Photo courtesy of Randy Van Vleck
City Heights resident Maria Cortez speaks at a 2011 gathering about her nearly three-decade wait for a bus line along Interstate 15.
Tuesday’s uncomfortable row between Mayor Bob Filner and Council President Todd Gloria over SANDAG committee assignments left observers reeling. The power tussle over who gets to hand down the recommendations and how turned into an early snapshot of what many are expecting to be a colorful and rowdy transition from Capitol Hill advocacy to city managing for Filner.
But aside from posturing, something else was at stake in the exchange: a seat on SANDAG’s transportation committee. It’s a position Gloria has held since 2010 and wants to fill again. It’s also a position Filner promised to Council District 9.
At a City Heights rally in May, Filner and Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who represents District 9, told residents they’d go after the seat. It was one of several promises City Heights residents urged them both to make to ensure the transit-hungry neighborhood gets adequate representation in big transportation decisions.
At the rally, Emerald noted she would have to step down from her prized post on the public safety committee. Filner has put her name forward for both the public safety and transportation committees. Gloria put his own name forward for the transportation committee.
SANDAG’s transportation committee advises the regional planning group’s board on major policy issues, and helps prepare regional transportation plans, which guide how the county will grow. It also has oversight of TransNet, a transportation fund filled by a special sales tax.
City Heights advocates have suggested TransNet appropriations should be adjusted to improve services in low-income communities like theirs.
The neighborhood’s bus ridership is four times the national average, according to the Mid-City Community Advocacy Network. But residents say they’ve been shortchanged by rising fares and a decades-long wait for Centerline, a bus route with freeway-level stops CalTrans promised in exchange for bisecting the neighborhood with Interstate 15 in the 1980s.
Gloria, who grew up in City Heights and represented the community before District 3 boundaries shifted west, has been a proponent of the community’s transit needs. In 2010, he called Centerline “a wonderful metaphor for the way we do things in San Diego,” noting the freeway was up and running but the transit line wasn’t.
In 2011, he joined his City Council colleagues in censuring SANDAG’s freeways-first transportation plan. Last year, he seized on the phrase “sexy streets” to draw attention to his quest for better roadways.
But City Heights residents want a transportation representative beholden to them by votes. And Gloria’s measured remarks at the May rally — he said paying for transit initiatives that benefit City Heights could mean cuts elsewhere — left residents a little sour.
Emerald’s office did not respond to a request for comment this week. Gloria’s office sent this statement:
Council President Gloria has been a strong advocate for the city, for transit, and for active transportation funding throughout his four years of participation with the SANDAG Transportation Committee. He hopes to continue that progress for the city and the region. The Council President and the Mayor met this afternoon and are working for a productive outcome that ensures that San Diego is appropriately represented at SANDAG.
A decision about the city’s SANDAG assignments has been tabled until Monday.
Update: Filner and Gloria released a joint memo Friday afternoon. The compromise appears to be in Gloria’s favor, with him taking the transportation committee seat and Emerald staying on the public safety committee. City Council is scheduled to take up the new recommendations Monday.
Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5665.
Disclosure: Speak City Heights is funded by the California Endowment. Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.
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