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Politics Report: Bry, Gloria Eye Mayor's Office

SANDAG tapped its new director, but not without a bit of drama. Plus: Big spending on SoccerCity, the Politifest lineup and more.

Councilwoman Barbara Bry / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

On Sept. 2, San Diego City Councilwoman Barbara Bry held a reception at her house. There were dozens of people there.

“She made it pretty clear she was running for mayor,” said Tom Shepard, a political consultant, who was there.

In a phone interview, Bry, a Democrat, said she had not decided for sure to run.

“A lot of people, starting several months ago, encouraged me to consider running. I’ll make a final decision about it in January,” she said.

Under new campaign guidelines in the city of San Diego, candidates for mayor in 2020 can start raising money and paying people for the campaign in January.

We asked Bry why she thinks people started to encourage her to run.

“It started when I began opposing SoccerCity,” she said. “I was willing to take a strong stand on something.”

Shepard is not Bry’s consultant for the mayoral race. That is, not yet. Shepard helped coordinate Bry’s City Council campaign. But he also served Rep. Scott Peters in his City Council campaigns. Peters has openly acknowledged he’s considering running for mayor also.

Why so early? The early days can be crucial. First movers can benefit.

“When you have an open seat, and it’s unclear who are going to be top-tier candidates, what happens in the first few months is important. Donors, the press and supporters will figure out who really is going to be competitive. And all the candidates will be focused on those first few months of 2019,” Shepard said.

Along with Peters and Bry, Assemblyman Todd Gloria, Councilman Chris Cate and Councilman Mark Kersey have all been rumored to be considering a run for mayor.

Todd Gloria

Todd Gloria / Photo courtesy of the California Assembly

We were interviewing Gloria for an unrelated story recently and, before hanging up, asked him when we could expect an announcement on a mayoral run.

Gloria didn’t fully take the bait. But he reminded us that January 2019 is the earliest mayoral hopefuls could open a committee to raise money for a 2020 race.

He suggested we pay attention to his whereabouts around then.

Meet SANDAG’s New Boss

SANDAG hired Hasan Ikhrata as its new executive director Friday. / Photo by Andrew Keatts

A year after its previous director departed in scandal, the San Diego Association of Governments has hired a replacement.

Hasan Ikhrata, currently executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, SCAG, will helm San Diego’s transportation network.

He’s taking over SANDAG at a critical time for the agency. The agency is updating the region’s 40-year plan for transportation projects and its outline for how many homes are needed. Its sales tax-funded program to pay for those regional projects is short on funds and looking for a lifeline to deliver the projects promised to voters.

And it’s still dealing with the aftermath of a scandal, uncovered by Voice of San Diego, in which it misled voters over how much money its tax measures would bring in and how likely it was that previous promises would be completed. That’s what led to the ouster of Gary Gallegos, the former director.

Ikhrata said the public should “moving forward, expect only honest information, not based on politics.”

“There will not be anybody at this agency while I’m in charge that will mislead, or manipulate or play with the numbers,” he said. “You can expect and always expect true information based on facts only.”

And he said he’s not especially concerned with the financial problems facing TransNet, the agency’s capital program funded in part by a countywide sales tax.

“I’ve been hearing, I don’t have the facts, that TransNet is running out of money, or it’s going to run out of money before it finishes the projects,” he said. “I will say this, and you might be surprised: The last thing I want to start talking about is money. Let us define our vision. Let us know where we are going … and then the money comes later.”

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer – who missed the board’s vote to hire Ikhrata because he was in jury duty, but managed to attend the press conference during a court break – said SANDAG needs someone to not only solve the region’s transportation and environmental needs, but restore trust in the agency.

“So it needs a proven leader with impeccable credentials,” he said. “Hasan is that leader, and at the right time.”

One big change: SANDAG is a bit unique in the already unique world of metropolitan planning organizations.

SCAG is 10 times bigger than SANDAG, in terms of the number of people who live in its planning jurisdiction.

But SCAG does not put tax measures on the ballot, or collect taxes as part of a comprehensive capital improvement program.

SANDAG does. In that way, it’s more like LA Metro or the San Francisco Transportation Authority. But SANDAG also does the big-picture regional plans and housing outlines, just like SCAG.

Ikhrata said he isn’t worried about taking on a responsibility that wasn’t part of what he did at SCAG (in part because he had previously worked at LA Metro for six years, though not as executive).

But the six counties that are part of SCAG, he said, relied on him to help finish their projects.

“They’ll tell you, ‘we trust this man to go to Sacramento and work on our behalf,’” he said. “I have the expertise.”

Well That Was Weird

Some on the board blanched at the size of Ikhrata’s compensation package, leading to momentary chaos in the middle of voting to approve his hire.

Ikrhata will receive a $414,000 annual salary. That’s an increase from the $310,000 a year Gallegos earned. SANDAG staff said Ikrhata would receive the same annual benefits package as Gallegos, which as of 2016 was valued at an additional $66,000.

La Mesa Councilwoman Kristine Alessio said it made her “horrified.” San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond called it “extraordinary.”

For a second, it seemed like the decision – which had seemed like a foregone conclusion – might be in doubt.

Desmond then made a motion to approve the contract on the contingency that a series of performance measures would be agreed to before December, when Ikhrata is scheduled to take over.

