Politics Report: SANDAG Chief Offers Real Talk on Shortfall - Voice of San Diego

Politics UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Politics Report: SANDAG Chief Offers Real Talk on Shortfall

The transportation and planning agency seems to be coming to terms with the fact that it won’t make good on the promises it made to voters in 2004. Plus, big committee assignments at San Diego City Hall and a big union election. 

SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata / Photo by Andrew Keatts

In the wake of the agency’s forecasting and budgeting scandal, SANDAG officials have been hesitant to acknowledge the financial uncertainty facing its infrastructure program.

That could be changing.

In an interview this week, SANDAG’s new executive director, Hasan Ikhrata, said there’s a good chance the agency won’t be able to build everything it promised voters in 2004, when they approved a half-cent sales tax increase for 40 years to improve roads, freeways and transit across the county.

“The capital cost to building is going way up,” he said. “The revenues are coming in, but they may not be enough to do everything we said we were going to do. And by the way, when you design a 30- or 40-year measure, you should build into it that we’re going to adjust as we go.”

After overstating how much it expected to raise in revenue and understating the cost of everything it was set to build, SANDAG in late 2016 copped to the program’s financial shortcomings. A recent audit reiterated that the agency needs to bring in $18 billion from state and federal sources to fund all its promises.

But until now, officials have remained relentlessly optimistic the money would come and SANDAG would build everything voters expected.

Ikhrata is not only ready to grapple with the alternative but he said doing so should be part of the agency’s conversation as it sketches out a new vision for a regional transit system.

“We might be short, absolutely, and I will take that head-on,” he said. “I don’t know the specifics right now – I don’t know how short we are, whether we’re short or not, all that, but I’m open to that, that we might not have enough money to finish everything we said we were going to do.”

SANDAG communications manager Irene McCormack jumped in: “You didn’t expect that, did you?” she said.

What was perhaps more surprising, though, was what Ikhrata said next.

Even before its scandal, SANDAG staff and its board had been resistant to the idea that it could re-prioritize the commitments it made to voters on the 2004 ballot. That would require a two-thirds vote of the board. Progressive activists, for example, have asked the agency to move transit projects forward in the queue, at the expense of freeway projects.

“Everything should be on the table,” he said. “It’s not my decision, it’s the board’s decision. It’s my job with my team to put information in front of them, and they’re going to have to decide, but yeah, I think everything should be on the table.”

SANDAG assignments: Late Friday, Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced who would be representing the city on boards and commissions around the county and state.

Faulconer and Council President Georgette Gomez will be the city’s primary representatives at SANDAG, as required by law. But Faulconer doesn’t attend SANDAG meetings often, so his alternate will be a familiar face at the agency.

That alternate is Councilman Mark Kersey. San Diego’s representatives have pronounced influence on the board, since every city’s vote is weighted to its population. Kersey will now often wield half of that weighted vote.

Meet the Underserved-Community Caucus

(Clockwise from left to right) Council President Georgette Gomez, Councilwoman Monica Montgomery and Vivian Moreno / Photos by Adriana Heldiz

At a Voice of San Diego event last month, Gomez said she saw similarities between herself and two newly elected Council members, Monica Montgomery and Vivian Moreno.

The three of them are women of color who represent the city’s lowest-income, largely non-white districts. And Gomez said they each won their races thanks to community will, not support from third-party groups like the Lincoln Club, Chamber of Commerce or labor unions.

In an interview, Gomez said she intends to take advantage of those similarities as part of a legislative strategy.

Because they represent districts with similar problems, it’s likely they could benefit from similar solutions. She wants to hash out what new policies the city could pursue to benefit District 4, District 8 and District 9 simultaneously.

“The three of us represent the most underserved communities within the city of San Diego,” she said.  “I want to really start from that place, in terms of how do we shape that conversation? What does that look like for us? My hope is that we can come up with that conversation collectively to be able to put it forward to the full council.”

Committee assignments, part 1: Late Friday, Gomez announced committee assignments for her colleagues.

Montgomery will the chair of the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods committee, which controls police policy. It’s not unexpected but still a huge move. She is deeply in touch with the criminal justice reform movement and began her campaign because of it.

In her inauguration speech, Montgomery pledged to give the Community Review Board on Police Practices subpoena power so it could independently investigate allegations of police misconduct; right now, it relies on the department’s internal investigations.

With her chair on the public safety committee, she’ll have a chance to pursue that pledge.

Committee assignments, part 2: Moreno, too, got a fitting assignment.

