In December, I asked Hasan Ikhrata, the CEO of SANDAG, if he would be the CEO of SANDAG in December 2023. He said he didn’t know.
“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.”
Well, he’s not going to be. He announced his resignation this week and he would work until, precisely, December.
I called Ikhrata this week to followup after his announcement. I asked whether they had finally pushed him out and he said no, they took too long, so he quit.
“I didn’t come here to play politics. People called me stubborn, argumentative, not a consensus builder. But let me tell you I would have achieved nothing with consensus,” he said. He rattled off all his achievements. The new trolley line to UC San Diego. The planned border crossing at Otay Mesa. The money he helped get to start the process to move the rail tracks off the cliffs in North County.
But what about the big issue?
The big issue: For all his flaws, Ihrata’s main contribution to San Diego public affairs was his demand to face reality. San Diego is full of people who accept the science behind climate change. And it’s led leaders to set incredibly ambitious commitments to achieve major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But saying you’re going to do that is a lot easier than doing it.
Dieting is easy until you get hungry. Committing to run a marathon is easy until you have to run. Committing to meet ambitious climate change goals is easy until it means not driving or not having gas stoves or letting your neighbor build a duplex. Every single time the region is faced with a difficult decision about making its climate change goals, leaders, even the ones who say they’re the most concerned, back off.
Ikhrata plainly tried to not let them. As awkward and impolitic and bombastic as he was, this was his main service.
The driving fee: It seems pretty obvious that the region cannot meet its climate change commitments without seriously decreasing the miles people have to drive here. The board accepted Ikhrata’s plan to impose a fee on driving – however theoretical and currently not legal it is. The fee both discourages driving and helps fund alternatives and road repair as electric car drivers don’t have to pay gas taxes.
If not a driving fee, some kind of congestion tax or more toll roads would serve the same purpose. However, the conservatives exploded and still use the fee to hammer Democrats and the Demcrats cowered and demanded he remove the fee. He did and will submit a new plan without it to the state to see if it still can somehow meet emissions reduction targets.
“I hope they approve it,” Ikhrata said. “But I also said, if we are truly serious about climate change, we have to show some political courage to do the right thing. People need to think through if they are serious about climate change.”
On politics: Ikhrata said he refused to play politics. That wasn’t entirely true. He may mean he refused to build consensus. But you knew something new and different was happening with SANDAG when Ikhrata donated to the campaign of Terra Lawson-Remer, a Democrat who was trying to unseat one of Ikhrata’s critics, former Supervisor Kristin Gaspar.
To say it was unusual for an agency leader to come out and try to help take down one of his critics politically is an understatement. It showed how much things had changed at SANDAG now that the city of San Diego, along with a couple of allies, could control the agenda.
Ikhrata, perhaps better than anyone, realized he had no particular need to be amenable to anyone else on the board especially those who don’t buy into transit as an option or climate change as a threat they have any role in addressing. He may interpret that as “not playing politics” but that’s politics for sure.
Was that a mistake? Ikhrata said he also donated to Republican Steve Vaus, another critic. And he merely had answered a request and didn’t mean to make it a big deal when he donated to Gaspar’s opponent.
And now: Ikhrata said he has plenty of career ahead of him. “You will be hearing about the great things I am going to do,” he said.
But he was also clearly humbled after five years in San Diego. Where he once said he hoped to create a plan to make sure every San Diegan could get around the region without a car just as well as someone with a car can, now he just says he wants people to have options.
The Special’s Final Stretch
We’re down to the last week before primary voting is over in the special election to fill the county supervisor seat vacated by former Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. And this has to be one of the highest MPD (mailer per day) rates we’ve seen in any race in San Diego in years.
It’s because there’s money. Builders, unions, cops, they all see a lot at stake, mainly between Democrats Janessa Goldbeck and Monica Montgomery Steppe. Though Republican Amy Reichert is raising significant sums and sending her own high volume of correspondence.