San Diego Councilwoman Lorie Zapf then called for a recess after voting had already opened. She left the room and began consulting with Faulconer’s staff – she was his alternate on the board while he was in jury duty.

When she returned, Board Chair Terry Sinnott said he spoke to Ikhrata, who said he would not accept the position if there were any contingencies. Desmond’s motion was defeated.

The contract passed with Desmond and El Cajon’s representative in opposition.

After the hearing, Zapf said she had to call for the break because the board’s discussion was just too confusing.

“We wanted to make sure that whatever we were voting on didn’t prevent this from going forward,” she said. “We didn’t want to blow it up today.”

Oh, and SANDAG Is Now Officially Behind on Its Biggest Task

Earlier in the board meeting, SANDAG made a decision that would normally qualify as big news in SANDAG world.

SANDAG officially delayed its timeline for updating its regional transportation plan – a 40-year outline for transportation projects throughout the region.

It now expects to adopt a new plan four to six months later than it is required to. That pushes the final adoption point until spring 2020, instead of next fall.

Why that’s a big deal: Every MPO is required by both the state and the federal government to have an up-to-date regional plan.

Not having an updated plan means not being eligible for state and federal funds. That would be a problem in any situation, but it’s an especially big problem now that SANDAG – short on funds to cover all the promises in TransNet – is counting on money from the state and feds.

SANDAG needs to get more money from outside San Diego for every dollar it collects inside San Diego than it ever has in its history. Now that’s even more difficult.

The plan: SANDAG said it will ask representatives from San Diego to carry legislation in Sacramento that would allow its existing plan to satisfy the state need for the four to six months that it is expected to need to adopt a new plan.

Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas said it’s a good idea because SANDAG doesn’t just need to pass a new plan, it needs to pass a new plan that will withstand any legal challenges – or that will avoid getting challenged in the first place.

“We have a delegation from San Diego that is quite powerful and would be supportive of our request to extend the plan,” she said.

San Diego’s inability to update its plan – a requirement under federal air quality requirements – will put it into a 12-month grace period with the federal government.

As long as it’s in that grace period, it’ll be able to get funds from basic changes to existing funding agreements, but won’t be able to compete for new money.

Muggs Stoll, SANDAG’s chief planner, said the agency will try to pre-emptively look forward for any potential funding opportunities that might present themselves during the period it is in federal funding limbo, and try to move those forward so it could secure the money before it goes into the 12-month grace period.

Why the delay: SANDAG said it’s behind schedule for two reasons.

One is that it has spent time and resources on its plan of excellence, a seven-point program intended to increase the transparency and integrity of the agency’s data following its forecasting and budgeting scandal.

The other reason is that the agency is doing more outreach to community groups and nonprofit groups on the plan, in hopes of implementing their concerns early to build consensus on a vision for the region’s transportation future – and its mix of new highways and transit projects in the coming decades.

Big Spending in Mission Valley War

Political consultant Tom Shepard / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Shepard is also running the campaign for Measure G, the SDSU West initiative. It would direct the city to sell the Mission Valley stadium land to SDSU.

He said the people backing SoccerCity, which is on the ballot as Measure E, are about to spend $1.3 million over the next three weeks. He marveled at it.

“That’s my entire budget for Measure G,” he said.

SoccerCity’s Nick Stone would not comment on exactly how much his team was deploying. But he did send a statement.

“We’re going to do what it takes to make sure voters have the facts they need to decide between Measure E’s 100% privately funded plan or Measure G’s proposal to take hundreds of millions from taxpayers for private development,” he wrote.

His team began promoting this video on Facebook this week.

Politifest Lineup!

Organizing Politifest this year has been a wild ride but it came into focus this week. We’ve got some great panels set up. Here’s the initial list.

Mayors in the Middle
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg
Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum

The Future of California
Assemblyman Chad Mayes
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez

SoccerCity, SDSU West or Neither, a Debate
Moderated by Scott Lewis
Marcela Escobar-Eck (pro-Measure E)
Nick Stone (pro-Measure E)
Howard Blackson (Neither)
Jack McGrory (pro-Measure G)
Laura Fink (pro-Measure G, anti-Measure E)

Life, Undocumented, in the Trump Era
Presented by HuffPost, Part of the Listen to America Tour
Moderated by HuffPost D.C. Bureau Chief Amanda Terkel
Panelists:
Elise Foley (immigration reporter, HuffPost)
Maya Srikrishnan (immigration reporter, Voice of San Diego)
Dulce Garcia (immigration attorney and DACA recipient)
Tom Wong (associate professor, USCD)

Rent Control: Can it do what the market can’t?
A debate about Proposition 10, hosted by CalMatters

Exit Interview: Assemblyman Rocky Chavez 

Interview: Mike Levin, Candidate for California’s 49th Congressional District
(Unfortunately, many weeks of pleading with Diane Harkey’s campaign to have her debate Levin were unsuccessful.)

Live Podcast
We have a special live podcast planned before the evening reception. We’ll announce our guests soon.

There are several community-led panels, some workshops on all the ballot measures and a chance for you to meet the politicians who come in our candidate speed-dating room. We’ll have more announcements soon. Get your tickets here.

If you have tips or feedback for the Politics Report, send them to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org. 

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