With a Democratic SuperMajority on the San Diego City Council, It’s Time to Go Bold on the Environment

by on December 13, 2018 · 4 comments

in San Diego

By Doug Porter / San Diego Free Press

I remember a time not so long ago when the very idea of Georgette Gomez sitting on the City Council (let alone being President and setting the agenda), would have been considered wishful thinking in local political circles.

Gomez ran for the District 9 Council seat as the outsider, the person with progressive principles and a background in environmental activism. She persisted, made it through the primary and, despite the not-so-covert maneuvering of the usual propertied suspects, won in the November 2016 general election.

The vote to confirm Gomez as City Council President was unanimous, with two Republicans singing her praises. Go figure–having principles and being honest can foster progress.

From the Voice of San Diego:

The Republicans said they were happy to vote for her because she’s always been honest with them about where she stood, even when they disagreed.

“Unlike the person who held that seat earlier, Georgette Gómez has been upfront and honest with me since the day she got here,” said Councilman Scott Sherman, taking a veiled shot at outgoing Council President Myrtle Cole.

Councilman Mark Kersey, another Republican, said he’s encouraged that Gómez will be both council president and MTS chair during a pivotal period for San Diego’s transportation system.

From the Union-Tribune coverage:

Gomez thanked her colleagues for selecting her and promised to lead in a collective way that will focus on equity, inclusiveness, transparency and accountability.

“Business as usual is no longer acceptable,” she said. “For far too long, many of our communities have been ignored when important decisions are being made. That will stop.”

I have no doubt the new Council President will be a force for good. But time is short.

The tick- tick-tick of the climate change time bomb continues. Her background in environmental activism is much needed at this time.

The Trumpian degradation of the environment is accelerating, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that even California’s ambitions aren’t enough.

Reports by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the US National Climate Assessment (NCA) say the window of opportunity to prevent catastrophe is closing.

A supercharged roll-back of emissions sources building up over the past 250 years is in order and San Diego needs to take the lead in showing the way towards making needed changes without making the people who are already being impacted getting screwed.

As the Climate Action Campaign’s Sophie Wolfram says in a Voice of San Diego op-ed:

For three years, the city has been flying blind on transportation, with no roadmap to meet its targets. The City Council needs to do more to ensure completion of the long-promised transportation master plan within six months, charting a strategic path to those mobility targets. And to ensure swift and well-coordinated implementation of that plan, the City Council should advocate through the budget process for the creation and hire of a director of mobility as an executive-level position within the mayor’s office, overseeing a new Mobility Department that is empowered to envision, build, operate and maintain a transportation system in which biking, walking and transit are competitive with driving.

The city of San Diego is not alone in these endeavors. The collective movement for transportation justice has gotten a boost by Councilwoman Georgette Gómez, who chairs the Metropolitan Transportation System and is seeking the Council presidency. As MTS develops a 2020 revenue measure to fund transit, the City Council should demand that the agency prioritize funding no-cost transit passes for youth to eliminate income as a barrier to mobility, as well as increasing frequency along major routes and improving night and weekend service.

Joshua Emerson Smith’s profile in the Union-Tribune of Hasan Ikhrata, who recently became executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments suggests there is now a vision of what needs to be done at an agency previously known for its car-centric programs.

The region’s top transportation planner is calling for a massive investment in public transit — with the aim of making bus, trolley and commuter rail services competitive with driving.

The vision would be a dramatic shift from today, with the region’s sluggish mass-transit system mostly serving those unable to afford a car or truck.

“Transit is not competitive at all. It has to be,” said Hasan Ikhrata, who took over as the executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments this month.

“It’s going to cost a lot of money,” he added. “It’s up to the voters whether the vision is good enough to pay that much money.”

Activism by Circulate San Diego and other transportation advocates including Assembly Member Todd Gloria have challenged the “same old” thinking when it comes to San Diego’s airport, and it now appears expansion plans for Terminal One will incorporate changes connecting the facility with mass transit.

How about no fare transit service? Now there’s a radical idea sure to get all of San Diego’s dirty energy advocates riled up. Let’s charge folks the real cost of clogging the highways and make getting to work on time via mass transit a reality.

I’m serious. San Diego’s leaders might want to take a look at the ambitious plan put forward by LA Metro CEO Phil Washington.

From LA Curbed:

The head of Metro endorsed congestion pricing for Los Angeles Thursday, telling the agency’s board of directors Thursday that rush-hour tolls on drivers could fund free fares on public transit.

“We think that with congestion pricing done right, we can be the only city in the world to offer free transit service in time for the 2028 Olympics,” Metro CEO Phil Washington said.

It’s not clear yet how such a system would work, but if applied across the LA region, it could radically shift the way that people move around the city.

I can see local GOP boss man Tony Krvaric and talk show host Carl DeMaio leading the charge against such an idea with a fusillade of fear mongering about big gubmit, terrible taxes, and brown people invading La Jolla via bike lanes.

I can also see the like of Georgette Gomez putting together the kind of coalition that could get San Diego past its historic ability to fail when it comes to bold choices (even if congestion pricing isn’t the path they choose.).

We have the opportunity to go big without whatever it is being a handout to the local landed gentry.

I’ve been told repeatedly that polling shows a super-duper majority of San Diegans would vote to increase tourism-related taxes to fund services for the homeless… or road repairs. Instead, our city’s political leadership has chosen to bundle these things people want with projects people don’t want.

I bring this last point up because item numero uno on Mayor Falconer’s agenda is getting a special election called for the convention center expansion. How the council deals with the urgency in creating some sort of legacy for his administration will give us all insight into what’s really possible in the coming years.

(..And there is no truth to the rumor about Hizzoner leaving office early to trigger a special election, right?)

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar kh December 13, 2018 at 2:22 pm

First I have to ask… is this alarming sea-level rise photo based on the recent UN report that was just revealed had a calculation error that massively overestimated global temperature rise?

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie December 13, 2018 at 4:33 pm

No.

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Avatar Richard December 13, 2018 at 4:14 pm

No toll transit. I’ve thought for years that is what the city needs to make the MTS actually viable. If they drop riders they always raise prices and decrease routes and runs. The transit system should not be a for profit enterprise. It should be fully funded with taxes. It’s the only way people will ride it. Increase routes and make it work.

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Avatar Paul Webb December 14, 2018 at 9:42 am

Transit operators in San Diego have long viewed fare box collection levels as the primary metric of “success” in providing transit services. Transit operators in other metropolitan areas use ridership, customer service, etc., as their measures of success.

I recently traveled to Seattle. I was aware of the horror stories of Seattle traffic, particularly in the downtown area, and was determined to use only public transit while I was there. In contrast to San Diego, I found transit (both buses and the light rail “Link”) to be cheap, comfortable and efficient. I learned after returning to San Diego that Seattle has taken great strides in planning routes that actually align with ravel patterns of its citizens.

Even the much maligned transit system in Los Angeles is superior to that of San Diego.

There are lessons to be learned from other transit systems. Let’s hope SANDAG’s new director is capable of implementing them here.

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