A San Diego assemblyman and mayoral candidate said Wednesday he will introduce state legislation to stop the collection of a $1 fee that funds roadside call boxes in the region because the program has accumulated far more money than it needs.
The San Diego Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies program, also known as SAFE, has built a reserve of $12.8 million, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, said at a news conference.
He said the bill, co-authored by Assemblyman Marty Block, D-Bonita, would redistribute the bulk of the reserve to the 18 municipalities in San Diego County to fund public safety. SAFE would retain $4 million, which he said is enough to pay for operations through 2016.
"This legislation will bring oversight and accountability to a program that has abused taxpayer funds for too long," Fletcher said. "It will ensure the continued safety of our motorists, provide needed funds to our cities and save taxpayers money."
San Diego City Council members David Alvarez and Lorie Zapf serve on the seven-member board that oversees SAFE. Alvarez said he and Zapf have been consistently outvoted 5-2 when they try to pass reform measures.
The agency has one staff member who works on contract, the councilman said.
Zapf said the use of call boxes is dropping since the vast majority of Californians own cell phones. Meanwhile, SAFE has gone "way off mission," she said.
Fletcher said that if the bill is passed, SAFE would be required to develop a long-term plan to address how many call boxes are necessary, where they should be located, and how they should be administered.
If the plan is approved by 2016, SAFE could resume collecting the fee -- which is part of the cost of vehicle registration, said Fletcher, who is running for mayor of San Diego. If not, SAFE would be absorbed by the San Diego Association of Governments.
-City News Service