Carmel Valley planning board wants public transit included in SANDAG plan

At its Feb. 25 meeting, the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board weighed in on San Diego Forward, the regional transportation plan approved by the SANDAG Board of Directors and a proposed November 2016 ballot measure for a special tax increase to help fund it.

Coleen Clementson, principal regional planner with SANDAG, said San Diego Forward is a plan representing years of extensive public engagement and lays out a roadmap for nearly $204 billion in transportation investments.

In order to implement the plan, a new funding source is needed and SANDAG is considering the ballot measure for November asking voters to increase the local sales tax by up to one-half cent. The increase will require a two-thirds voter approval.

SANDAG is in the process of gathering feedback on the potential measure and in February over 14,000 people participated in its town hall call-in sessions. One call, held entirely in Spanish, had more than 2,000 participants.

The planning board’s input, which has been heard at the board’s multiple One Paseo meetings, is that there is simply not enough public transit in the area.

“Carmel Valley has been neglected,” said board member Victor Manoushakian. “We really desperately need some kind of transportation, we’ve had nothing for 30 years.”

TransNet, the one-half cent sales tax for transportation, was first approved in 1987 and its revenue has been used to expand transit and build and upgrade roadways in the region.

TransNet was extended for 40 more years in 2004, narrowly squeaking by voters, Clementson said, and is expected to raise another $14 billion for identified projects. SANDAG has borrowed against future TransNet funds to build projects sooner, including new transit stations along I-15, modernization of the trolley system and preservation of open space. It is planned to fund the mid-coast trolley extension from Old Town to UC San Diego, lagoon restorations and enhancements along the I-5 corridor and double tracking of the coastal rail corridor.

Board member Anne Harvey noted that the San Dieguito River Valley has benefited immensely from the TransNet tax, allowing SANDAG to purchase large chunks of open space, nearly 6,300 acres. “It’s not just about transportation, it’s the green space that goes with it,” Harvey said.

For the ballot measure, Clementson said SANDAG is considering several options for where the funding would go. In one option, 40 percent would get side aside for local governments to use on a variety of projects — allocations would be made to each of the county’s 18 cities, including San Diego, Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas.

Options for transportation projects funded by the increased tax could include additional lanes for SR-56, express service on the Coaster and Sprinter, the re-location of the Sorrento Valley Coaster Station and I-5 improvements. The I-5/SR-56 connector project could also be moved up in timing, which was of interest to the board.

“Right now it is slated for 2035,” Clementson said. “At this stage I don’t know whether it would move five or 10 years ahead.”

Board member Shreya Sasaki stressed how “disconnected” Carmel Valley can sometimes feel due to the lack of public transit and she said she hoped SANDAG would consider that in their analysis.

Board member Ken Farinsky said what the community needs is to bring people from the outskirts of Carmel Valley into the center of town through a line running east to west, connecting to and from the beach and Pacific Highlands Ranch.

“It could bring people to schools, shopping and local places rather than getting to UTC,” Farinsky said. “There could be a huge demand for that kind of line but no one is talking about it.”

He said San Diego’s ambitious Climate Action Plan, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gases 50 percent by 2035, is only going to happen if more people get on transit and that public transit should focus on where people really want and need to go.

Clementson said the SANDAG board is expected to decide by April whether to move forward with the 2016 ballot measure.