Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz

There is a lot riding on whether California environmental officials sign off on San Diego’s bid to kill a key part of its long-term transportation plan: the implementation of a future driving fee.

For one, Hasan Ikhrata, CEO of the San Diego Association of Governments, the regional agency that built the plan, said it will reveal whether the state is serious about all its pledges to combat climate change.

For another, their decision could mean it’s time for the controversial planner to move on.

In a lengthy interview with Voice of San Diego, Ikhrata expanded upon recent comments he made about whether his term leading SANDAG should end. He also reiterated his belief that any plan for transportation in San Diego that doesn’t charge drivers for how much they drive isn’t a real attempt to combat climate change or build a transit system that offers a meaningful alternative to driving.

Last year, SANDAG approved a new long-term plan for the region’s highways and new rail lines – including the controversial fee to eventually charge drivers for driving. Moments later, the board voted to begin the process of yanking that driving fee from the plan.

The California Air Resources Board, which is responsible for signing off on such regional plans and confirming they meet state greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, approved SANDAG’s blueprint, including the driving fee. That approval is necessary to make sure the region keeps getting state and federal funds for transportation projects.

But at the same time, SANDAG’s board directed staff to begin the planning work required to remove the driving fee. The board is due for an update early next year.

Eventually, Ikhrata said state regulators will need to give a thumbs up or down to the new plan, without the fee. And he said he’ll learn a lot about the state’s climate policy, based on how they go.

“If the Air Resource Board approves the plan, I’m really happy that San Diego has an approved plan, and we’ll move on,” he said. “Life goes on – I will be very happy because that would actually kind of clarify to me that this is not a serious discussion.  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.’”

“This is all a fantasy?” Voice’s Scott Lewis asked.

“Yeah.”

But if the state approves the plan, we asked, where would that leave Ikhrata? Would he be willing to lead an agency that has an approved plan even if he thinks it reveals a farce at the center of state environmental planning?

“Probably not,” he said.

But shortly after, Ikhrata left room for him to stay at the agency even with a plan that he doesn’t take seriously. He said he would submit the plan without a driving fee to the state with a smile on his face, and that it wasn’t a bet that they would side with him and against the board.

“I am not going to sit here and say, ‘Oh, ARB, please don’t approve the plan,’ because I’ll live. Who cares? I want them to approve the plan. The plan meets the requirement. It’s up to them now.”

Without the driving fee, the region’s outline for future transportation improvements would cut emissions 18.6 percent by 2035, Ikhrata said. That’s below the state requirement for a 19 percent reduction, but Ikhrata conceded that the state allows agencies to round up.

Ikhrata said he believes he still has the board’s support, and that it would be time for him to leave if that isn’t the case. So, we asked, does he expect to be SANDAG’s CEO at this time next year?

“I hope so,” he said. “I want that, but again, I’m not going to lose sleep over that. Whether I’m here or not, it’s really irrelevant to the discussion. What’s relevant is, is this region serious about providing different ideas for the future?”

Right now, he said the region is not serious.

“Maybe with time it will be. I’m actually looking forward to the new leadership,” he said, referring to the new board coming in after last month’s elections.

Elected officials who say they support actions on climate change and improving transit, he said, aren’t grappling with the policy question if they don’t support a driving fee, or significant new tolls on roads that would be an alternative way of charging people for driving.

“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.

Ikhrata said he stands by his decision to submit the plan – including the driving fee – to state regulators even though the board had already expressed its desire to strip the fee from the plan.

“They said I’m insubordinate in my review,” he said. “Fine, and I would do it again because my No. 1 priority was to get the plan approved by the state and federal government, so funding continued to flow,” he said.

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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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15 Comments

  1. The first issue is my mind is why we are paying a civil servant $601,000 for his governmental work. The bloated salaries for SANDAG are a problem.

  2. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.
    Iky was a failure in LA and has been even worse in SD.
    Nobody rides the bus/trolly/train because other than to sporting events it’s highly inefficient, stinky , slow and unsafe.

  3. Policy belongs to the elected and appointed board. When an administrator begins to make policy ahead of his bosses, it’s time to go. Oh wait … Mr. Ikhrata has been doing that since day one. Why is he still here?

