, right?

STOCKS: Absolutely correct, the California air resources board set targets, our target was to reduce the greenhouse gases by 7% by 2020, and threaten% by 2035. The SANDAG modeling which has been accepted shes we do indeed make those goal, and that the board has accepted the executive director to approve our plan upon the board's acceptance of it on Friday

CAVANAUGH: Freeway expansion is a rather large part of this plan as I understand it. Especially the Caltrans expansion of I-5, is that a big part of the plan?

STOCKS: That's a $3.5 billion project

That's quite a lot of money, but it is 1.5% of 2 hundred billion, right? Yes, that is a pig project, that freeway was built in the early '60s and hasn't had any material improvement in what's called the north coastal corridor since it was built. What we're going to be doing is similar, although down scaled from what's been done on the 15, which is to create a freeway within a freeway, and to allow the internal four lanes to be what are called managed lanes, and that'll improve air quality, and also help supplement transit and coaster services.

CAVANAUGH: Life we get into the criticisms of that plan, I do want to allow you to tell us what it is overall you think that this plan brings for San Diego.

STOCKS: Well, are over all what this plan brings is a balanced, flexible, improvement to our regional transportation program. And it improves transit services, coaster services, inner city rail services, it improves highway and freeway capacity. Although there's only a couple of miles of actual new freeway on the SR11 which will connect the 905 to the new Otay east border crossing which is also propossessed. The vast majority of what this plan does is it allows the future to be better managed than the current traffic conditions

CAVANAUGH: Alise Lowe, with the groups move San Diego, and sustainable San Diego, you have some grave objections to this regional transportation plan. What are the major things that you see as wrong in this plan?

LOWE: If I could just boil it down to two thing, one would be that 72% of the transit budget is in the last two decades of the plan. So I'm really pleased at the amount of money that we have going toward transit, and that we are increasing that from the last plan. That's great. But to spend three quarters of it from 2030 to 2050 is -- it's too late. We want that moved up. The second thing that I would say is that although this is the first time that they've put together a plan that identifies how to reduce green house gas emissions, and I am pleased that we are meeting our target it is, they modeled all the way out to 2050, and itself it turns out, from 2035 to 2050, we reduce the achievements that beef gotten, and we back slide our --

CAVANAUGH: Basically the idea of public transportation you feel is too late and too little in this plan?

LOWE: Well, I always. More and more for public transas a transit advocate. I do try to be pragmatic about what's financially realistic. The plan has line item unidentified funding, 7 to $11 billion that we need for transit operations that we don't know where that's going to come from. I wish there would have been more emphasis in the plan and talking about support for making sure that we get that money so that we can operate the transit system that it envisions

CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you, Jerome, there have been a lot of criticisms about the fact that the public transportation expansion kicks in rather rate. It's front heavy with freeway and traffic expansions, but publicity transportation seems to kick in later. Why is that?

STOCKS: Well, I'm going to argue that point and say that I don't believe that to be a valid or accurate argument. Now, it's a perspective, and it's a perfectly valid perspective. But I don't see that as an accurate, from the documents' standpoint. We're spending about $800 million increasing capacity and improving the blue line on the trolley system from Mexican border up to San Diego. We're proposing a 1.8 probably near $2 billion of that lineup through the university of California San Diego, the VA hospital, and the UTC. Now, those are plans that are under way trying to get approved, trying to get federal he funded, etc, however, and oh, yeah, additionally, the coastal rail line gets double tracked, the sprinter line gets double tracked, all the headways get improved. That's all on going. The parts that are big criticisms are for example, we plan to under ground the trolleys in downtown San Diego. We don't know where those are going to be yet. We haven't mapped that out yet. We don't have any environmental clearances for any of the four additional trolley lines that are proposed. These things don't happen over night. It takes at least seven years to go through the nipa process, and we haven't yet really identified -- this is all at a sort of 30,000-foot level. We don't really know upon which road that trolley is going to extend down to the Pacific in Pacific Beach. I promise you, there's a lot of work to be done before we get this and a lot of permits to be issued. And it simply doesn't happen over night

CAVANAUGH: Let me go to you Alise, is it basically what one of your criticisms is that the priority wasn't there to bring this up front to make this a very public transportation, alternative transportation, heavy regional transportation plan right from the get-go?

