In my last post, I wrote about why I thought progressives should support Measure A. As expected, the Measure failed. I was widely criticized for voicing an opinion about a strategy that I did not personally participate in, but the point was not to attack anyone. Like all of us, I'm grieving this week over the national results. My coping mechanism is to try to think of solutions, to push forward. As with all of my posts, feel free to ignore this one. I'm happy that anyone reads, but my goal since Day One was to simply have an outlet for my stray thoughts.
So, Measure A is dead. Now what do we do? Here are my first, rough thoughts.
I. The Trump Effect
I think any solution needs to pay careful attention to the effects of the Trump presidency. Today, I see two critical considerations as it relates to transit funding.
First, it is likely Trump will negate decades of hard work on climate change, unraveling not only federal regulations but also international agreements. If he does what is expected, it is likely impossible for the planet to avoid significant warming based on voluntary emission reductions. This doesn't mean we give up on our local goals, but I think it means that the only possible way to prevent significant warming is a technological miracle. With federal research funding likely to be slashed, anything we can do locally to encourage technological progress should be encouraged. We can't rely on a technological solution, but we can help create the environment that incentivizes invention and experimentation.
Second, unless Trump changes course, federal funds for transit are likely to disappear or be severely curtailed. What does this mean? Major transit projects, like trolley lines, may never succeed unless we can fully fund them with state and local resources. This is still up in the air, but it may require a shift to smaller projects.
II. SANDAG Reform
This is obviously a pet issue of mine. Nearly all of the problems we currently face and those that arose under Measure A are the result of the undemocratic structure that is borderline unconstitutional and causes a disparate impact on minorities and low-income families. We need a full-throated lobbying effort on our newly-elected state legislators to pass a SANDAG reform bill. If we can't get reform to ensure equal voting power to end implicit discrimination, I don't know what battles we can win. To put the pressure on, it may even be worthwhile to file a lawsuit challenging SANDAG. It might not win, but it will drive attention to the cause.
If SANDAG doesn't change, I see little reason to hope that further lobbying efforts will lead to the drastic change we need. Keep fighting SANDAG, but I don't see how lobbying the Board will be enough.
III. Non-Revenue Actions
Even if we succeed in finding new revenue for active transportation and transit, it is going to take at least two, maybe four or more, years. This delay is disastrous. We need to not give up on new revenue, but also push for actions that do not require revenue. The best bet is land use: our current transit infrastructure is vastly underutilized. We need to pass major land use reform around our existing transit stations. In a previous post from about a year ago, I called them Green Life Activation Stations, or GLASes. I'm sure someone can come up with a better name. Earlier this year, Howard Blackson wrote about the same idea and called them Climate Action Zones. The idea is a drastic upzoning to encourage development around underutilized existing transit.
There is a wide range of other "cheap" transit fixes to increase use: realigning bus routes, converting existing freeway lanes to managed lanes, road diets, or even introducing some form of a congestion charge. Similarly, if we can't make transit better, we can help push a mode shift by making driving worse. This means higher parking costs, lane conversions, etc. Although we need new revenue, we should be creative in finding "free" solutions that leverage our existing infrastructure.
IV. Revenue Sources
Measure A, like Transnet before it, was a sales tax increase. There are two problems with this. First, sales tax revenue is uncertain and potentially insufficient to raise the required revenue. Second, a sales tax is very regressive, putting the burden of funding our transit largely on our low-income population. Under state law, SANDAG had to push for a sales tax increase, it doesn't have the authority to pursue other forms of revenue. But starting on a clean slate, progressives should look to other forms of taxation: property tax, even a state-level income tax increase, or other forms of taxation: TOT, gas tax, services fee, I don't know what's possible. Perhaps we can sell the Qualcomm site to raise funds to combat climate change. But now that we are starting over, let's expand our horizon.
Those are just some first thoughts. I'll be interested to see what our advocates come up with.