  4. “the State Isn’t Serious On Climate”.. NO duh. Politicians at the state and local level talk and talk about responding to climate change, but nothing of any substance is being done. Ikhrata is correct about the state, and he could say the same thing about local cities and the county, including many of the representatives sitting on the SANDAG board. It’s always about performance politics, never about real governance. Voters selected SANDAG to be the regional growth planning agency in 1988. It has always disappointed since then. There was early hope that Ikhrata, with his successful experience building LA’s rapid transit system, could turn things around, but with the clown car of politicians on his current board, that seems unlikely.

    1. Don, you are right. Attempts to lower our use of fossil fuels often appear futile. Politicians have a very hard time making the hard choices because people attack and threaten them, and of course, they can lose their elections. Even regular city workers, public and private health workers, and teachers are threatened verbally and physically. Yet none of those who complain and threaten and insult come up with any ideas at all. Ikhrata is trying to get us to wake up. Driving fees will be necessary once there are more electric cars, and whatever makes people drive less is a good thing. It can be structured so that those who have to drive for a living can, for example, get a tax credit. Look at the CPUC, they just voted to make solar more expensive instead of expansive. There is no will to take climate issues seriously. Newsom didn’t take a stand on the solar issue either. Such a disappointment.

      1. I read where one poster said Hasan Ikhrata was right about the commitment to stop and get us out of our cars, that he was successful in Los Angeles. Anyone who has a priority to remove San Diegans from their vehicle is really saying “you don’t have the right to that vehicle you pay for” instead get out of that car and get on a bus, ride that trolley, get in an electric vehicle with a bunch of strangers. Mom’s Dads that going to work for you?? I read a person say “Ikharta was successful in LA” have you been to LA? Have you ridden public transportation in LA? is that what you really want here in San Diego? HELL NO! that’s dangerous! Here’s what I believe he’s really going to do probably already in processes; Hasan Ikhrata will work with Newsom and California Air Resources Board to push down from CARB a mandatory Mileage tracking and tax on every vehicle in San Diego. They will attempt to circumvent the will of the people, your local representative, and implement the mileage tax which is what the very few and Hasan Ikhrata believes he knows better than YOU what is best for our mothers and fathers! Ask yourself how will they know what to charge you? the only real answer is to place a tracking device on your vehicle or place an app on your phone to track the miles you drive, where, when and what routes you drive. THEY INTEND TO TRACK YOUR WHERE ABOUT’S! Its time for the local representatives to Fire Mr. Ikhrata send him onto his next city that needs “planning” He’s not a San Diegan and he doesn’t know whats best for us, you or your family.

  5. ” their decision could mean it’s time for the controversial planner to move on.” Gee, does anyone else get the impression that getting rid of Ikhrata is high on Andy Keat’s agenda?

  6. If there were to be driving fees, then the gasoline tax should be reduced by a similar amount. How are out-of-state drivers taxed? Get a mileage in state, then out of state? Or what if they stay in the state, say Navy or Marines? It is a complicated issue for a government that cannot even get a trolley to the airport. Dream up another reason for something we already pay for and tax us for it like say, trash pick-up?

  7. Why should we pay more to drive on the roads you already can’t seem to take care of?

    Throw more money at an Government agency that does a horrible job of doing what it’s supposed to do, NOPE! But, I guess we should read the fine print behind what ever prop Sandag proposes come election because I’m sure that’s your motto.

    Our roads consistently have Grand Canyon size potholes and yet it’s the drivers financial responsibility if a tire blows because of them.

    Sandag is such an incompetent agency it’s ridiculous!

  8. This driving thing is part of Agenda 2030 – it’s just like the “climate lockdowns” they are imposing in Oxford UK – and has nothing to do with the climate and everything to do with curbing civil liberties and imprisoning poor people into smart city gulags: limit mobility, give them an UBI, show them vapid hollywood films and video games to keep them distracted, miseducate them in poor schools so they don’t know any better, and then poke and prod them with toxic injections and bad healthcare to shorten lifespans, and gradually depopulate.

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