During her campaign, Moreno took an unapologetic YIMBY stance on housing. She said the biggest problem with housing in the city was that there wasn’t enough of it, at all income levels. The city needed to take steps to let developers build. (She also unapologetically opposed rent control, flat out, even in rooms or debates where she could have easily appealed to the audience and taken a softer stance.)

Now, she’ll take over the rechristened Land Use and Housing committee, where she’ll have a platform to push the deregulatory housing ideas she championed on the campaign trail.

Committee assignments, part 3: Republicans didn’t get totally shut out. Kersey will chair the Infrastructure Committee, which is being renamed the Committee on Active Transportation and Infrastructure. And Councilman Scott Sherman will chair the Audit Committee.

Bits o’ Things

UFCW President Mickey Kasparian (center) / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

A big election: The United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 135 held its vote for president Friday. There were 72 polling locations across San Diego and Imperial Counties. The embattled longtime president of the union, Mickey Kasparian, has been a major force in local politics. Were he to lose, it would be stunning. He’s facing rival Todd Walters. We had no results as of Politics Report press time.

She’s running: Friday, City Councilwoman Barbara Bry became the first to officially file as a candidate for mayor of the city of San Diego.

Court of Appeal: No thanks, Jan Goldsmith: The city of San Diego voted in October to appeal the stunning California State Supreme Court Proposition B ruling all the way to the Supreme Court. That ruling said the city and former Mayor Jerry Sanders acted illegally pursuing Proposition B and threw the city into an unprecedented dilemma. The ruling could force the city to rewind six years of experience under a new employee retirement system. Because of Proposition B, all new employees since 2012 were enrolled in a 401(k)-style retirement fund.

The city has not yet actually sent an appeal of this to the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s expected any minute. Then the Supreme Court will have to decide whether to take the case. Until then, it’s all in the appellate court’s hand to sort out. That’s a big job. The resolution could require the city to do something major — or not.

In November, former City Attorney Jan Goldsmith asked the appellate court if he could submit a brief on how he thinks it should be resolved.

He got a brief response from the presiding justice for the 4th District Court of Appeal, Judith McConnell: “The application of the Pacific Legal Foundation and the Honorable Jan I Goldsmith (Ret.) to file an amicus curiae brief in opposition to Union real parties in interest’s proposed remedy is DENIED.”

The U-T bends reality: The Union-Tribune editorial board took the bold stance Friday that San Diego should root for the Chargers. But rather than just say something like “We support them. We’re proud of their success” the paper went a different route.

“The Chargers became fun to watch with the realization our weeks wouldn’t rise and fall with their wins and losses, and the greater realization that this isn’t Spanos’ team,” the editorial board wrote, referring to owner Dean Spanos. They said the Chargers are the players, not the owner. And the players are good.

The thing is, NFL players are notoriously expendable to NFL owners and treated that way. People should root for the Chargers, if they want to. But it is most definitely Spanos’ team.

More NFL: This week we got the news that the city of Oakland, Calif., filed a lawsuit against the Raiders and the NFL for anti-trust violations and extortion.

Obviously the city of San Diego, in its infinite wisdom, signed a lease in 2006 that waived its rights to sue the Chargers for these same reasons were the Chargers to move.

San Diegans are genetically unable to do fun things like sue the NFL. Sorry. Move to Oakland if you don’t like it.

Anyway, the news of the lawsuit triggered NFL world to speculate that the Raiders would not finish their last year in Oakland and … holy moly, whoa nelly, golly jeepers, maybe we could have the NFL back in San Diego even for just one season.

And just like that, local sports talk radio had #content for an entire day.

What have we become? A city that dreams of having the Raiders come and play for one season??? How do we even show our face when we’re at a party with other cities?

“Yeesh, San Diego, sorry man. Rough run. You look good though.”

“Thanks, thanks.”

Republicans are fine, actually: Tony Krvaric, the newly re-elected chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County, tweeted some statistics he found. “Interesting (updated) San Diego County stats. Total # of elected offices: 851 | # of Republicans: 431 | # of Democrats: 259 | # Decline-to-State: 115 | # Other: 30 | Vacancies: 16.”

Accompanying the tweet was a gif of Batman rubbing his chin, thoughtfully. The implication seemed to be that perhaps the narrative that the party was in trouble in San Diego is flawed.

OK, we recant and will issue a correction: The local GOP is fine.

If you have a tip or idea for the Politics Report, send it to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org. 

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