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A countywide tax hike to pay for transportation and infrastructure needs is dividing the two candidates running to represent District 3 on the County Board of Supervisors.
Measure A is a half-cent tax increase on the ballot proposed by the San Diego Association of Governments that would pay for highway and transit projects and give individual cities money for things like road repairs. It’s created some strange bedfellows – the groups that are for and against the measure both include politicians and advocates from the left and the right.
Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar, a Republican running for county supervisor, has no qualms opposing the measure.
Supervisor Dave Roberts, the incumbent Democrat in the race, has refused to say whether he supports or opposes the measure.
But he’s willing to say the plan is pretty good overall, to challenge opponents to propose something better and to claim one project the plan would pay for in his district is absolutely essential. He just doesn’t want to dive into controversy.
“I think this initiative is a good initiative, but so many people have taken an opposed stance and support stance, so I’ve decided not to take a public position,” Roberts said. “If I don’t feel comfortable taking a pro or con, I won’t.”
Gaspar criticized Roberts’ refusal to take a position.
If the communities Roberts represents as a county supervisor aren’t “getting the maximum benefit from the measure, then the measure cannot be supported,” she said.
Roberts said there are people on both sides of the measure whom he respects, and he thinks some of the objections, especially the environmental justice concerns over highway construction in the southern part of the county, are valid. Regardless, he says, the county needs some way to come up with matching funds to be able to receive federal and state funds and grants for these transportation and infrastructure initiatives.
“One of the challenges is we need to find a way to leverage state and federal resources to make improvements to the infrastructure in San Diego County,” he said. “I want people who are opposed to it to tell me a better plan on how to leverage state and federal dollars.”
Gaspar said the county needs to improve how people move throughout it, but this measure isn’t the way to do it.
While the divisiveness of the measure is what keeps Roberts on the fence, it’s also what persuaded Gaspar to oppose it.
“I think in this situation, you have people on both sides – the more environmentalist community, the more likely to support public transportation, they’re very upset over what’s happening in the measure,” she said. “At the same time, you have people who are big advocates for freeway expansion who are upset with the measure. It’s to a degree that it strikes me that the measure needs to be reworked.”
Gaspar said she doesn’t think Encinitas was adequately consulted while the measure was being crafted, which leads her to believe other jurisdictions also weren’t.
“There never was a conversation in Encinitas of the projects that are proposed in the plan,” she said. “And if I haven’t seen that prioritization done in my own city, it concerns me that perhaps it wasn’t done in the other cities as well.”
Gaspar also takes issue with how SANDAG has been selling the measure.
The measure also creates large pools of money over which cities would compete for grants.
That provision concerns her because smaller cities like Encinitas will struggle to compete with larger cities like Carlsbad that would have more money available to put up as matching funds. Encinitas wouldn’t have the general fund dollars to provide those matching funds and would need to borrow money to compete, she said.
Roberts took issue with that argument, citing an example of a small city government that did piece together funds for an expensive project – the Solana Beach Transit Center, built in the 1990s. The project cost roughly $18 million and the city of Solana Beach only had to contribute a little over $1 million as it pieced together funds for the project.
Smaller cities can get together funding if there’s will to do so, he said.
“One of the positive things in this measure is the ability to give communities resources so they can go leverage other resources,” he said.
Gaspar said she’s heard from constituents upset over the level of funding North County would receive from the measure.
But both Gaspar and Roberts agree that there are some projects in the measure that are pivotal to the North County district they’re fighting to represent.
The most important of which is a project in Sorrento Valley, that would move the Coaster station there and fix the intersection of rail tracks and road that’s long caused bottlenecks.
“That project is critical to my district,” said Roberts. “If Measure A does not pass, we need to immediately figure out a way to get that done.”
Roberts said the county risks losing major employers if they don’t handle infrastructure in that area.
“I would love nothing more than to support that project, but unfortunately you’re looking at a big package,” Gaspar said. “And so while I do absolutely support the Sorrento Valley project and think that it needs to move forward, I don’t think this is the right mechanism for it to move forward, considering the taxpayers are on the hook for billions of dollars in order to make it happen.”