Politics Report: New SANDAG Chief, the Quote Machine - Voice of San Diego

Politics UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Politics Report: New SANDAG Chief, the Quote Machine

Hasan Ikhrata says he’s not worried about getting fired, and a new Republican in the D5 City Council race likes some of President Trump’s policies yet finds some of what he does “despicable.”

Hasan Ikhrata, executive director, SANDAG / Photo by Megan Wood

We had a great time at the Whistlestop Bar for our live podcast with the new executive director of SANDAG, Hasan Ikhrata, and Nicole Capretz, executive director of the Climate Action Campaign.

These are turning into fun events. Thank you to everyone who came.

If you didn’t and if you may not, for some unfathomable reason, listen to the podcast, I have to highlight some bits of news. Cause there were some doozies.

First, it was surreal to have the executive director of SANDAG join us, Voice of San Diego, in a packed bar for a live podcast. It wasn’t that long ago we were, uh, not having the best time with SANDAG.

Anyway, he was candid, as per his brand these days. Here are a couple highlights.

No Purple Line, at least not along the 805: SANDAG and the Metropolitan Transit System have long envisioned a Purple Line extension of the trolley that would go from San Ysidro to Kearny Mesa or beyond. Although SANDAG never specified exactly how it would be aligned, the maps all had it go along Interstate 805.

Local transit planners have always preferred those kinds of routes, along interstates, or in other areas where they own rights-of-way because they’re cheaper and easier.

But Ikhrata pointed out that you lose the benefit of serving people who live near the new transit stops if the transit stops are, well, on the freeway. He asked the confused audience how many of them lived on the actual freeway.

A tunnel instead: “If you want to build transit, build it where people live and work. So you’re going to see in our new vision a proposed 20-mile tunnel where it should be,” he said.

No more highways: We asked him about County Supervisor Jim Desmond, one of the most outspoken critics of transit priorities and who, as a North County conservative, is someone intent on seeing highway promises fulfilled.

Ikhrata was pretty direct.

“Every meeting I have with Mr. Supervisor Desmond I hear that. Every time I talk about transportation, he talks about, “What about my 78?’ My answer doesn’t change. The model of building highways is not sustainable, period. End of discussion.”

Recently, on behalf of the agency, Ikhrata finally acknowledged the obvious: The agency would have much less money available for long-promised highway projects.

He said he would not recommend to the board that they finish a those projects until they deliver on the broader vision for transit, like the Purple Line tunnel.

No taxes, for now: “Let me just say this, I don’t believe that we should go to San Diegans and say, ‘Give me money.’ And the next question they ask, ‘What for?’ And you’re going to say, ‘Well, I’m working on something.’ I believe in working on something, putting it in the table, making sure it’s tangible to the people you’re going to ask for money. That’s why I don’t think SANDAG is ready to go for a sales tax measure any time soon simply because we need to do the work first.”

Cool with being fired: “You know, I might get into trouble, but I’ll tell you this, the worst thing is not being fired. I’m at the stage in my career if I’m fired, that’s totally OK. As a matter of fact, I know some of my board members would love to fire me tomorrow. That’s OK.”

♦♦♦ Interlude ♦♦♦

Ken Stone at Times of San Diego did a piece about how Andrew Keatts got the story of four men accusing Kevin Beiser of sexual misconduct and assault and a bizarre claim talk show host Carl DeMaio made about it.

Stone’s piece is kind of long. The tl;dr version is:

DeMaio: Scheming Democrats knew about Kevin Beiser and did nothing!

Also DeMaio: I knew about Beiser and did nothing!

♦♦♦ End Interlude ♦♦♦

Republicans in San Diego are having the opposite of a moment. But one thing they have always been good at is coalescing around preferred candidates for important races. It minimized the chance they would cannibalize each other in primaries and has generally helped them conserve resources.

We all remember when the power guys of the party decided Kevin Faulconer was their man for mayor despite other people’s interest in the job. Clearing the field allowed Faulconer to keep his powder dry while Democrats Nathan Fletcher and David Alvarez fought for second place. He’s Mayor Faulconer now.

This year, though, in the San Diego City Council District 5 race, of all places, we may see a rare Republican brawl. The Democrats have Marni von Wilpert, with whom we spoke earlier this month.

We also talked with Republican Joe Leventhal, who is barred from fundraising or spending money on the campaign until September, which has made him somewhat vulnerable to the newest Republican to jump in the race to replace Mark Kersey: Pat Batten.

Batten has an interesting story. He worked in politics until 2001 and then joined the Marines at age 27. He said the Sept. 11 attacks so jarred him that he made the commitment that if the country went to war, he’d join, even while his wife was pregnant.

He went to bootcamp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, where he was called grandpa. He was older than his drill instructors. By 2006, he’d been commissioned as an officer. He worked in artillery.

Some highlights from my conversation with Batten:

His main issues: “The issues District 5 face are the same as many others. Infrastructure, public safety and making sure we have the financial resources to provide safety and services we need.”

Batten’s a big SDSU fan and alum. About the deal between the city and SDSU in Mission Valley: “There is some concern that this is an adversarial process but SDSU West still has to uphold its side of the bargain and make sure it pays fair value for the land.”

Batten’s consultant … will be Tom Shepard. Shepard helped coordinate the campaign for Measure G and SDSU West and he has an ongoing feud with Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric. Krvaric has tried hard to blacklist Shepard among Republicans. It doesn’t seem to have worked here.

Leventhal’s consultant … Will be Stephen Puetz, who was chief of staff for Faulconer and … worked for SoccerCity and Measure E.

Yes, I am hinting there’s a kind of SDSU West vs. SoccerCity subtext here but I have no more evidence for it than that so I decided to recklessly just float it out there because this is my column and I can do whatever I want, especially when Andy is doing work on an apparently more important story than this, the most prestigious and important political newsletter sent out of downtown San Diego every Saturday.

Batten on Trump: “The policies, many of them are policies I absolutely support. Some of the conversation about fiscal responsibility and lower taxes are values I align with.”

However …

“Some of the things he has said and done are despicable,” Batten said of the president.

Lincoln Club Picking Its Team

There’s one more bit of evidence that there seems to be some confusion among the right-of-center forces about District 5. The Lincoln Club decided to endorse Noli Zosa for the District 7 City Council race. And the group decided to endorse Republican Steve Vaus for the county supervisor seat, District 2, currently held by Dianne Jacob. But the club has not picked a candidate in the San Diego City Council District 5 race.

A bit more on Vaus: It sounds like Republican Joel Anderson, the former state senator, is still considering that race. As is Tom Lemmon, the Democrat and leader of the group of unions known as the Building Trades Council.

Vaus is winning the early Republican primary of the elites, though.

If you have any feedback or ideas for the Politics Report send it to scott@voiceofsandiego.org. 

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