San Diego Business Journal Transportation: Proposal By Murphy Aimed at Solving Countywide Traffic Woes

Local land-use planners have been working since September to create a new regional agency that would make decisions on land use and transportation within the county.

Now, San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy is proposing to give that agency something extra: teeth.

Representatives of San Diego's Regional Government Efficiency Commission are mulling a proposal by Murphy, who has volunteered to cede some land-use authority from the city to the commission.

Murphy made the proposal April 28 on a plan to form a Regional Association for Planning and Infrastructure Decision-making. RAPID would take a regional approach to transportation and public transit issues , but to do that, Murphy would give RGEC something that heretofore has been reserved to cities and counties: eminent domain.

Tom Story, spokesman for Murphy, said as traffic congestion worsens in the area, it will take a regional approach to transportation to be effective.

However, in order to build the infrastructure projects necessary to free up what Story called "a severe lack of capacity," the regional government needs additional power to make things happen, he said.

"They are going to need to have the authority to guarantee that those facilities can be built. Which basically means that they need the ability to condemn property through the use of eminent domain, if necessary," Story said.

Currently, that authority resides with cities and counties. Murphy proposed to allow RGEC to use eminent domain, as well.

Could Supercede Local Authority

"If we vest that authority with a new agency, and that agency has a responsibility that supersedes a local agency's land-use authority, that is, in effect, a giving up of some land-use authority by the local agency," Story said. "The mayor was simply indicating that as the largest city in the region, he is not opposed to considering going so far as to give this body that authority."

Some of the major transportation needs for the area include a new airport, and incomplete freeway segments on state Routes 52, 56 and 125, he said.

Public transit would also benefit. The Metropolitan Transit Development Board's recently adopted "Transit First" plan, when implemented, will set up additional routes, services and infrastructure , such as light rail and designated lanes for express buses. These would make transit a viable alternative and attract new riders, Story said.

Now that the mayor's proposal is out there, it's being debated as one plan among many, Story said.

"I don't know that anyone in particular is championing that specific proposal. But we certainly hope it is considered and debated by RGEC. But obviously, it's going to be up to the commission," he said.

Kirk Mather, a spokesman for the RGEC, echoed those sentiments. He acknowledged the RAPID proposal from Murphy , most notably his offer to give up some land-use authority for transportation projects.

A 'Caveat'

"The mayor of the biggest city in the county has said giving up some local control is on the table. That, I thought was the biggest thing out of what he had to announce," he said.

However, Mather categorized Murphy's proposal as an early step.

"He gave a caveat that RGEC has three more months of work to do. 'You may not come to the same conclusion that I have, but I'd like you to consider what I have, and I'll consider whatever you have.'"

Mather also said RAPID was only one proposal out of many. Ever since RGEC was formed by Senate Bill 329 in September 2001, commissioners have been working on several concepts to consolidate several local planning agencies, and achieve better cooperation among the regional agencies, he said.

What direction the commission will follow will be determined at future meetings, he said.

"RGEC has not made any recommendations yet. We've been, since February, doing our reports from the different entities that SB-329 said we had to consider," Mather said. "Mayor Murphy made a proposal he asked RGEC to consider, and we will."

Mather also noted that whether or not San Diego gives up some of its land-use authority, that still doesn't answer the question whether the other municipalities within the county will do the same thing.

"That's one of the biggest concerns we're hearing from the 16 cities smaller than San Diego and Chula Vista , 'Oh, we're afraid we're kind of going to get lost in the shuffle here. We want to maintain our unique identities,'" he said.