69.9 F
San Diego
Sunday, Oct 1, 2023

GOVERNMENT–Taxpayers Group Backs Regional Infrastructure Plan Government: Proposal a ‘Once-in-a-Lifetime’ Opportunity for Area

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association boarded the “Peace train,” supporting a proposal by state Sen. Steve Peace to consolidate at least six regional government agencies into a single super-agency.

While the actual bill establishing the new agency, the Regional Infrastructure and Transportation Agency, or RITA, has yet to be introduced, the concept has generated a good amount of discussion and behind-the-scenes lobbying in recent weeks.

Scott Barnett, SDCTA’s executive director, said the business group came out in support of Peace’s proposal in concept earlier this year and is offering specific ideas of how the basic idea can be improved.

“We’ve met with Sen. Peace, and will be meeting with him again in the next few weeks to talk over how the legislation will be worded,” Barnett said. “We think this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for change in San Diego county government. And if we don’t do it in the next few years, our window of opportunity will close and we’ll be at a point of no return where we’ll become a mini-Los Angeles or Orange County.”

- Advertisement -

Peace said he was pleased with the association’s support and was impressed by the obvious amount of time the group spent on its analysis.

“There are lots of people in this community who are spending quality time on it. The two concepts that appear to be embraced by all are consolidated governance, and direct accountability,” Peace said.


Under Peace’s consolidation plan, the following agencies would be incorporated into RITA: the Port of San Diego, made up the five cities that possess San Diego bayfront tidelands; the San Diego Association of Governments (Sandag), made up of the county and its 18 cities; the Air Quality Management District; the Metropolitan Transit Development Board; the North County Transit District; and an as-yet unformed Border Infrastructure District.

Peace contends the current bureaucracy isn’t working well, isn’t accountable to voters and is costing taxpayers too much. Barnett said overall, Peace’s plan makes a lot of sense.

“This is the first step in what we hope will be the consolidation of more regional government programs,” Barnett said.

The taxpayers association agrees with Peace’s main contention that RITA’s board should be elected by voters, but suggested that some board seats represent particular districts, while a some represent the entire region, or are “at large.”

He wasn’t definitive of how many seats the board should be, saying it could range from seven to 15.

Rather than having the chairman of the RITA board appointed by the governor, the taxpayers association suggests the voter-elected board appoint both the chairman and the executive director.

The association also believes two agencies, the Port District and Sandag, should be retained but stripped of some of their current responsibilities.

Barnett said the group isn’t satisfied with the job Sandag is doing. He blames much of the region’s traffic woes on Sandag, saying it is too focused on elected officials reaching consensus on issues and not rocking the boat, Barnett said.

Need Overall Scope

Barnett, who sat on Sandag’s 19-member board for three years as a Del Mar city councilman, said rather than finding consensus among member cities, the agency should make tough planning decisions based on what’s best for the entire region, mitigating traffic problems regionally, and getting more people to use mass transit.

To achieve that, the association would like to see Sandag’s current responsibility in allocating state transportation dollars go to RITA. Sandag still has some merit as a clearinghouse for planning data and consulting services, and as a forum where elected officials can meet to discuss common issues, Barnett said.

As for the port, Barnett said the cash-flush agency could retain management of the bay’s tidelands. The port’s current authority over Lindbergh Field, maritime operations and some railroad functions would revert to RITA, he said.

So far, only one port commissioner, David Malcolm of Chula Vista, supports the Peace plan. Malcolm is a longtime ally and friend of Peace.

In an interview with the San Diego Business Journal last month, Malcolm criticized the Sandag board and officials sitting on the boards of the other agencies, adding part of the problem is the members of these boards are all appointed, and not elected.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said the county board has appointed a subcommittee to monitor Peace’s proposal and offer ways it might be refined. Although some concepts need to be worked out, she personally supports RITA.

“It’s clear the current system is broken. The transportation needs of the area have grown, and gridlock and congestion have become worse. There has to be a better way,” said Jacob, whose 2nd District represents much of East County and winds into Poway.

Peace said he met with 14 mayors of the county’s 18 cities to give them a better understanding of his bill, Senate Bill 329, which won’t be officially introduced for at least two weeks.

Although he heard some opposition to the plan, most mayors agreed the current system needs fixing, and this may be a way to improve things, Peace said.

He said the first committee hearings on the bill aren’t planned until late April.


Featured Articles


Related Articles