Hasan Ikhrata
Hasan Ikhrata / File photo by Megan Wood

SANDAG CEO Hasan Ikhrata said state regulators will tell him a lot when they decide whether a long-term transportation plan for San Diego can comply with California’s environmental goals even if it doesn’t include a controversial measure he’s championed to charge drivers for every mile they drive.

The board of SANDAG has told him to strip the driving fee from the region’s transportation plan. That plan would eventually need approval from the state’s air resources board, certifying that it meets a requirement to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Ikhrata said if the state approves the plan without the fee, it’s an indication that the state’s climate change regulations are a fantasy.

“I will be very happy because that would actually kind of clarify to me that this is not a serious discussion,” he said. “I mean, let’s face it. If the state wants to go that way, I’m willing to tell my colleagues at the state, ‘Thank you. You clarified for me where you really stand.’”

Ikhrata made those comments in a new, long-form podcast interview with Voice of San Diego.

In the interview, he also said that he would probably not be interested in continuing to lead the agency if they adopt such a plan.

He also argued that any board member who claims to support climate change and transit but opposes a driving fee, or a similar alternative, isn’t being serious.

“It’s wishful thinking to think that you’re going to have a plan that changes behavior and reduces greenhouse gas emissions for real, without a pricing mechanism,” he said.

Listen to the full interview here. 

News on potential new SANDAG leadership: Unrelated to Ikhrata’s interview, Mayor Todd Gloria said Thursday that he would support County Supervisor Nora Vargas to be the next chair of the SANDAG board.

We don’t know who else is angling for the gig, but Gloria’s support could go a long way to sewing it up. Because votes on SANDAG are weighted by population, the city of San Diego’s preference is nearly enough to settle the decision on its own.

Vargas is also set to become the chair of the County Board of Supervisors. With both seats at once, she could immediately become among the most influential officials in the county.

Vargas shared on Twitter that she looked forward to the opportunity to work with board members to “champion our regional planning infrastructure needs & ensure we have a transportation system that is more sustainable, equitable, reliable, accessible and efficient.” 

Vista Won’t Have Representation on SANDAG

Men walk on Main Street in Vista on Oct. 18, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

In other SANDAG news: The Vista City Council on Tuesday couldn’t agree on who will be their representative on the regional transportation agency’s board, so they decided not to choose anyone.

John Franklin, the newly elected Republican mayor, nominated himself for the position, but couldn’t get approval from three members of the now Democratic council majority. 

At one point during the meeting, Franklin said he would rather choose no one, then choose someone who supports charging drivers for every mile they drive.

After a roughly six hour long meeting, the council decided not to send anyone to represent them, forfeiting their vote on SANDAG’s board, for now.

Read the full story here.

Latest Homelessness Data Shows a Continuing Crisis

A homeless encampment in downtown on Nov. 11, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

New countywide data shows 984 people became homeless for the first time in San Diego and 625 formerly unhoused people moved into homes, according to the Regional Task Force on Homelessness.

The monthly numbers from the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, which coordinates San Diego County’s homelessness response, are the latest to show that San Diegans are falling into homelessness more quickly than they can be moved off the street.

The latest numbers show fewer San Diegans accessed homeless services for the first time in November than in the prior month – falling from 1,343 people to 984 people.

But the crisis is far from waning.

The Downtown San Diego Partnership, a downtown business group, counted a record 1,706 homeless residents staying downtown and areas just outside it on a single night last month.

And inewsource revealed in a Thursday scoop that preliminary eviction filings in San Diego Superior Court hit a five-year peak in October, a nearly 30 percent spike from September. Advocates and local leaders have sounded the alarm about how evictions kicking up following the expiration of pandemic protections are fueling the region’s homelessness crisis.

-The Union-Tribune reports that city and county officials gathered Thursday to announce the opening later this year of a 22-bed residential treatment program for homeless San Diegans grappling with addiction and mental health issues. About a year ago, the city and county teamed to open a similar 21-bed facility on Sports Arena Boulevard and officials have said they expect to open additional facilities elsewhere in the county.

Behind the Covid Year Two Investigation

A woman walks her dog at Lindo Lake in Lakeside on Dec. 10, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

NBC 7 interviewed Voice reporters Will Huntsberry and Jesse Marx (watch it here) about big findings they published this week regarding Covid death rates. Marx and Huntsberry found that death rates dramatically fell across the county in the second year of the pandemic, but went up in a handful of places – nowhere more dramatically than Lakeside

That was our third story in an investigative series on the second year of the pandemic. Marx and Huntsberry spent months logging and analyzing death certificates, which they only got their hands on because Voice sued the county (more on that here). Over the first two years of the pandemic, the records allowed us to reveal information the county had never divulged. 

Read all the stories here. 

 In Other News 

  • The price of de-salting ocean water at the Poseidon-owned Carlsbad plant (which provides 10 percent of the region’s drinking water) just went up another $274 million  after the San Diego County Water Authority board approved upgrades to the facility’s sea water intake and discharge operations on Thursday. Desalinated water is already the region’s most expensive, currently priced at $2,891 per acre foot (an acre foot is enough water to fill an acre of land one foot deep), that water will cost $3,736 per acre foot by 2026, according to estimates from the San Diego County Water Authority.  
  • The Public Utilities Commission voted to slash how much rooftop solar owners are paid for excess energy they put back on the grid, a move critics fear would kill the solar industry and proponents say is more equitable to non-solar ratepayers. (Reuters)
  • The California Coastal Commission says restaurants near the shoreline with COVID-era street dining will have to replace lost parking spots or shut those tables down in the name of public access to the shoreline. (Union Tribune)

The Morning Report was written by Andrew Keatts, Tigist Layne, Lisa Halverstadt, Will Huntsberry and MacKenzie Elmer. It was edited by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña. 

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