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San Diego Association Of Governments Approves Controversial $200 Billion Transportation Plan

Members of the environmental group San Diego 350 watch the SANDAG board meeting on the regional transportation plan, Oct. 9, 2015.
Claire Trageser
Members of the environmental group San Diego 350 watch the SANDAG board meeting on the regional transportation plan, Oct. 9, 2015.

The board of the San Diego regional planning agency voted unanimously Friday to approve a $200 billion spending plan that will fund transportation projects for the next 35 years.

"Because this plan dedicates for the foreseeable future three quarters of funds to transit, because it's a marked improvement from the last plan that only gave half of the money to public transit, and because this plan exceeds all of our state requirements when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, I will support this plan," said City Councilman Todd Gloria, who is on the San Diego Association of Governments board.

The San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, updates its transportation plan every four years. Environmental groups sued over the environmental impact report of the previous version of the plan, saying it did not do enough to curb greenhouse gases. While the plan meets state requirements for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, the region’s overall emissions will only dip slightly and then level off in the next 34 years, according to the plan. That’s not enough to satisfy state law.


The lawsuit won twice in lower courts and is now in the state Supreme Court.

Environmental groups have spoken strongly against the current version of the plan as well. Members of the group San Diego 350 and the Environmental Health Coalition rallied outside SANDAG's downtown office building before the meeting, and provided public comment against the plan to the board.

Monique López, a policy advocate for the Environmental Health Coalition, told the board a personal story about growing up in a neighborhood with environmental issues. She said she developed asthma as a child and was hit by a car, both of which still affect her as an adult.

"I still carry those scars with me everywhere I go," she said. "The plan is much more than the projects that are in there and aren't in there. It's about the impacts that it will have on people's lives. It's my sincere hope that you will seriously consider the impacts your vote will have on the people, particularly in environmental justice communities."

On Thursday, elected officials from San Diego and National City urged the board to vote down the plan because they said it doesn't include enough funding for public transit projects.


San Diego City Council President Sherri 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.

But the two San Diego representatives on the SANDAG board, Gloria and Mayor Kevin Faulconer, support the plan.

A spokesman for Faulconer said the mayor was 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.

Spokesman Craig Gustafson said SANDAG's plan would not hinder the city's Climate Action Plan.

"The SANDAG plan is just the starting point for improving the environment and reducing pollution and the Climate Action Plan will build upon it," he said in a statement. "Independent of SANDAG, the city outlined a number of things in the Draft Climate Action Plan to encourage more walking, biking and transit use in the coming years to meet the plan’s goals."

He added that the SANDAG plan doesn’t take into account the city's Climate Action Plan because it won't come up for a vote until late 2015, and said the SANDAG plan will spend 75 percent of its funding on public transit, bicycling and walking projects in the first five years.

Gloria also used the 75 percent of public transit funding in the first five years as a reason for supporting the plan, and noted it marks an improvement from the 2011 plan, which devoted 50 percent of funding in its first five years to public transit.

But Nicole Capretz, the leader of Climate Action Campaign, said the first five years of funding for the 2015 plan was actually determined by the 2011 plan, so citing that as an achievement in the current plan doesn't make sense.

"The next five years for SANDAG is always pretty much fully baked," she said. "When we adopt a 2015 transportation plan, it'll be 2019 before it's updated. So really, what is most important is not the first five years, but the second five years."

She said the overall plan only devotes 50 percent of its funding to public transit, which is not enough.

Other SANDAG board members, including mayors from El Cajon and Escondido, said the plan spent too much money on bike paths and public transit and not enough on roads.

SANDAG's board discusses the regional transportation plan, Oct. 9, 2015.
Claire Trageser
SANDAG's board discusses the regional transportation plan, Oct. 9, 2015.