LOWE: Well, are the plan is separated into distinct phasing by decades. So you can look and see what projects they have listed by deckate, and they do have expensive projects toward the end. But there's really nothing stopping the board or SANDAG from saying, hey, you know what? We want to really get transit going in these regions where we're going to build additional trolley line, and yes, he's right, it does take a long time to cite and do the environmentam on those, but why not put more express bus services, very nice BRT services along those corridors where you're going to build rail in the meantime? These are things that we can think outside of the box and say, if we have the political willingness to do so, we can make it happen. And especially if we're doing it for the caveat that we want to build up ridership in the corridors as we move toward building rail in these areas, rail is incredibly expensive, but it's a favorite of San Diegans to ride it, but the bus also offers 90 million trips a year in the San Diego region not counting North County. How do we support all of the options and help people out, and make transit more convenient and faster and easier for them to ride?

CAVANAUGH: One of your criticisms is about air quality. It's another concern you have with this plan, right?

LOWE: Yeah, we have the 8th worst air quality in the nation. If you look at the region of City Heights, when the 15 was put through there, there was a lot of promises made to that community because they knew that the air quality would get bad. Well, guess what? It is now the most -- the highest level of asthma for anywhere in the region for kids, and it's directly related to the freeway. So we need to be talking about clean transportation solutions that involve a range of options that can help improve our air quality, some improve improvements of course made, but we need to take our health seriously in this region and go further.

CAVANAUGH: Jerome Stocks, actually the air pollution goal set in this man got some high level criticism from the state's attorney general, saying it set too low a bar in reducing pollution. Now, I'm wondering, how do you take that criticism and will you be amending the plan to address the attorney general's concerns?

STOCKS: A couple of points. The short answer is yes, we have made some changes to some of the verbage to address some of those concerns, we always take the attorney general's concern very seriously as anybody rationally should. However a couple of points I want to make. According to supervisor Roberts who set sits on the California resources board as well as our supervisor rolely, we're on record here in San Diego County to have the cleanest air sense they have been monitoring this it. Upon so this year is a very good year barring a wildfire, I suppose. But we are making improvement, and these things don't happen over night. The port has made massive improvement in their green port initiative to try to reduce particulates and diesel fuels. The new clean diesel engines from the trucks that are an important of our economic vitality are good. Additionally, future improvements where we can double track the coastal rail line, each freight rail, freight train takes approximately 90 big rigs off the freeway, which contributes, number one, to less particulates in diesel, but also reduces congestion for the passenger automobile. So the future is good. The other point I wanted to touch on was -- Alise brought up the back sliding to 2050. Part of the problem with that is it -- nobody has a general plan. None of our local agencies, even the county just updated their general plan. It took them ten years to do it. My city is currently going through it. Those are 2035 plans. So we don't know the land use implications between 2030 and 2050. So that's a really, frankly, scientifically invalid and useless number. It's been kicked around. But it's not a valid number

CAVANAUGH: You know, Jerome, I want to pose this question. Because we've done a number of shows here, especially on the expansion of I-five, and most of the audience participation that we've gotten has been don't do this. Spend your time, spend your money about different ways that we can commute, different ways that we can live in San Diego that take us out of our cars, that don't expand the freeways, give us more alternatives. And I think probably -- many of those people listening might think of this plan as a missed opportunity in the sense that, you know, if you're going to be making such an ambitious 40-year plan plan, why not think away from freeways and away from the traditional car expansions that we've come know and perhaps dislike a lot in Southern California? I put that to you.

>> And again, it's a perspective. But it's not everybody's perspective because I hear from folks who say, what are you doing squandering half of our transportation dollars on a mode that only carries 3% of the public?

