Growth and Transportation Workshop

Public workshop on growth shows public wants more than platitudes.

by Jim Ricker

he Central San Diego community got its chance to voice its concerns to The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and among themselves at the second Region 2020 Growth and Transportation Workshop, held in the Inn Suites Hotel on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park last month. More than 95 activists from communities, agencies and non-profits attended this show given by SANDAG to inform us of its predictions and plans for the coming two decades. And, they seemed to listen to the feedback as they put on the show. "The stars are aligned," said Gail Goldberg, City of San Diego planner, as she introduced City of San Diego councilmember Byron Wear, and SANDAG staff members Gary Bonelli and Mike Mc-Laughin, and one wasn't sure if she was talking about the predictions or the people.

Attendees were first shown a video, a "Tomorrowland" look at what commuting will be like in 2020, with trains, lane dividers, wrist TVs, and -- the best yet -- "computer-controlled commuter lanes" that will greatly decrease the time spent going from here to there. And why? Because one million additional people appeared and San Diego responded by growing, approving wonders such as Vista Village and Otay Ranch (named in the video).

Next, Gary Bonelli, SANDAG Communications Director, led us through the predictions, all based on that passive acceptance of an increase of 1.2 million people, 60 percent due to "natural increase" rather than in-migration. During this part of the presentation, both Gary and emcee Mike McLaughin, Director of Land Use Planning, took questions. It quickly became apparent that those present were not concerned so much with transportation issues alone as with a range of connected concerns: preserving open space and dealing with the issues faced by a greatly densified center city, such as schools, affordable housing, public transit and safe neighborhoods.

For a while, the presenters didn't quite get it. I was able to ask two questions at this point, both of which got a passive treatment: "Is there nothing we can do about a 1 million person increase in our population?" and "Why is demand-side management of traffic the third and last of the options on your traffic solutions list?" [see story on page 7 for more information on this approach] The first question was ignored with a shrug of the shoulders from Mike, and the last was answered by Gary: "It just happens to be the smallest component of the three. We'd like it to be more, but it isn't." By the way, this prediction stuff is from the "2020 Cities/County Forecast," Sept/Oct 1999, at the SANDAG website:

The slide show was next, which was done as a survey of the audience: what they liked and didn't like in this picture. Fun. Two things I noticed were that we all seemed to like a human scale in our land use, be it road or house or skyscraper or neighborhood, and there were an awful lot of pictures of cars and roads. This transport sucks a lot of human energy from us and the Earth, too.

Byron Wear next presented a report on two success stories of city growth: the trolley line from the stadium to Grossmont through Mission Valley, and various projects in Little Italy (ironically "brought 'back' from I-5"), Market St. Square in Downtown, office-to-housing development. He then promised a "Park linkage in Midway/Sports Arena" between NTC and Mission Bay, which led into questions about non-point source pollution. Byron had three solutions for this "top priority": more diverter systems (like the one around Mission Bay), going after violators, and "Think Blue" citizen education about runoff hazards.

Eric Bowlby, San Diego Sierra Club Chapter Chair, now questioned and commented: Diverters are fine, until it rains, and everything goes into the sea we need to save and create wetlands, to promote water quality. Wear supported this in concept, but the reality is that we have land uses in place. Eric commented on transportation: The trolley is at grade level, what we need is an elevated system around town, and a high-speed system on I-15. Wear: "We'll look at everything."

Alex Sachs of HUD pointed out that there were lots of good things in Mission Valley, but what was missing was affordable housing, the low to moderate kind mandated by federal projects.

We looked at the results from the slide show survey. We knew that.

The time for feedback was now at hand. Mike led the discussion. Some high points:

Joe Wolf, of the San Diego Unified School District (he plans new schools) pointed out that, according to SANDAG's growth predictions, financing for school infrastructure will be far from adequate. Mike's answer: "fiscal reform."

SDSU Professor Jim Wright asked about Mexico, a question on a couple of other people's minds. Are we ignoring Tijuana in our predictions and plans? What about the proposed train between Tijuana and Arizona? "Very important" to a "binational" SANDAG, said Mike.

Mel Shapiro commented on the need to stimulate jobs, and asked the theme question of the night, "How do we balance growth incentives with affordable housing incentives?" He pointed out the link between housing affordability and economic success for citizens. Another participant brought out that San Diego, at present, has the lowest "affordability index" between jobs and housing in California. We heard a long speech from a man from North Park about "attitudes" in public transportation and about the homeless, with a long detailed list of the bus routes not available to center-city residents to points north, like Kaiser Hospital and the Veteran's Hospital, Tecolote canyon and Mission Trails Park.

James Sisson asked, "economic prosperity for whom?" and called for a "coordinated inner-city business strategy." Bob Forsythe said the real problem is the way the City allocates funds, giving out examples of Park and Recreation facilities available to Tierrasanta residents versus Normal Heights citizens. Glass backboards for Tierrasanta, chain-link nets for Normal Heights; we need "an absolute and total change" in the way the city allocates funds. SANDAG Mike's answer for all these problems and concerns was the same, and it happens to be the fifth item in the Region 2020 Plan, State/Local Tax Reform.

Jim Peugh of San Diego Audubon came up with the catch phrase of the night, as part of his comments. He said that we have focused too much with getting people to where they need to go faster and easier -- our transportation policy is geared towards increasing mobility. His solution was "anti-mobility": the idea of putting goods and services where the people are, so they don't have to travel far to get the things they need. After this brainchild, he made two very specific environmental points. First, preserving open space is not enough. We need to preserve our waterways along with the open space beside them, to keep our beaches clean, our habitat habitable, and (unspoken) our birds alive. Second, the prediction of a 229% increase in population in the backcountry (47,000 housing units) by SANDAG is unacceptable. "Not smart," were his words.

As things were winding down, Courtney Coyle asked that we not ignore historical buildings in our quest for affordable, high density housing. Our cultural resources are important, too. The wrap-up began with an announcement by Mike and Gary of the removal from consideration of some proposed freeways. They proudly brought up a map of the County Regional Highway System (Oct. 1999) with several scratched-out roads: sections of Hwys. 67, 78, 94, and 8 were now crossed out for freeway expansion on their eastern ends. Several of us offered them our own personal felt pens with suggestions to "cross out 125, and we'll be happy." Ha-Ha.

They took it all down; here's their list.


  • Balance population growth incentives with affordability.
  • Focus on anti-mobility(!)
  • Change attitude
  • Preserve open space in backcountry
  • Solve homeless problem
  • Tax reform
  • Finance implementation of community plans

This list, they admitted, "was substantially different" than the one they had before. I bet. I have a slick new folder with several pieces of literature in it, they had good coffee, good cookies, and they knew how to use a power point. I was impressed. The Hotel had no bicycle racks.

Jim Ricker is a Sierra Club volunteer