Jim Desmond appears at Golden Hall on Election Night. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

As much as Hasan Ikhrata has done to give voice to pro-transit advocates who never thought they were reflected in regional decision-making, County Supervisor Jim Desmond has done the same for the North County and East County leaders (and the constituents they represent) who want to remind Ikhrata that they quite like their cars and would really prefer spending less time in traffic.

On the day Ikhrata vision to revolutionize the region’s transit system to truly compete with cars on highways, during a board meeting where it was clear many officials had serious reservations, SANDAG staged a press conference to reinforce that everyone was on the same page. Desmond was having none of it, and took every opportunity to say he expected any future plan to reflect previous promises made for highway expansions.

Desmond has emerged as the leader of a group of electeds who are not on board with Ikhrata’s vision. They’ve appeared on TV and talk radio to scandalize plans to reprioritize funding from an existing tax measure before much more quietly winning a vote that shifted spending on certain freeways to instead be spent on other freeways. They’ve dubbed Ikhrata’s call for congestion pricing “track and tax,” and pledged to go down with the ship before anything like that is implemented.

But just as Ikhrata has revealed that just because no one ever used to argue at SANDAG, it did not mean they actually all agreed, Desmond has successfully demonstrated that just because the state passed laws mandating greenhouse gas reductions, and just because SANDAG or individual cities have committed to getting residents out of cars and onto bikes or busses or trolleys, it doesn’t mean everyone is on board with whatever changes are necessary to make that happen.

SANDAG will release its new transportation vision next year. Maybe the contentious year between the board and its director will be put to bed, and everyone will sing kumbaya in the end.

Or, maybe Desmond will continue to give voice to rural and suburban residents who want regional leaders to know that they have no real interest in spending a lot of money to make transit as fast and convenient as driving – especially if that spending comes at the expense of highways.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, highlighting the people who played a major role in shaping civic discussion in 2019.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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