Politics Report: Who Will Get the Midway Rose? - Voice of San Diego

Politics

Politics Report: Who Will Get the Midway Rose?

Big week for the Sports Arena bidders coming up. And the SANDAG chief’s donation that will keep on giving … to the person who didn’t get it.

Pechanga Arena / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The two groups hoping to be the developers in charge of overhauling the Sports Arena land in the Midway District sat for interviews with Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s selection committee this week.

The mayor says he plans to go with whomever the committee selects. The winner will begin a long, exclusive negotiating relationship with city staff to come up with much more specific plans about what will happen to the vast tract of city-owned land in the area.

Those plans would eventually go to the City Council for approval.

For now, both bidders submitted basically just ideas of what they would do with the land and then answered a series of questions about how they would get the money to make it happen and how much experience they have with similar efforts.

City staff rated their bids with points and apparently it came out pretty close. So they had interviews.

The winner is likely going to be announced next week.

That makes that committee kind of a big deal. So who is on it?

We found out Friday. Here is the list as we got it:

  • Andrew Phillips, the interim president of Civic San Diego
  • CaSundra Perry, from the city’s real estate assets department
  • Adam Jones, the city’s financial operations manager
  • Mike Hansen, the director of planning for the city
  • George Katsikaris, a city manager with stints at the ballpark and overseeing leases

Plus the firm Jones Lang LaSalle is on the team as an adviser. That’s the firm that helped the city negotiate the deal to sell Mission Valley land to San Diego State University.

The mayor’s office sent over this written statement about what’s happening, from press secretary Ashley Bailey: “Redeveloping the Sports Arena area is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform this property into an iconic location that makes the Midway community and our entire city proud. The city’s team is currently working through the steps to evaluate and select the best proposal. At the conclusion of the selection process, city staff will notify the mayor, the bid awardee and the public of the winning proposal.”

Ikhrata’s Donation to Lawson-Remer Was a Gift to Gaspar

County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata and Terra Lawson-Remer / Photos by Adriana Heldiz and Megan Wood

Long after Terra Lawson-Remer has spent the $850 she received from SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata, her opponent in the race for county supervisor (who is also one of Ikhrata’s bosses) will still be cashing in on the donation.

County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar is running against Ikhrata and SANDAG in general, and their attempts to deprioritize highway spending in favor of transit specifically.

The donation was perfectly legal but violates a norm against government professionals weighing in on the races that determine their boards or overseers. Now, after our Jesse Marx this week reported on Ikhrata’s max donation to Lawson-Remer, Gaspar’s got a new, perfectly valid piece of ammo: the agency she’s taking on is taking rare and ethically questionable steps to knock her off.

How do we know that Gaspar’s campaign is eager to run against SANDAG? Her campaign strategist told us.

In one poll, Gaspar consultant Jason Roe told us, 28 percent of residents of the district – which covers Encinitas, Escondido and other parts of North County – listed roads, traffic and infrastructure as their top concern, nearly double the second highest-ranking issue.

Not long after, Ikhrata proposed shifting remaining funds from TransNet, SANDAG’s voter-approved sales tax, from highways to transit.

“I thought, ‘This is a gift,’” Roe said.

Ikhrata giveth, and he giveth again.

The Race Is Big, Folks, But There’s More

The Gaspar vs. Lawson-Remer race is pivotal for the future of SANDAG’s board, and specifically Ikhrata’s newly announced vision for a county transportation plan built around a European style rail system.

As Marx reported, a Gaspar loss means not one, but two of Ikhrata’s chief critics would no longer be on the board. Gaspar, because she’d be out of office. And Supervisor Jim Desmond, because Democrats would then have a majority at the county, and could appoint themselves to SANDAG.

But in a story by Joshua Emerson Smith in the Union-Tribune last week, another critical November race for Ikhrata’s vision emerged.

Assemblyman Todd Gloria told Emerson Smith he loved the plan. That’s no surprise. Gloria has said as much publicly for more than a year now.

But Gloria’s mayoral opponent, Councilwoman Barbara Bry, put some distance between herself and Ikhrata’s proposal.

