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SANDAG releases employment data as part of transit push

Above: According to the SANDAG data, the top three employment centers in North County the areas surrounding Carlsbad Palomar Airport, San Marcos Civic Center and Escondido-Palomar. Courtesy photo

REGION — At its June 7 meeting, the San Diego Association of Governments Regional Planning Committee released new employment centers data as part of the roll-out of the framework of its “5 Big Moves” mass transit proposal.

The new data maps out the locations of county jobs centers, as well as the mean number of miles people drive to and from work in those areas, their mode of transportation, number of employees in those respective districts, among many other things.

The mapping out of the data will serve as one of the bases for SANDAG’s mass policy proposal set for release later in 2019, SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata said at the meeting.

In North County, the SANDAG proposal has come under opposition by conservative elected officials due to its emphasis on public transit over highway expansion.

Road and freeway improvements were initially promised to area voters by SANDAG after Proposition A passed in 2004.

The plan extended the half-cent sales tax through the year 2048, depositing funds into the TransNet account.

Ikhrata, in discussing the research conducted by SANDAG at the meeting, said that the data “constitutes the basis” for the broader mass transit plan. And he addressed his critics, as well.

“One thing, when you look at this, you often hear people say ‘San Diego is so spread out, we can’t do anything right,’” said Ikhrata. “This data doesn’t support that.”

According to the SANDAG data, the top three employment centers within the county are downtown San Diego, Kearny Mesa and Sorrento Valley.

In North County, they are the Carlsbad Palomar Airport area, the San Marcos Civic Center area and the Escondido-Palomar area.

SANDAG has broken employment centers into four tiers based on the number of jobs.

“(Tier 1 is) home to 8,700 businesses,” said Ray Major, chief economist for SANDAG. “These are really some of the largest employers in San Diego and a lot of the corporate headquarters are located in these areas.”

According to Major, Tier 1 consists predominantly of biotechnology, local government and administrative services, as well as health care, with an average wage of $82,000. Tier 2, by contrast, has a workforce earning an average of $55,000.

“A lot of these clusters are dominated by either health care or retail,” said Major. “With a lot of these you have low-paying wage jobs.”

SANDAG also examined the Highway 78 corridor, a state highway at the center of controversy over the agency’s latest proposal. Data shows that less than 10% of 222,860 workers in the area actually live there. Despite the SPRINTER train, only 3% of the workforce takes public transit to work, according to SANDAG.

Ikhrata said this data will help determine what type of plan the agency presents as a proposal for its updated transit plan.

“This data that we are bringing in is going to be even more important as we move into the 5 Big Moves and what each one of them means based on this data,” said Ikhrata. “This is all going to lead into what kind of future transportation system we’re going to move forward with.”

But Debra Rosen, president and CEO of the North San Diego Business Chamber, said she thinks the new data raises just as many questions as it does answers. 

“One of the challenges with developing mass transit in North County is how widely spread out the population is,” said Rosen. “While there may be some large employment hubs, people commute from all over San Diego. Creating a mass transit plan that can serve everyone will be difficult considering how much infrastructure would be required.”

Bret Schanzenbach, president and CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, sounded slightly more optimistic tune about the new data and 5 Big Moves proposal.

“One of the proposed new public transportation loops that our local City Council member has shared with us could be very beneficial to our area,” said Schanzenbach. “However, the Carlsbad Chamber’s board does not support diverting any TransNet funds that were generated from the 2004 measure passed by the voters to projects outside what was promised to the voters at that time. We recognize that transportation issues are complex, and look forward to more meaningful discussions about future directions.”

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