VOSD: Politics Report: New SANDAG Chief, the Quote Machine

March 23 – VOSD – Scott Lewis Reports – 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.”

Read the full story here.