“This is another rush deal during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “After the pandemic ends, we should step back to see how remote working and commute patterns change and what this will mean for future transit needs.”

It’s not a no, but it sure isn’t a yes.

The city of San Diego can nearly call the shots at SANDAG all on its own, since cities representing a majority of county residents can overrule any decision made by the rest of the board. San Diego needs support from just two other cities to exercise a veto.

That’s not a hypothetical power. Since Ikhrata came on board, Mayor Kevin Faulconer – or other city representatives attending on his behalf – have liberally wielded the weighted vote to exert their influence at the regional government, and overwhelmingly to Ikhrata’s benefit.

The board isn’t expected to vote on Ikhrata’s vision until next fall. If Gloria and Lawson-Remer both win, Ikhrata opponents on the board could raise a fuss, but couldn’t hope to defeat his plan.

But if Bry and Gaspar win, the calculation would change entirely.

The Union-Tribune’s Timed Out Endorsements

From Scott Lewis: For years the Union-Tribune editorial board and newsroom reporters have reacted angrily to suggestions from politicians, like Duncan Hunter Jr., that the newspaper’s political endorsements represented the view of the newspaper, including its reporters.

No, the endorsements represent the editorial board and the editorial board alone, they say. They do not represent the newspaper or the other sections of the newspaper and definitely not the reporters.

We’ll get back to that in a second. Because this week, we learned about a new rule: Apparently the endorsements are ephemeral and candidates should know that.

The issue blew up this week when campaigns got hit with lawsuits suggesting that they were improperly citing the Union-Tribune’s endorsement. The campaigns, yes, were endorsed. But the endorsement ended after the March primary.

So, for example, the paper endorsed Mara Elliott in the primary election for San Diego city attorney. She’s the incumbent, and the paper endorsed, specifically, her re-election: “Elliott doesn’t deserve to get fired, which is what a vote for challengers Cory Briggs or Pete Mesich would mean,” the paper wrote.

But that’s not true anymore.

Elliott said that she was endorsed by the Union-Tribune on her ballot statement for this November – as did Council candidates Noli Zosa and Joe Leventhal. That drew legal challenges from their rivals. And the Union-Tribune agrees with those challenges.  The paper’s endorsements do not carry over from a primary to a runoff election.

“Will we endorse the same people? Maybe, maybe not,” Hall told U-T reporter David Garrick Monday about this year’s process.

In fairness to the candidates, though, the paper has not written or announced that it withdrew its support or retracted its view that, for example, Elliott should not be fired.

But wait: remember, this doesn’t apply to the paper as a whole. In that section, we referred to the paper’s endorsements. This is how the candidates refer to it as well: the Union-Tribune’s endorsement.

Hall and other editors have insisted, however, that these endorsements are not the Union-Tribune’s views. The Union-Tribune does not believe it, as an institution, endorses candidates.

That’s just the editorial board.

Until now, that is. In Garrick’s piece about the U-T’s endorsements, he wrote, repeatedly, they were the endorsements of the newspaper in general.

“Each of the candidates was endorsed by the Union-Tribune in the March primary, but those endorsements don’t extend to November runoffs,” he wrote, for example.

Final word, then: The Union-Tribune endorses candidates. If it does not, candidates could ostensibly sue their rivals for claiming the paper’s endorsement and not just the endorsement of the Union-Tribune’s editorial board.

No, instead, the newspaper has now written, as fact, and not corrected, that it itself, as a newspaper, endorses candidates. Thus, if a candidate or politician wants to say the newspaper endorsed their opponent, it probably should be OK.

We’re suing the county and others for what we believe are public documents. We really want information about the outbreaks of SARS-Cov-2. Those outbreaks are defining our lives. So where are they happening? How many are they infecting? Are they following guidance? Have the decisions made this summer been good ones to control these? If you support our relentless push for transparency and accountability in San Diego public affairs, consider donating. It’s how we pay the bills. Send negative comments to andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org. Send compliments and helpful feedback to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org. 

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