Dems Disagree On SANDAG's Transit Plan - Voice of San Diego

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Dems Disagree on SANDAG's Transit Plan

The right met Hasan Ikhrata’s plan to remake transit in San Diego with stiff opposition. Now it’s clear the left isn’t unified behind his proposal, either.

Rep. Scott Peters, Assemblyman Todd Gloria and City Councilman Chris Cate on stage at Politifest
From left: Rep. Scott Peters, Assemblyman Todd Gloria and City Councilman Chris Cate appear on VOSD’s live podcast taping at Politifest. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

This post initially appeared in the June 1 Politics Report. Get the Politics Report delivered to your inbox.

The right met Hasan Ikhrata’s plan to remake transit in San Diego with stiff opposition.

Now, it’s clear the left isn’t unified behind his proposal, either.

The Union-Tribune’s Joshua Emerson-Smith reported Monday the Metropolitan Transit System was moving forward with a 2020 tax measure that would beef up the existing bus and trolley network, rather than get to work building the 400-some miles of new, fast rail service Ikhrata imagines.

MTS Chairwoman Georgette Gómez, a SANDAG board member who enthusiastically embraced the idea, declined to comment for the story. That followed weeks of relative silence from the plan’s ostensible supporters, even while conservative leaders from North County and East County organized against it.

But perhaps most significantly, Assemblyman Todd Gloria, a leading mayoral candidate who has long positioned himself as a transit leader in San Diego, also declined to embrace Ikhrata’s proposal, saying it would come down to the details and that he wasn’t sure Ikhrata’s rail focus was necessary.

  • That kicked off a debate among Democrats and transit advocates who share the goal of building a more urban San Diego, but differ on the best way to do it.

La Mesa Councilman Colin Parent, who runs the transit advocacy group Circulate San Diego, praised Gloria’s skepticism, saying he wanted to make sure SANDAG’s plan improves transit in the places that already have it and are most likely to use it, and not just build out a network to farther flung places that don’t have it yet.

Rep. Scott Peters jumped in to praise Ikhrata’s concept, which he said for the first time would chart out a comprehensive long-term goal, instead of just settling for projects based on how much money was available at any given time.

Climate Action Campaign leader Nicole Capretz, plus labor leaders Carol Kim, Tom Lemmon and Gretchen Newsom all chimed in to agree with Peters.

  • The upshot: Ikhrata says he refuses to count votes, but at some point his proposals need approval of his board of directors. There’s no indication that the debate among Democrats means any of them won’t support his proposal when the time comes, but it shows that his radical plan to remake the transportation system isn’t controversial just among officials who don’t want more money spent on transit. How the agency doles out its transit spending is still up for debate as well, even among transit advocates.
  • Last point: Ikhrata made plenty of bold pronouncements when he first came to town, without eliciting any real opposition. That’s in part because his big ideas — transit should be time competitive with driving from anywhere to anywhere, the region needs to embrace major technological advancements coming to transportation — were vague enough on the details that everyone could hear what they wanted and ignore what they didn’t. Now, that same vague description is fueling some of the opposition, with leaders in North County saying they’re unclear about what he’s proposing for their region, and transit advocates hesitating to get on board until they hear more details.
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