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SANDAG Hosts 'Telephone Town Halls' On Tax Increase

SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos speaks at the agency's downtown San Diego headquarters, Jan. 21, 2016.
Andrew Bowen
SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos speaks at the agency's downtown San Diego headquarters, Jan. 21, 2016.
SANDAG Hosts ‘Telephone Town Halls’ On Tax Increase
The San Diego Association of Governments wants the public to comment on how it should spend money from a potential sales tax increase that could go on the November ballot.
SANDAG Hosts 'Telephone Town Halls' On Tax Increase
SANDAG Hosts 'Telephone Town Halls' On Tax Increase GUEST:Gary Gallegos, Executive Director, SANDAG

Today the San Diego Association of governments begins a series of four Townhall meetings. They are not going to be in a Townhall -- on the phone. The subject Sandag want citizens to talk about is the future of transportation funding. Whether Sendak should put an initiative on the ballot in November to approve Ahab sent sales tax. Joining us to talk about the telephone Townhall's is Gary Gallego Executive Director of the San Diego Association of governments. Gary thank you for coming and. What would you say is the purpose of these telephone Townhall's? I think it is to reach out to citizens throughout the San Diego region -- to help shape the region's future. We have long-range plans and a lot of projects and priorities. The idea of these meetings is to try to do it by telephone to make it easier hopefully for more people to participate. To really hopefully tell us what their priorities are. How do they work? Let's say I am someone who wants to participate. You can register or you can sign up or just participate. At the beginning there will be an overview of what is in the plan. There will be some questions to ask people whether you think this or that should be a priority. Then the most important part, will be called that will be taken. At this evening Townhall meeting -- supervisor Ron Roberts will be participating in the Townhall. He will give a presentation before other people trying and. So it will be a general presentation about what we're doing. The supervisor Roberts will be there, I will be there, the planning director will be there. The most important part is to take what should from the public or take input. What is the telephone number people can call? The telephone number is 877-229-8493. I will say that one more time before we are done. There is an access code that goes with it if I can at that. The access code is 112-6264 -- 112664. Is start at 70 clock. What kinds of things -- actually it starts at 6:00. What kinds of things are you hoping the public will give you an on? In the regions -- diverse regions -- this evening's meeting is focused on North inland and East County hopefully we will hear specifically from that part of the region in terms of the roads they think should be improved, public transit that should be improved -- how important the local infrastructure within all of these cities are. That kind of input. I think you have already conducted some polling on this issue. We have done some research on this. Is this another effort to get out beyond the Townhall's. We are also doing online surveys. Another way to provide input. We're also during a series of meetings that will happen in the next month or so before we go to the board in March. This is all about the question of whether you are going to put an initiative on the November ballot for a half cent additional sales tax. I think we have a plan. Now we are getting the priorities, the board is contemplating whether something should be put on the ballot. I think this helps shape that. Didn't really ask whether voters will support it. Why is this local money important in terms of getting projects done? So if we look at our history the voters first past the first measure in 87. They renewed another measure in 2004. These local dollars help us leverage other state and federal dollars. If you look at the changes of where the federal government has gone as an example -- now there is more competition for these dollars. Most of that -- some of that competition requires having a local match. The best example -- the midcoast trolley extension. The extension of the light rail system. Expensive, large to billion-dollar project. About $1 billion of that will be paid with local sales tax money that was passed in the last measure. The rest will come from the feds. It sounds like you are saying the federal government might be reluctant to give us a big chunk of money if we cannot match it. That money then might go to LA or it might go to San Francisco. Correct -- if you look at the new transportation bill there is more [Indiscernible] competitive in nature rather than by formula. San Diego has to compete. We have to have the projects. Part of that is having some local match in places like LA and other places would be our competitors. You have a clue what a half cent additional sales tax will raise any given year? If we look at today, the half cent sales tax in San Diego generates around $200 million a year. I'm speaking with Gary Gallego's he is the executive director of the San Diego Association of governments. Otherwise known as Sendak. I guess March is when the Sandag board is going to decide whether to proceed with the initiative.

SANDAG is hosting four telephone town hall events this week and next week to get comments from San Diego County residents on a potential ballot measure in November to raise the sales tax to fund infrastructure projects.

Gary Gallegos, executive director of the regional planning agency, said participants will dial in and listen to a presentation from SANDAG leaders. If they want, they can enter a telephone queue to make comments and ask questions.

The San Diego Association of Governments has already done polling and focus groups on the possible ballot measure, and an online survey is underway.

"It's a process to allow us to be interactive," Gallegos said. "We get to hear from people (and) understand what they think is important, and why they think we ought to be doing A, B or C."

In October, SANDAG passed a 35-year regional transportation plan. Environmental groups criticized it for not putting enough money into biking, walking and public transit projects, and many of those same groups are now calling on SANDAG to make this new tax measure transit-first.

"We think that there’s probably a lot of appetite for doing things a little differently, to encourage transit and smart growth," said Colin Parent, policy counsel for the nonprofit Circulate San Diego. "And hopefully this gives an opportunity for San Diegans to make those opinions known."

Gallegos said on Tuesday's Midday Edition, “I think the region is broad. It’s diverse. What might work in one community may not always work in another community. What might be a need and a desire in North County may be a lot different than in central San Diego or East County or South Bay.”

The potential tax increase, which SANDAG says would not exceed one-half cent, would be in addition to Transnet, the half-cent sales tax approved by San Diego County voters in 2004. The new tax would need support from two-thirds of the county’s voters to pass.

Ron Roberts, chairman of the SANDAG board and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, recently acknowledged achieving that vote total is a difficult hurdle, but he said San Diego is falling behind Los Angeles and and San Francisco in transportation infrastructure.

In 2008, Los Angeles County voters approved Measure R, a half-cent sales tax that is funding an unprecedented expansion of the region's rail network. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown paved the way for another half-cent sales tax to go before Los Angeles voters in November.

The state and federal governments often match local spending on infrastructure projects, meaning new local revenue could be amplified two- or threefold.

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