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Politics Report: Sharp Words at SANDAG Meeting

SANDAG wasn't always in the news so much but now the feud about the future of local transportation is burgeoning. Plus, an interesting poll in the mayor's race and the city attorney may have a challenger.
Hasan Ikhrata / Photo by Megan Wood

We heard that last week’s SANDAG meeting included some sharp words between Hasan Ikhrata, the agency’s director, and some of the board members who had been publicly opposing his vision to remake the region’s transportation system.

But the agency hadn’t posted the audio of that meeting until late Friday, so we had to take other peoples’ words for it. Nothing from the meeting, for instance, made it into the story this week about the burgeoning fight between Ikhrata and some of his board members.

Ikhrata began last week’s meeting by addressing the feud that kicked off when he unveiled the broad strokes of a new transportation plan for the region last month.

“I don’t think it’s fair to judge the plan from one meeting, and make untrue statements about it and the integrity of the staff here,” he said. He then read from a press release put out by County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar about the plan, calling its accusations “simply untrue.”

“That’s why I’m very disappointed to hear our board members say that SANDAG is untrustworthy, and attack this process when no decision has been made,” he said.

Gaspar responded by saying she hoped no one on staff thought she was attacking their integrity, and that she simply opposed the plan presented.

“And because I disagree with the plan does not mean you can call me a liar, and I take great offense to that,” Gaspar said.

She also said she wanted to be very clear that she shared Ikhrata’s goal of adopting a new plan that meets all state greenhouse gas reduction mandates.

“We’re not lying, we just disagree with the plan that was presented,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of room for us to work together, but there isn’t if you call into question the integrity of your board members as well … I will not be called a liar.”

Santee Mayor John Minto weighed in to say it was possible the board and Ikhrata were simply miscommunicating, but that he and others felt their concerns weren’t being heard. Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey said something similar. San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones – who also got into an argument with Ikhrata at an event earlier in the week – reminded him that the board is his boss, and asked him to exhibit leadership that made representatives from North County and East County feel heard. And Solana Beach Mayor David Zito said making changes to the agency’s 40-year spending plan made sense, while suggesting to critical board members that he didn’t love that they held a press conference in Solana Beach without contacting anyone from the city, since it gave the impression that they also opposed Ikhrata’s vision.

If TransNet Vote Fails, Ikhrata Will Just Try Again

If all that doesn’t spell it out, let’s say this directly: It isn’t at all clear that Ikhrata has the votes he needs to amend TransNet, the countywide sales tax for transportation projects, to help bolster his vision for a new transportation system.

But he said that doesn’t bother him at all.

Here’s a snippet from a recent interview with Ikhrata that didn’t make it into our story this week.

Andrew Keatts: Let’s say you put up the TransNet amendment you’ve outlined, and it fails?

Ikhrata: We’ll try again.

Keatts: Just try again?

Ikhrata: Absolutely. Look, I am not a quitter. I believe in what we’re doing. I believe the system we’re putting is the right system for the region, because of our experience learning from other regions. None of this is rocket science, Andy. This has been proven for the last 200 years.

DeMaio for Mayor, Part Deux?

Carl Demaio
Carl DeMaio, who led the effort to repeal the state’s gas tax, appears at Golden Hall on Election Night. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

One of the things the old landline in the house is good for is polls. Lots of polls. We got one from the group trying to repeal the law passed last year to end cash bail in the criminal justice system, which among many questions, tested the argument that ending cash bail is good because otherwise the government would decide how long someone should wait in jail.

Yes, yes, let’s get the government out of criminal justice. Maybe Walmart could handle it better?

But a more relevant poll for our interests came the night before. It started out with a test of the mayor’s race.

The candidates for mayor of San Diego are: Barbara Bry, City Council member; Carl DeMaio, former City Council member; and Todd Gloria, state Assemblyman.

Yes, record scratch, stop, double-take indeed. (This was Sara Libby’s joke on the podcast, full disclosure.) Is Carl DeMaio planning another run?

The whole poll tested many of the things he has seized on latel,y and has some of his trademark rhetorical framing. Central Market Research was the company listed at the end of the ad.

We pinged DeMaio for comment but have not received anything back.

The primary is not that far away – less than nine months. And there is still no Republican candidate. San Diego may be going blue but a mayor’s race here without a Republican is still a thing to behold.

As Gloria gathers more and more endorsements on the left, a lot of us have been waiting to see if Bry would run to the right. Then there’s Councilman Mark Kersey, who recently announced he was leaving the Republican Party, and has not ruled out a mayoral run.

