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SANDAG Regional Transportation Plan Derailed, What’s Next?

Evening Edition

Jack Shu, a member of the board of directors for the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, talks to KPBS about their lawsuit against SANDAG's regional transportation plan.

Aired 12/6/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Jack Shu, is a member of the board of directors, Cleveland National Forest Foundation

Erin Chalmers, Attorney from Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, they represented the Cleveland National Forest Foundation and the Sierra Club


Earlier this week, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled against a 40-year plan devised by San Diego County officials on the region's transportation needs.

The San Diego County Association of Governments, or SANDAG, plan outlined $200 billion in projects from the building of new freeway lanes to new public transportation and bicycle projects.

Local leaders touted the fact this was the first long-range transportation plan from any California county since the state set regional targets for reducing greenhouse gases. So what went wrong?

Erin Chalmers, an attorney from Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, who represented the Cleveland National Forest Foundation and the Sierra Club in their suit against the plan, told KPBS that SANDAG "barely met some short-term greenhouse gas reduction requirements of state law."

"However it really failed to grapple with the fact that long-term needs to keep reducing emissions go far beyond these short-term goals," he said.

He pointed to the executive order that mandates reducing greenhouse embassy emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.

"Even though SANDAG's plan goes to the year 2050, they ignored this long-term need to reduce emissions," he said. "And that's what the judge said, for a long-term plan like this, you need to look at the long-term trend of greenhouse gas emissions. So SANDAG looked at some short-term greenhouse gas reductions that it admits were mostly caused by the poor economy, not by its plan, but then ignored the fact that its plans allows emissions to significantly rise over time."

SANDAG declined KPBS' request for an interview, but sent the following statement by email:

"The SANDAG Board of Directors will meet in closed session on Friday, Dec. 7 to discuss Judge Taylor's ruling on the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). We stand behind the plan and its environmental impact report. As Judge Taylor noted, the RTP "involved thousands of hours of effort by numerous talented professionals." The plan was approved by the California Air Resources Board, California Department of Transportation, and U.S. Department of Transportation."

But Chalmers said the judge decided that environmental impact report does not meet the requirements of law.

"This environmental impact report is required to do two things in particular that SANDAG didn't do," he said. "It's required to inform the public and decision-makers about the full impact of its project over the entire life of the project. That's where it failed here by only looking at the short-term greenhouse gas reduction goals, as opposed to grappling with the long-term goals. And secondly, SANDAG was required to take a leadership role and really mitigate the impact of its project by encouraging or spending money on measures that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the long-run."

"It basically kicked the can down the road and said, well, we'll do more later," he added. "So it wasn't the plan itself that didn't meet the short-term greenhouse gas reductions, but it was in fact the environmental impact report that the judge invalidated."

Jack Shu, a member of the board of directors of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, told KPBS that SANDAG's plan also failed in other ways.

"One is against CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act)," he said. "And it also failed the people. People are looking for transit. We want more transit. This win that we had early this week is a win for workers and students, people who for whatever reason rely on public transit. They need to spend less time getting from one part of the city to another to get to work. It's a win for businessmen and retailers who want more vibrant economies within their urban areas. Transit would help do that. It's a win for parents and grandparents who want fewer cases of asthma for their kids and less cancer. It's a win for a lot of people."

Claire Trageser contributed to this report.

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Avatar for user 'missiongroup'

missiongroup | December 6, 2012 at 7:25 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

I am a transportation planning professional who has worked for the past 15 years to improve the quality of transportation planning in San Diego County. In the process, I have worked extensively with SANDAG and its planning processes, and I believe I can offer some insight into why SANDAG has been unable to produce a viable long-range plan..

The issue has a technical root. Any proposed transportation is *modeled* to ascertain ridership demand, and it is ridership that ultimately determines whether a project is cost-effective. SANDAG is very proud of its Regional Travel Model, a hugely complex network of data tables and equations, and there are many features of this model which are commendable and even state of the art.

But there's an area of the model that isn't helping us: the part that determines how many people will use transit services. The way the model is constructed, it will assign very few riders other than the poorest of the poor to any transit service, no matter how fast and convenient. When I pointed this out to SANDAG in meetings with their modeling staff, I offered as evidence that the model may have correctly projected ridership on the Coaster commuter rail (because of some fudge-factors built in to the model, not because the model's native assumptions would have been correct), but that almost certainly it incorrectly projected the income level of riders. It turns out that this was exactly the case, so SANDAG modelers included another "custom" fudge-factor to manually change the results.

The problem is this: if we were to come up with new transit projects that truly provided fast, frequent, and convenient service that actually, in the real world, would attract appreciable numbers of middle-income riders (an example would be the Commuter Express buses on the I-15 corridor, which attract exactly that market), the model won't show that ridership.

This is the core issue: THE MODEL DOES NOT FAIRLY ACCOUNT FOR WHAT MAY ATTRACT A MIDDLE-INCOME PERSON TO TRANSIT, and therefore, as a result, tells SANDAG planners that only a road-heavy plan can deal with increased transportation demand. The model leaves potentially hundreds of thousands of transit trips on the table (assuming the right transit projects), forcing planners to conclude that there is little transit can do to make a difference.

How do we solve this issue? If SANDAG makes a serious effort to first learn more about what would attract a broader market to transit and then updated its model--and its planning knowledge—it could then devise a transportation plan that achieves our broader goals.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | December 6, 2012 at 9:58 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

SANDAG engages in segregated urban planning.

They are of the thought that mass transit should only serve poor areas.

I'm glad their plan was squashed, but, quite honestly, I have 0 confidence they will come up with something better.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | December 6, 2012 at 10:02 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

The city council needs to declare SANDAG incompetent, and then contract with planning experts in a city that actually has good mass transit to do our plan.

Just cut these incompetents out completely.

How much money have these fools already waisted on their useless plans?

It's time to step in and remove them from the process!

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