Midway Planners Not Happy With SANDAG Moving Forward on ‘Transportation Hub’ Without Public Input

by on June 10, 2019 · 32 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

It seemed for a moment there that the Midway-Pacific Community Planning board was channeling OB.  As the pictures show, the board met at the Bay City Brewery and sat on backless bar stools at tables consisting of four piled wooden shipping pallets.  A big sign hung above them at the back of the room “Bay City Brewery.”  It was a relaxed, comfortable, definitely funky location to discuss planning board stuff.  So, it felt a bit like the OB Planning Board meetings.

The Midway board met for some years at the community college on Kemper Street but had to relocate a year ago. The new location was generously provided by the Urban Corps on Jefferson Street.  But, that only lasted a year and the board moved again.  A private business stepped up this time and donated the aforementioned space.

The Bay City Brewing Company at 3760 Hancock Street, north of the Sports Arena, offered to host the meetings in one of its large, high ceiling rooms. Bay City is a local craft beer brewery and the location has a bar for tasting beer. They have a beer named Fiesta Island. They also have food.

The surroundings aside, the board conducted its usual monthly meeting.  The meetings are normally held the third Wednesday of each month at 3:00 in the afternoon, but this meeting was on the fourth Wednesday, May 22, just for this month.  Anyone who wants to have a beer and hear some planning board business too is encouraged to attend.

SANDAG Presentation

Despite the laid back surroundings, the main item on the agenda, the one that took up most of the meeting, was a presentation by Coleen Clementson from SANDAG. Unfortunately, as often happens, technology did not work.  There was a large monitor or TV on the wall but there did not appear an ability to connect a laptop and do the Power Point show that was to illustrate the new proposed transportation plan.  So, the show went on without the visuals.

Clementson began by relating that there was a new sheriff in town, Hasan Ikhrata. SANDAG’s current executive director has been in the saddle since December 2018 and is making changes.  Basically, the new director is, according to Clementson, turning the big transportation ship in a different direction – somewhat away from the automobile and toward other mobility options.

As some may know, SANDAG has been raked over the coals in the past few years for its last plan because it was basically too automobile-centric.  SANDAG was told to go back to the drawing board and was in the process of doing that when Ikhrata came on board. Clementson said they were about one third into the new plan when he started.  The new plan is addressing the previous criticisms and it contains plans for alternate forms of transportation.  The former SANDAG executive director had a long career as a road builder, the new leadership does not come from that part of the transportation world.

Clementson related that when Ihkrata formally presented his vision for SANDAG to SANDAG on April 26 of this year, it received a good reception.  Some of Ihkrata’s ideas that Clementson described were HOV lanes on I-5 north, a double train track north and south, bike and pedestrians features, and something called “mobility hubs.” These would be near mass transit such as the trolley and would offer various forms of mobility for the “last mile” as it is normally referred to.  Decisions on what to put at these hubs, such as flexible fleet cars, scooters, autonomic cars, or bikes, is open for discussion.

Clementson also described a proposal for a sophisticated data management system that would help people efficiently manage their transportation needs.  The system would provide people with costs and times of various transportation options on their smartphones. But, that was assuming, of course, that everyone had a smart phone and that is not the case.  People who can’t afford those phones would be left out of this innovation.

There was a discussion of a “Grand Central Station” SANDAG has in mind .  The idea is for a big, main transit center that all forms of transport will be connected to.  Clementson described three ideas SANDAG is considering.  One idea is to site the facility where SPAWARS now sits on Pacific Blvd., within the Midway District.  The second idea is to site it near the new airport car rental facility. The third idea, oddly enough, is not an actual main building at all –  it only consists of trolley extensions from the Convention Center to the airport and possibly into Point Loma.

Surprisingly, Clementson said there would be a decision this month on the Grand Central Station idea. The board chair Cathy Kenton asked how the public could have a say in this and Clementson explained that SANDAG held open meetings in conformance with the Brown Act and that was how the public could find out more.  Then came one of those shake your head moments when Clementson went on to explain that SANDAG does not hold regularly scheduled meetings and a meeting for June was not set yet.

Since the choice for a major infrastructure project, is to be decided in June, and no public meetings are scheduled in June, it appears that SANDAG’s new sheriff was leaving the public out in the street on this one.

The idea of siting the Grand Central Station at SPAWARs drew Kenton’s ire and she voiced some passionate criticisms. Kenton’s was displeased, to put it mildly, for two reasons.  The first reason was that the Midway board only learned about the SPAWARS site as a possibility for this major transportation hub in the news.  The mayor and Ikharta made a public announcement that they were considering a proposal to reuse the old military facility as this Grand Central Station. No one talked to Midway.