CAVANAUGH: Public transportation you mean?

STOCKS: Exactly. Now, we are -- we do have in our plan, the goal of getting that up to 11 or 12% which is a nice jump from where it is today. But not everybody can telecommuter isn't going to telecommute to my house. That individual is going to get in their vehicle, bring their tools and equipment and supplies and come fix my house. Our economic vitality and vibrancy does depend on a useful transportation system. And what we're trying to address in this plan is a balanced approach to give the traveling public as many reasonable options as possible, but without discounting and eliminating the reality that 98% of the traveling public is in a -- as the mayor of San Marcos called This individual pod.

CAVANAUGH: Alise, what about that? You can sink money into public transportation. It doesn't necessarily mean people are going to use it

LOWE: Well, I mean, let's look at the facts, the transit that we have now. While it is comp hence I have been, we haven't prioritized it enough to make it an attractive enough option that more people can choose it. We've continued to create a system that makes it easy to drive. Of course 2% of the people are going to be taking transit, and 98% of the people are going to choose to drive when it steaks 20 minutes to get across town in your car, but it takes two and a half hours in your transit system. That is a problem. That is the type of change that we want to see in the future that we want to have embraced by our region's elected officials and we want them to say we're going to think outside the box and do something about this. I mean, if you pour a lot of money into issue transit system, you should get your tax pay bang for your buck. But if you have a system that basically continues to perpetuate how easy it is to drive, this plan puts in 900 new miles of freeway and road lanes. Over 900 miles. And some of those accessible, most of those accessible by the bus, and to all cars, but the point is you just can't keep doing business as usual and expect different outcomes. So we need to really continue to support the transits system to make it an attractive choice for people.

CAVANAUGH: Jerome, this man is going to be presented to the SANDAG on October 28th. If they approve it, is it a done deal? Do you revisit this plan any time in the future?

STOCKS: NO, this is all in decision. 40 years. NO, I'm just kidding. The regional transportation plans get updated every four years. And so the -- I don't know, tragedy of this whole thing is that it takes almost three years produce them with all the studies that are required. So we will actually be revisiting this by twenty 13 in order to put together yet another RTP 2050. They have to be at least a 20-year time frame for planning purposes. We stretched ours out to 2050. The previous administration said 2030. The reason we did that is because the voters granted the TransNet expansion. It was causing problems because they would look at our 2030 RTP, and say, you promised XYZ project, and it's not in your RTP. Well, it was after 2030. So we moved it out to 2050 to better align the proposed projects. And we are counting on finding matching funds with our federal and state partners or public/private partnerships. There's many things to come in the future. And we believe we've got a good plan here, but yes, it does get reviewed every four years

CAVANAUGH: It looks pretty much everybody is assuming that this man will be finalized and approved by SANDAG on Friday. Alise, what can you do now if anything do influence either the board's decision or this revisit in four years?

LOWE: Well, the first thing I'd like to do is commend SANDAG for actually putting money for what's called the active transportation plan. And now we've asked them to include an early action transportation plan. So we're looking at $7 billion that are going to go for for weeking and walk income connections to transit. I want to see a plan that shows me within the next six-month, here's how we

Re going to spend a lot of that money, front low it and put forth this plan to spend a lot of the money in the next 5 or 10 years. I want to see a commitment from the board that says we realize that there is back sliding in our plan. And as for that being scientifically invalid. Why on earth was that number presented from the SANDAG staff to the board. SANDAG staff doesn't present scientifically invalid information to their board of directors. This is what they do for a living. I want to see the board actually make a commitment to saying, you know what? We want to in our next plan, we're going to do everything in our power possible to make sure that we don't have back slide, and that's over sight at the state level. And the last thing would be to make the commitment to getting the transportation's operations dollars that are needed

CAVANAUGH: We have to end it there. I want to thank my guests, Jerome Stocks, SANDAG board chair, and Alise Lowe with the groups move San Diego, and sustainable San Diego. Thank you both very much.

STOCKS: Thank you

LOWE: Thank you.