Our long struggle to resolve the perilous balance of the train tracks and the eroding beach front bluffs is coming close to a breaking point. For decades leaders have avoided seriously addressing this very dangerous public safety problem involving a mix of pedestrian and rider risk, science and technology, freight use, military use, multiple agency interests, funding shortages, and alternate but problematic routing options. Throwing millions of dollars at temporary fixes on the bluffs is a poor substitute for a serious long term solution.
Unfortunately, governmental leadership is too often assessed on short term accomplishments. The rewards of our political systems are structured mostly for short term performance. Responsive leaders tune in to today’s constituent needs and grievances to get rewarded with voter approval. Our systems provide little constituent reward for long term performance by our leaders. Accomplishing goals that benefit future generations may not be appreciated by voters of this generation.
However, many of our biggest issues require long term, strategic thinking and investments in systemic changes that take time to be fully realized. Nationally, we are seeing this play out in debates about how to address critical and complicated issues with long time lines such as climate change, education, race, immigration, wealth, and infrastructure. Short term fixes are rarely effective with these kinds of challenges.
Locally, we experience similar problems that require long term, strategic thinking with investments that extend well beyond the typical four year terms of office and there seems to be little likelihood of bold leadership now on how to move the tracks off the bluffs, just as there has not been for fifty-plus years. It is very worrisome to think that a train tragedy there will be necessary to trigger more deliberate leadership. SANDAG has ratcheted up potential alternative tunnel planning but no leader has stepped up to lead the charge to get decisive multi-agency action, including a long term financing plan drawing from commercial, military, and national infrastructure budgets.
It is inevitable that the solution will be complicated and contentious—therefore not likely to yield short term rewards to any leader who steps up. But history will reward the person who turns an accident waiting to happen into a solution long overdue.