But still nothing. There’s a not insignificant chance that DeMaio did the poll just so people would talk like this about him possibly running. In which case, check-mate man. You got us.

The Right Lane in the Mayor’s Race

To get “Nathan Fletchered” is to get squeezed out of a primary race from the right and left. It’s when a candidate running in the middle against someone with institutional support to his or her right and against another candidate like that to the left. The candidates with the Republican and Democratic Party support both attack the person in the middle because they both want to make the runoff election.

That’s what happened to Nathan Fletcher, twice. He never made it through a primary of a mayor’s race.

An independent candidate will have a hard time making it through a primary when the interests and networks of both major political parties will work against you. You can take on the Democrats, maybe. And you can take on the Republicans. But you can’t take on both.

Kersey won’t talk to us about his plans except to confirm he’s still thinking about running. One thing he may be waiting for is certainty that no prominent Republican partisan will run. An independent candidate who runs to the right of the Democrats in the race now could consolidate a lot of the right-of-center coalition and make it through to the runoff against one of the Democrats.

A general election runoff against someone like Assemblyman Todd Gloria would still be a tough one. But anything can happen in those races.

Briggs: Not Running, But Running

Attorney Cory Briggs argues a case against the city of San Diego in Superior Court. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

The poll got a couple things wrong. One, it missed candidate Tasha Williamson, who’s not nothing.

But it also included Briggs, who let everyone know this week he was not running for mayor.

Then he let some folks know, including Bill Osborne, the former editor of the Union-Tribune’s opinion section, that he was actually planning to run for city attorney. Osborne is a member of Voice of San Diego’s board of directors and passed along the message he got from Briggs, which said: “I want to let you know that I will be running for city attorney.”

Hey-o!

mara elliott san diego
City Attorney Mara Elliott / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

More: The poll that included DeMaio in the list of mayoral candidates also had a very DeMaio-y take on the mayor’s measure to increase hotel-room taxes to fund an expansion of the Convention Center, homeless services and road repairs. (Side note to supporters of this: Can we please (please!) get a more succinct name for this thing? No, no, not “Yes! For a Better San Diego.” Good lord. Be warned: You do not want us to try to name it. But we will. We give you until June 15 to come up with something or else we’re going to “Convadium” it. Yes, we have matured over the years but not that much.)

The poll hinted at some opposition.

City politicians are proposing an increase to the city’s hotel tax to raise $30 million more in funding annually. Supporters say that tax increase is desperately needed to expand the Convention Center, support social service programs for the homeless and fund road repairs. Opponents say this tax increase is simply a way for the city to compensate for its budget deficit. Based on what you know, do you support or oppose it as hotel tax increase?  

Kevin Beiser Still Isn’t Teaching

Late last month, San Diego Unified School District Trustee Kevin Beiser made his first public appearance since four men accused him of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Besier returned to the school board on April 23 as if nothing happened.  He didn’t acknowledge the scandal and still hasn’t commented beyond a short statement he made declaring his innocence on March 19.

But Beiser has still not returned to his other job, as a middle school math teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District.

Manny Rubio, a spokesman for Sweetwater, said Beiser has still not returned to the classroom, and the district still does not have an expected return date for him.

The status of Beiser’s campaign for the City Council’s District 7 seat, meanwhile, is unclear. Beiser’s roommate attended a planning group meeting on behalf of his campaign a month ago, but said he wasn’t authorized to provide any statement beyond Beiser’s original one.

Big Endorsement in District 3 Race

There’s a crowded field vying to replace Councilman Chris Ward on the City Council, as he pursues a seat in the Assembly.

But an endorsement dropped this week that could weigh heavily in that district.

San Diego Democrats for Equality, an LGBTQ-based organization that is also the largest Democratic club in the county, voted to support Stephen Whitburn’s District 3 bid.

District 3 is the seat of power of the local LGBTQ community, one of the Democrats’ main organizing forces. Before Gloria and Ward, it was also represented by influential gay leaders like Sen. Pro Tem Toni Atkins and former Sen. Christine Kehoe. While a Dems for Equality endorsement can be valuable to any candidate, it’s especially the case in District 3.

A Facebook post of the results suggested it was not especially close. Whitburn, who used to run San Diego Pride, took 75 percent of the vote. Toni Duran, an Atkins staffer, got 15 percent of the vote. Christopher Olsen, a staffer at the city’s Independent Budget Analyst, and Adrian Kwiatkowski, a government relations consultant, also received votes.

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

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