Hasan Ikhrata / Photo by Megan Wood

There’s no question that SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata last week took his first major political loss in San Diego.

Ikhrata took over the beleaguered regional planning agency last year and has, until now, managed to get his way.

His biggest proposals – rewriting the region’s transportation plan around a new rail system, and building a massive transit hub with an airport connection at the old SPAWAR property – have steadily progressed despite any opposition they’ve encountered.

Last week, he got beat. And the way he got beat suggested he might not have as much political juice as it seemed just a few months ago.

That’s because Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who is responsible for Ikhrata getting the job in the first place, sided against him.

Ikhrata’s stumble came over a $600 million, five-year spending plan that he wanted. It would jump-start the new transit system outlined in the regional transportation plan the agency is creating, which he calls the “5 Big Moves.”

But the plan ran into SANDAG Chair Steve Vaus and Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara (a Republican and a Democrat, respectively). They got their colleagues to reject Ikhrata’s spending plan and adopt one of their own.

They offered multiple explanations: The agency needed to keep its promises to taxpayers, who had approved an extension of the sales tax TransNet in 2004 based on promises of certain projects. Another was that Ikhrata’s plan was not fair or balanced. Transit will never work for everyone, they argued, so it was essential to invest in highways.

The Democrats who sided with Ikhrata likewise treated the two plans as dramatically different visions for the future of the county. They pitched it as a choice between accepting the reality of climate change versus doubling down on auto dependence. Ikhrata himself said the plan that passed could put the agency in legal jeopardy over state requirements to lower the region’s carbon footprint.

The truth is there was very little difference between the two proposals.

What actually changed: Very little!

  • The Vaus-McNamara amendment canceled plans to convert HOV lanes on I-5 in the northern part of the county into managed express lanes, like we have on I-15.

It would instead spend that $60 million on three things: environmental study and design work for a plan to expand a stretch of SR 67 into a four-lane highway ($21 million), environmental study and design work for an express-lane connection between I-78 and I-5 ($13 million), and environmental study and design work for HOV lanes on I-78 between I-5 and I-15 ($39 million).

Everyone involved agreed on the other $540 million of proposed spending. That included purchasing additional trains for the Coaster ($59 million), and the trolley ($72 million) to increase frequency on those systems. It also included planning for the new transit lines Ikhrata has said will be the basis of his new system ($30 million for planning efforts on a total of ten different corridors).

None of these projects is fully funded or anywhere close to breaking ground — not Vaus and McNamara’s highways or Ikhrata’s transit lines. We’re talking about money for preliminary planning, so that hopefully the projects can get into a position to compete for state or federal funding so they could eventually be built.

  • Just for added context: The region’s current regional transportation plan covers $200 billion of projects. TransNet, the tax-funded transportation program, could cover about $10 billion worth of projects.

In other words, the big fight representing two competing visions for the future of transportation in the county – where one side is fair and balanced and the other is a betrayal of taxpayers’ trust (or, flipping perspectives, where one side amounts to climate denialism and the other is a bold vision that finally accepts that San Diego is a world-class city) – represents about 0.03 percent of the anticipated spending in a typical regional transportation plan ($60 million in disputed spending against a roughly $200 billion plan).

No transit plans were eliminated from the plan that was allegedly too focused on transit.

Gomez: Come at Me!

San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

We saw Council President Georgette Gómez at an event this week and she wanted to make something clear to us: She intends to remain Council president through 2020.

We had been discussing it as a given that Gómez would be stepping down from that role now that she’s running for Congress. Obviously now she’s not running for re-election on the Council so she’s stepping down at some point. But she made clear she will be asking her colleagues to re-elect her to the Council presidency in December. Finito.

  • She has, however, surrendered her role as the chair of MTS. The MTS board appears poised to appoint Supervisor Nathan Fletcher as her replacement next week, after its executive committee recommended him for the role this week.
  • One of Gómez’s rivals to be the next representative for the 53rd Congressional District, Janessa Goldbeck, was a bit of an unknown to those of us who might have a bit of City Hall tunnel vision. But her campaign this week said it brought in $100,000 in the 13 days since she announced her bid. That’s a healthy figure considering the better-known Gómez announced this week that she brought in $200,000 since announcing her run.

The 50th Poll Wars

The U-T and 10News released a poll on the race in the 50th Congressional District this week. It had good news for Carl DeMaio, who came in ahead of former Rep. Darrell Issa, incumbent Rep. Duncan Hunter and state Sen. Brian Jones.

John Nienstedt, a pollster who runs Competitive Edge and isn’t involved in the race, said DeMaio’s numbers were strong. DeMaio reported having raised $1.3 million so far this week.

“But Issa hasn’t started spending money yet. Carl’s raised a million bucks — that’s great for him. He’s done a fantastic job developing a donor base that’s there for him. But Issa can find that behind the couch cushions,” Nienstedt said. And like most congressional races, money will matter because TV is what matters.

“It’s a big district. And everything I have seen continues to prove to me that TV is the one medium you can count on to move the needle if you get it right,” he said.

Shortly after the U-T/10News poll, we all got a blast from someone named John Thomas at TP Research with a poll claiming to show Issa and DeMaio neck and neck. Nienstedt wasn’t having it.

“I’m speechless at how horrible this is,” he said. For one thing, the poll did not include one candidate: the incumbent, Hunter.

Sheriff Deputies Endorse Gaspar Despite Pension Vote

San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

This week, the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the union representing officers in unincorporated areas and cities that contract with the Sheriff’s Department for policing, endorsed Supervisor Kristin Gaspar in her re-election campaign.

The news was kind of a surprise and kind of not. On the one hand, police officers often share political perspectives with Republicans. On the other, though, Democrats are often more sympathetic to the officers’ pleas for better benefits and pay. The group intensely criticized, and issued an immediate statement opposing, Republican Carl DeMaio when he announced he was running for Congress.

Last year, the Deputy Sheriffs Association shocked local political observers when it withdrew its endorsement of former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and awarded it to Democrat Nathan Fletcher in a county supervisor race. Yes, Fletcher had out-performed Dumanis in the primary but Dumanis was hardly bowing out of the race. The betrayal stung.

At the time, the deputies were fiercely fighting the county’s move to put new deputies into a new, lower retirement program. While both Dumanis and Fletcher had told the deputies they opposed the pension change, the fight was certainly on their minds as Fletcher gained traction.

Later, when a decision to implement the pension change came to the supervisors, Fletcher voted against it, as did Republican Jim Desmond. But Gaspar, along with two other supervisors, supported it and it passed. Gaspar, we’re told, did not backtrack on her vote when she discussed the endorsement with deputies.

“Obviously it wasn’t a big enough deal for her to not get the endorsement. But for us, it’s still an important issue,” said David Leonhardi, the president of the union.

The new pension for new deputies hired anytime after July 1, 2020 will be calculated at 2.5 percent of their salary times the number of years served compared to 2.7 percent. Roughly, it means a deputy who was hired in 2017 and serves 25 years at an ending salary of $125,000 would have an annual pension starting at $84,375. But a deputy hired after July 2020, with the same number of years and salary, will have a pension starting at $78,125 per year.

Correction: The pension calculations above were originally done incorrectly for safety employees and have been updated. Safety employees have more lucrative pensions that general employees at the county. 

If you have a tip or feedback for the Politics Report, send them to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org. 

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org...

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