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It’s been a good couple weeks for San Diego public transit advocates.
In addition to their big win over the San Diego Association of Government’s 40-year transportation plan, two like-minded leaders have ascended to the top of city leadership: Mayor Bob Filner and City Council President Todd Gloria, respectively.
“It does all kind of point to the end of the world when things are this good,” said Marco Gonzalez, an attorney at Coast Law Group who was one of the attorneys fighting Sandag’s transportation proposal.
Now, he and others who’d like to see transit play a bigger role in the traditionally sprawling San Diego region are hoping this latest series of wins can actually move the needle.
“We couldn’t be better poised politically to get a change in this area, with (Filner) and (Gloria) where they are,” he said.
Sandag’s board is meeting Friday morning to discuss its next move after Tuesday’s legal defeat.
The regional group representing San Diego County’s 18 cities could enter into negotiations with its legal opponents to discuss solutions, or it could fight to keep some version of its blueprint through the appeals process.
Either way, San Diego’s transit-friendly new political leadership could pave the way for a change in priorities within the region.
During the case’s final court hearing, Sandag’s opponents discussed a few potential fixes to the plan, including moving transit funding up in the timeline and specifying measures to mitigate climate disruption.
Filner and Gloria could use their positions, along with San Diego’s outsize influence on Sandag, to push for a transit plan in San Diego’s urban core that opponents of the Sandag plan have wanted from the beginning.
They could do so as part of a settlement, as part of the next update to the transportation plan or as some combination.
In 2006, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, one of the groups that challenged the Sandag plan, disputed an update to San Diego’s downtown community plan.
That lawsuit eventually resulted in a settlement that produced the “Complete Community Mobility” plan, which aimed to more than double transit trips into downtown during peak hours in 2030.
The plan stalled under former Mayor Jerry Sanders’ administration.
But Filner could choose to revive the document if he’d like.
Jack Shu, a member of the forest foundation’s board of directors, told “KPBS Midday” Thursday that Sandag has the power to redirect tax revenue it receives to pay for transit projects, it just has chosen not to.
“We don’t have leadership to change the direction that we’re going,” he said.
Filner’s mayoral campaign offered vague outlines of that sort of leadership.
As a congressman, he objected to Sandag’s $200 billion plan before it was approved, and in mayoral debates promoted the necessity of a dynamic, multi-modal transportation system. He often echoed environmentalist complaints that Sandag backloaded transit spending.
As mayor, he now has an official vote on the matter — and a weighted vote at that.
San Diego is the only city with two representatives on Sandag’s 20-member board. Sanders and outgoing Councilman Tony Young are the city’s current representatives.
Any action by the Sandag board needs not just a majority of the 20 votes, but also a majority of 100 weighted votes reflecting the population of each jurisdiction. San Diego has 40 percent of the weighted vote.
San Diego couldn’t act unilaterally to push for an increased emphasis on public transit. But it would have considerable leverage to shape the next regional plan if it wanted to revive the downtown roadmap.
“From our side, we have always looked for stronger leadership on transit and transit-oriented communities,” Gonzalez said. “For the first time, we feel like we might have that type of leadership in the mayor’s office.”
I’m Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at email@example.com or 619.325.0529 and follow me on Twitter
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