County supervisors enjoy a dangerous level of job security in San Diego County. Free of term limits and benefiting from some creative redistricting, they face no threat come election time. Three of them last week showed that they believe their power is limitless.
Supervisors Pam Slater, Dianne Jacob and Bill Horn tried to strong-arm the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Board of Directors into retreating from a plan to take a transportation-funding ballot measure to the voters in November. Horn, Jacob and Slater voted last Tuesday to oppose the proposed extension of the so-called TransNet tax-a half-percent sales tax that helps fund countywide transportation projects-because they believe the plan pours too much money into public-transit enhancement and not enough into freeway construction.
Never mind that the TransNet extension has been three years in the making, undergoing considerable debate and finally achieving some degree of compromise among rival geographical, political and ideological interests. You know that when a resolution of such a contentious matter doesn't thrill anyone, it's probably the best possible outcome.
The proposal would divvy up $14 billion in sales tax revenue roughly into thirds for freeways, public transit and streets and roads over 40 years beginning in 2008. But that's not good enough for The Three Amigos. They want at least half the money to go to freeways and a third to go to streets and roads, and they're willing to allow the remaining money to fund transit projects, but, judging from their public comments, they'd probably be happier if buses, trolleys and longer-distance light rail got nothing.
(The supervisors' ideological opposite, the Sierra Club, dislikes the compromise for the exact opposite reason-the environmentalists want more flexibility to spend some of the roads money on transit-and will likely decide May 19 to oppose the tax extension.)
Horn and Slater have been consistently opposed to SANDAG's funding-breakdown compromise, and they've lobbied against it through Jacob, their representative on the SANDAG board. That's all well and good, but no other SANDAG members agreed. That's democracy-the supervisors argued their position, and they were outvoted.
The supervisorial triad coped with this political defeat by officially opposing the proposal, knowing full well that many of the tax extension's proponents believe the supervisors' opposition-which signals discord in the public's eye-could doom the measure at the polls. The measure needs a two-thirds majority of voter approval for passage. (To their credit, Supervisors Greg Cox and Ron Roberts voted against Horn, Slater and Jacob. It was an easy choice for Roberts, who needs the support of urban San Diego voters, who would be more likely to favor transit funding, in his mayoral campaign.)
The supervisors' vote has sparked considerable ire among public officials and civic leaders throughout the county. They showed they're willing to squander billions of dollars worth of badly needed transportation funding just to make their point. We're glad the SANDAG board didn't give in to this brazen power play. On Friday, the board voted 17-1, with Jacob opposed, to put the measure-as previously agreed upon-on the ballot.
If public transit isn't working, it's because the system's not yet fully in place. It needs more attention, not less. Horn, Slater and Jacob are stuck in tired, conservative, fossilized ways of thinking. They'd rather drape the county in ribbons of concrete-which, incidentally, benefits their friends in real estate-than try to get more people out of their cars and cut down on pollution and congestion. If there's anything that's not working, it's the Board of Supervisors.
Praising judicial activism
We couldn't help noticing the irony in the first day of legal same-sex marriages in Massachusetts falling on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down segregation in public schools. Actually, what we see in that is poetic coincidence. The irony comes in George W. Bush's response. The President released a statement criticizing "activist judges" and calling again for a constitutional amendment "protecting" marriage from same-sex couples.
Forgive us for making the parallel assumption that, based on his comments, if Bush was president 50 years ago, he'd likely have released a statement criticizing the "activist judges" who struck down segregation and calling for a constitutional amendment "protecting" the white public schools from black children.
The judges who ruled against segregation made a statement in favor of equal treatment for all people under the Constitution, and that's precisely what the judges in Massachusetts did. If that's activism, we're all for it.