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Some Elected Officials Urge SANDAG To Reject Transportation Plan

Photo caption: National City Councilwoman Alejandra Sotelo-Solis speaks at a press conferenc...

Photo by Claire Trageser

National City Councilwoman Alejandra Sotelo-Solis speaks at a press conference urging the SANDAG board to reject its regional transportation plan, Oct. 8, 2015.

Elected officials from San Diego and National City urged leaders of the regional planning agency Thursday to vote against a plan outlining transportation funding for the next 35 years.

Elected officials from San Diego and National City urged leaders of the regional planning agency Thursday to vote against a plan outlining transportation funding for the next 35 years.

The San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, board will vote on its regional transportation plan Friday. The plan allocates more than half of its total funding — $200 billion — to public transit projects, but environmentalists have long argued that money doesn't come early enough in the plan.

San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez added his voice to that chorus Thursday, saying the funding plan "enhances certain communities while minimizing and practically ignoring many others."

"That's just wrong," Alvarez added.

Alvarez said the plan was "devised oftentimes behind closed doors." He specifically called out the plan's funding for increased stops on the orange and blue trolley lines as coming too late, in 2035.

"(The plan) does not have a vision for the future and instead takes the current pattern, which we know is inefficient, of building our transportation network and not looking into the future," he said.

Jack Dale, the chair of SANDAG's board, said funding for public transportation "begins day one of the project." He added that 75 percent of the plan's money spent in the first five years goes to public transportation, and that expansions of highways include rapid bus lanes that help more people avoid driving.

"Trolleys can only go one place, buses can go many places," he said. The rapid lanes "allow people a different alternative than having to own a car to get to their jobs or schools," he added.

But on Thursday other elected officials, including San Diego City Council President Sherri Lightner and National City Councilwoman Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, also criticized the plan.

Lightner sent a letter to the SANDAG board asking for an amendment to the plan that would allow the city of San Diego to meet the goals in its Climate Action Plan.

A report out last month from the advocacy groups Circulate San Diego and Climate Action Campaign found that SANDAG's plan could override city goals of dramatically boosting the number of people who walk, bike, or take public transit to work.

Lightner, Alvarez and Sotelo-Solis are not on SANDAG's board and so will not get to vote on the plan Friday. San Diego's two voting members, Councilman Todd Gloria and Mayor Kevin Faulconer, support the plan.

A spokesman for Faulconer said the mayor would not be able to attend the SANDAG meeting on Friday because of a previous commitment, but would send Councilwoman Lorie Zapf to vote in his place.

"The Climate Action Plan is a key initiative for Mayor Faulconer which is why he brought together environmental and business groups together last year to update the CAP and move San Diego forward," a statement from spokesman Craig Gustafson said. "He believes the plan will result in a cleaner San Diego while at the same time protecting our environment and growing our economy."

Nicole Capretz, who leads Climate Action Campaign, called out elected officials who support the plan and thanked Alvarez and Sotelo-Solis for having the courage to stand up against it.

"We need elected officials who are willing to say we can not be a world class city without tackling the biggest challenge confronting our quality of life, climate change," she said.

Dale said he doesn't see an increase in elected officials asking the board to reject the plan.

"Every elected person will tell you my project is not getting done fast enough," he said. "Everything needs to be done right now."

Dale said the projects are laid out the way they are because of when money is available from local, state and federal funding.

"It's not only cash flow, but what can we deliver now, what can we deliver in the future to move the most people and serve people throughout the region as fast as we can," he said.

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