Call Boxes Disappear, But The Fees Don't

$1 a car adds up

Since the 1980's San Diegans have been paying a dollar a year to pay for call boxes along the freeway.  Today the boxes don't get used much, in fact there are plans to cut down on the number, but the fee is still collected from every car registration.

"If it was up to me I would end the program," said 6th District San Diego City Councilmember Lorie Zapf. 

Zapf sits on the San Diego Service Authority for Freeway (SAFE) Board that collects and spends the money. 

"The programs they are spending money on are a big waste of taxpayer dollars," said Zapf.
But the councilmember won't make a convert of San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts

Roberts is the vice chair of SAFE and says money not spent on call boxes is spent on other traffic safety issues.

"My concern is, long after I'm gone, that I leave an adequate reserve for whoever is going to have to develop that system of the future," said Roberts.

Roberts says the board has accumulated a "healthy reserve that may or may not be needed in the future." 

The reserve is between $10 million and $12 million.

"They could take their surplus and they could run these call boxes at the same levels they are now for at least eight years without collecting the tax," said City Beat reporter Dave Maass. 

Maass has been following the SAFE board and says the question is more about priorities than money.

"We're browning out fire trucks, we're laying off teachers, we're doing all these things and there's $10 million sitting there untouched by a board that never will be able to use it," said Maass.

But Ron Roberts is convinced the money is more about safety than call boxes. 

"There hasn't been a decision to spend that money.  There has been a decision to hold that money until such time as we know that either we don't need it, or we have a very specific model that we want to create," said Roberts.

The county supervisor says the board has already used the money for helicopters and Jaws of Life devices and they are looking at programs that will help drivers in the future. 

But some critics are convinced the money is for call boxes and nothing else.

"It doesn't matter if these expenses are good or not, they really don't have the authority to be making these expenses," said Maass. 

City councilmember Lorie Zapf agrees.

"We are looking between the seat cushions for change and we've got millions of dollars being collected for this one program.  It has outlived its mission, outlived its usefulness," Zapf said.

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