The trolley passes through Lemon Grove. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

The Metropolitan Transit System’s Board of directors formally decided Thursday not to continue building a measure for the 2020 ballot that would increase sales taxes to expand transit in urban San Diego.

“It is with a heavy heart that we confront the obvious fate of Elevate for the 2020 election cycle,” MTS Chairman Nathan Fletcher said. “The unfortunate reality of the global pandemic that we face right now is that our focus as elected officials, as leaders, as an agency really is for the foreseeable future, how do we respond to the public health challenges in front of us, how do we ensure the essential service of transit is provided in the most appropriate way, and how do we focus on the rebuilding effort that is going to have to happen as we come out of this.”

MTS had been conducting outreach meetings, public polling and focus groups to craft a ballot measure that would win support from two-thirds of voters in its service area. The agency forecast that it could bring in over $10 billion over 40 years from the measure, and put together a spending plan that would have increased bus services and added new routes and added a trolley connection to the airport, among other projects.

San Diego lawmakers put in considerable work in Sacramento to set the table for a ballot measure, too. After a SANDAG-led transportation tax failed in 2016 – leading to a scandal that changed the course of the agency – Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez passed a law that made it possible for MTS to levy taxes in the first place. Assemblyman Todd Gloria last year passed a law that let MTS limit how much of its service area would be subject to the tax and be able to vote on it, increasing its chances of passage by putting it only before voters in the most transit-friendly areas.

That’s all on hold for now.

“While the day will come that we ask the public to make an investment in transit… that day is not going to come in 2020,” Fletcher said.

San Diego Council President Georgette Gómez spearheaded the measure when she was MTS’s board chair. She too said the time is no longer right.

“It’s hard, but it’s the right thing to do,” she said of shelving the proposal.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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