Our Andrea Lopez-Villafaña did a fact check on one of the police union’s mailers attacking Montgomery Steppe. (More on the interesting mailer below.)
How much money: Mason Herron has an excellent public spreadsheet tracking the independent spending in the race. Almost $1 million in spending from unions and other interests has led to a flood of mailers, online ads and text messages.
Here’s the outside spending in favor of and opposed to certain candidates according to Herron’s numbers.
My colleague got an interesting text message. It’s from “San Diegans United.” But that group has not done any of the IE disclosures required in the county and its funding is not available.
This is why disclosure matters. We don’t have any idea who sent it.
It could be one of the many fired up single-family home owners who can’t stand the idea of their neighbors building duplexes or small apartments on their land. Or, it could be conservative supporters of Amy Reichert, who may have finally realized that Reichert needs to get into the runoff if she wants to win which means someone needs to not make it to the runoff. Or it’s another bank-shot from labor unions attacking Goldbeck to try to get Reichert into the runoff, which they think helps Montgomery Steppe.
About That Police Hit on Montgomery Steppe
It seems like both sides read Lopez-Villafaña fact check and felt good about it. Supporters of Montgomery Steppe were pleased to see it pointed out clearly that, as a City Councilmember, Montgomery Steppe has regularly supported the police department’s budget and, every year, that budget has gone up.
On the other hand, the police felt vindicated by the additional context in the fact check, that Montgomery Steppe did feel compelled, after the murder of George Floyd to express support for “diverting funding and repurposing it for social and economic justice programming” even if she wasn’t successful.
So like a lot of campaign rhetoric, a lot of truth, context and meaning can be boiled off into the crystalized sensational chunks that appear in mailers and online ads.
But there’s another interesting side of this.
It’s remarkable how much has changed in three years. It was a democratic instinct for activists to look to the police department’s budget as a way to hold it accountable. There’s no more basic way to hold a government service accountable than by examining and challenging its budget. Conservatives certainly know that.
And three years ago, both Montgomery Steppe and Georgette Gómez, the City Council president at the time, were sincerely looking to respond to the outrage with fiscal accountability and some kind of systemic change or plan to redirect significant funding to other avenues.
It didn’t work. At all. But it’s a sign of how distasteful “defund the police” became that it didn’t even seem to be an option for Montgomery Steppe or her supporters to make the case for that sort of examination again. They really just wanted to prove that she supported the police every year and did everything she should have to raise their budget.
And it’s also indicative of how resentful police are: that they could get what they wanted, labor deals, budgets and still want to do everything they can to sink the political career of someone who questioned it, however briefly.
Janessa distances herself: Goldbeck sent out several tweets (sorry x’s? Posts?) apparently responding to the claim the mailers attacking Montgomery Steppe have been racist. They appear to darken Montgomery Steppe’s skin and have used some pretty dicey scare tactics.
“Let me be clear: racism, homophobia, anti-semitism and hate speech of any kind is unacceptable and has no place in our politics,” she wrote. “Realistically, every candidate in this race will be subject to the actions of outside groups with their own agendas.”
Kev-Dog wins the secret primary: Richard Bailey is not running for county supervisor. The Republican mayor of Coronado spent months and lots of money promoting himself and a vision for the county clearly in preparation to take on County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer. But then former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer decided he wanted the job. He has higher name recognition and apparently the conservative donors were more inclined to support Faulconer. Bailey has decided not to run.
Downtown homeless count down again: Andy Keatts was the one who updated that handy chart of downtown homelessness we updated regularly here. I hope to someday recover those precious skills for this forum. In any case, the July count of homeless residents and tents downtown showed a 26 percent decline from June. As our Lisa Halverstadt points out, it may have something to do with a major sweep that took place just before the encampment ban became law.
Jakob McWhinney helped this week. You can always listen to us each week on the podcast. This week we talked about all this and the encampment ban’s first week. Any other feedback or ideas for the Politics Report should come to firstname.lastname@example.org.