Council Delays Vote on Road Projects Tied to Tax Increase

Times Staff Writer

In a session marked by testiness, exasperation and compromise for convenience, the San Diego City Council on Tuesday failed to reach a decision on $88.5 million in new road projects that would be funded by a special countywide half-cent sales tax increase proposed for the November ballot.

The focus of all the emotion was Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer, the representative from District 1--the largest in the city--which stretches from La Jolla to Rancho Bernardo and includes Rancho Penasquitos and North City West.

She angered her colleagues by not only criticizing the list of proposed road projects as "meager" and just a "bone" for her district, but by questioning whether the district was receiving asphalt in place of parks and trails.

What really provoked the council, though, was her threat to rally her district--which she claimed represents 46% of all voters in the city--against the measure.

Because government officials countywide say it's imperative that they present a united campaign front on the roads program or face defeat by a skeptical public, Wolfsheimer's threat was not taken lightly.

Despite Mayor Maureen O'Connor's best efforts to corral Wolfsheimer's support, Wolfsheimer remained adamant, saying she needed answers to questions about the roads program, questions she said she posed to the city administration without success. "My responses have been shunned. . . . I really did try, and I was shunned every step of the way," Wolfsheimer said.

The City Council finally agreed to postpone a decision for one week, a compromise O'Connor described as an effort at striking harmony before a public hearing next Thursday on all the countywide transit projects that would be built with the increased sales tax revenue.

"We're all swallowing on this one," O'Connor said.

Before the vote, however, the mayor and Wolfsheimer got into a testy exchange.

Wolfsheimer described the proposed road projects as "just throwing the 1st District a bone here." She then said that, since her district includes 46% of the city's voters, the tax increase "won't pass without them . . . and I won't encourage them."

A few moments later, O'Connor stressed that the sales tax road projects "are for the whole city, Miss Wolfsheimer."

"This is going to be a very difficult issue to pass," the mayor said. "Abbe, I've voted for you in 99 out of 100 cases . . . "

"Yeah?" interjected a skeptical Wolfsheimer.

"And it might be less," replied the mayor.

"If anyone on this council goes out and bad-mouths this initiative, it is going to be defeated . . . (and) that's the worst thing that could possibly happen," O'Connor said. "It is not perfect. Other council districts would love to have more."

Before that exchange, Councilmen Ed Struiksma and Bill Cleator offered to give Wolfsheimer money from any road projects in their districts if that would satisfy her.

"I'm really sorry you feel the way you do," Struiksma said. "Help yourself."

Struiksma also was angered by a reference by Wolfsheimer to the high income levels and the amount of taxes paid by residents of the 1st District. "I'm sorry the income in Mira Mesa (in Struiksma's district) doesn't match that in La Jolla," he said.

The sales tax increase, if approved by a majority of the county's voters, is expected to provide about $2.25 billion over the next 20 years, said Craig Scott, a transportation planner for Sandag, the regional government agency shepherding the tax boost.

A third of the revenue will be used for mass transit projects, such as expansion of the trolley system; a third will pay for construction of freeways, and the rest will be used by local governments for street and road improvements. It was the latter that was the subject of debate by the City Council.

San Diego is expected to receive about $318 million to $340 million from the increased tax over 20 years. The first part of that is $88.5 million for the first seven years.

Of the $88.5 million, Wolfsheimer's district would receive about $12.5 million. But as Struiksma and other council members pointed out, her district will also receive millions of dollars in transit projects from the other two-thirds of the funds.

Struiksma said that Wolfsheimer had ignored the $65 million earmarked for California 56, a proposed freeway linking Interstate 5 to Interstate 15, as well as money for a trolley extension into the district's Golden Triangle.

In addition, the city plans to use some of the tax revenue to accelerate other as yet unspecified road projects.

The $88.5 million in local road improvements to be undertaken over 7 years includes 13 projects. They include:

- Citywide installation of 75 traffic signals, modernization of obsolete signals and installation of a new central traffic computer, $11 million.

- Widening of a Friars Road bridge to six lanes over the San Diego River, $5 million.

- Widening Mission Gorge Road to six lanes from Old Cliffs Road to the city limits, $3.5 million.

- Widening and interchange improvements on Fairmount Avenue from Montezuma Road to Interstate 8, $4 million.

- Widening Texas Street to four lanes from El Cajon Boulevard to Madison Avenue, $7 million.

- Widening San Ysidro Boulevard to four lanes from Smythe Avenue to Border Village Road, $11 million.

- Extending Jackson Drive from Mission Gorge Road to the future California 52, $25 million.

- Partial funding for an interim road in the California 56 corridor, $11 million.

- Widening National Avenue to four lanes from Interstate 15 to 43rd Street, $3.5 million.

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