SAFE Grant Distribution and Motorist Aid Reform

May 31, 2011

At the most recent meeting of San Diego Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies, the Board approved the 2011/2012 operating budget and distribution of biennial grants, despite our disapproval. We continue to have strong reservations regarding the manner in which SAFE funds are spent, and have significant concerns with the process by which money is appropriated. We believe SAFE's current process for achieving its mission of callbox service and motorist aid is flawed, and easily allows the Board to stray, not just from the original intent ofSAFE's creation, but from the appropriate use ofDMV registration fees altogether.

After further investigation of SAFE's spending and funding distribution, our offices have discovered a large disparity between fees collected and service levels for various municipalities around the County of San Diego. Every vehicle registered in the County, regardless of the residence of the owner, is subject to the same $1 SAFE fee. However, not every driver receives the same level of service from SAFE. The City of San Diego accounts for over 40% of the population of County of San Diego, yet consistently receives markedly disproportionate funding and aid.

Vehicle owners in the City of San Diego only receive approximately 1 cent of aid per vehicle in biennial SAFE grants, while drivers in cities like Carlsbad ($.28 per vehicle), El Cajon ($.67), Santee ($1.79), Lemon Grove ($3.35), and all others receive substantially higher amounts. Escondido, the second lowest amount-per-vehicle recipient, received over twelve times more funding per-vehicle than the City of San Diego in grants. In short, our constituents are supplementing the services of all other drivers in San Diego County to the tune of 99 cents on the dollar.

It is clear that SAFE needs lo address both its current spending as well as its long term continuing operations. We are calling on our SAFE colleagues to join us in seriously reforming SD SAFE; most pressingly the process by which SAFE distributes funding and also reexamining the current funding levels.

As a fast step towards addressing this present inequity we are asking our fellow SAFE Board members to docket and support a matching grant to the City of San Diego for 1. 7 million dollars for the replacement of the City's severely outdated fire alert system. The City of San Diego's fire alert system is a crucial element of rapid response to emergencies around the City and surrounding cities, as well as to emergencies and motorist aid on major County and State roads. Millions of drivers traveling on Interstates 5, 8, and 15 are in danger of delayed emergency responses and serious gaps in motorist aid as long as this emergency alert system remains in its current condition. The City of San Diego has already budgeted 1. 7 million dollars to match SAFE's grant, allowing us to replace this outdated system immediately.

Additionally, SAFE's budget process must be fair to all county residents who register vehicles and all spending proposals must rigorously demonstrate how they improve and enhance motorist aid. Jurisdictions within San Diego County should submit spending proposals for motorist aid, and the SAFE board should award funding proportionate to the number of vehicles registered in each jurisdiction.

We strongly believe it is our job to be disciplined proper stewards of the tax dollars we are entrusted with. We believe we must work with our counterparts in our originating municipalities; as well as our partners in the State Legislature, to continuously seek out long term solutions and strive to operate government as efficiently and effectively as possible. Moving forward, we hope this will be the first of many actions taken by the SAFE Board to work with local governments and our State Legislature to strongly push for essential reforms, ultimately spurring a new direction for SD SAFE to help us to better serve the taxpayers of San Diego.

David Alvarez with District 80 residents


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