Considering that Midway had just concluded a decade long effort to complete its new community plan, Kenton felt this was a slap in the face because no one thought to talk to them about this idea before the public announcement.  When politicians don’t even have the decency of at least making it look like they care what the community wants, and they begin to tell the community what it wants, that’s when they need to be put out to pasture. Kenton said, “We had to learn about it when the mayor and SANDAG grandstanded the idea for the news.”  Kenton said she was “ incredibly concerned” and “very offended” with how this was handled.

Kenton’s second, more serious objection was that Midway already had enough traffic issues, adding a Grand Central Station would seriously exacerbate those problems. Anyone who has driven the Midway area would have to agree with her on that point.  Kenton said the best location was near the rental car facility where it could be hooked up to the transit system set up between that facility and the airport terminals.

Clementson related some other ideas being floated at SANDAG such as a tunnel from the border to the Grand Central Station.  She even had a bit of specific information on this one saying it would be 19 miles long and would allow for high speed trains that would make the trip in 20 minutes.  Also mentioned was high speed rail from the border to Oceanside.  The plan is to take one “corridor” to the board in September to show what the plan will look like.

After the presentation, the questioning and comments were very direct with criticism of SANDAG’s past to the point where one board member asked how many of SANDAG’s leadership in place under the former director are still there. The answer was that about half of the leadership had changed and that there was a new focus on diversity in hiring including women and people of color. The board member’s response was that it was good to hear that half were gone and said all of them should be changed to give the public some confidence in SANDAG.

The Transnet tax came up and Clementson explained that Ikhrata does not believe it is providing enough capital to do what SANDAG wants to do.  She went into an explanation that put the blame for less than expected gas tax revenues on more fuel efficient cars and people driving less.  This sounded like an excuse to one visibly irritated board member who expressed a strong resentment for SANDAG putting off the responsibility for money issues on something like that instead of admitting that SANDAG had mishandled the money it had.

One idea Clementson mentioned for increasing revenues was to raise prices on the I-5 north corridor, that are charged based on how crowded the freeway, is called “congestion pricing.”  Seems like a good idea, the busier the road is the more it costs to use it.  So, who gets to use it?  Not Jose or Juan who work for gardeners in Point Loma but live considerably elsewhere.  It just boils down to another perk for those who can afford it.

If the reception SANDAG got at the Midway meeting is any indication, SANDAG has a ways to go to repair its damaged reputation.  The idea that SANDAG is seriously putting together a diverse transportation plan that includes much more than the automobile is encouraging.  The proof will be in the results.  For now, the big issue is the Grand Central Station and anyone who wants to say anything about it has to email or call SANDAG unless a public meeting is held this month.


{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Pete R June 10, 2019 at 3:06 pm

It is not true that “The choice for a major infrastructure project, is to be decided in June.” This is the beginning of a very long planning process that will take years. The initial results of the modeling & analysis of the different options will be done this summer (most likely July) – but no real decisions will be made for quite some time.

Also: This “Grand Central Station” idea is going to be a key part of SANDAG’s new regional transportation plan, which will take another 1-2 years to complete. Aside from several months/years of public hearings and meetings that always accompany this plan, there will most likely ALSO be a ballot measure in 2022 that will need to be approved by 2/3 majority of voters.

So there’s no need to be so alarmist right now. They’re just looking at ideas now. Every big idea has to start somewhere.


Geoff Page June 10, 2019 at 3:46 pm

Pete R, I just reported what was said at the meeting. If you have a source of other information, please provide it.

I agree that this will be a long process and that SANDAG does not have the money yet. But, they can decide on a direction and then begin that process. That’s taking one fork in the road and heading down that road leaving the other options behind. Proposals for redeveloping the SPAWARS site were solicited and went in some months ago. One of these came from the city and SANDAG, which might explain all of this. The odd thing is that the Navy is soliciting a Public Private Partnership to redevelop its property, it’s hard to understand how the City and SANDAG could be a part of such an arrangement.

Oddly enough, despite finding several articles on the “Grand Central Station,” I could find no mention of it on SANDAG’s site.

My story was not alarmist other than to say it looked like the time to speak up is limited to this month.


Pete R June 10, 2019 at 11:36 pm

The best source is SANDAG’s Airport Connectivity Subcommittee. These slides from their last meeting provide a good summary of the current status: https://www.sandag.org/uploads/meetingid/meetingid_5232_25827.pdf

And the Subcommittee’s main page is here:


Geoff Page June 11, 2019 at 9:30 am

Thanks for the links, Pete R. The subcommittee page illustrates the three choices very clearly. If you look at slide 2, you’ll see a symbol for the Grand Central Station at what was called SPAWARS. It says they will spend four to six weeks modeling. Modeling what, all three? I don’t think so, this looks like a typical agency proposal. The third option makes no sense because it doesn’t do what the first two do. THen, there will be some reason why the ITC site won’t work and it will be back to SPAWARS. This is a sales job folks.


Pete R June 11, 2019 at 7:28 pm

SANDAG is modeling all 4 options. There’s a slide in the link above called “The Concepts” that lists all 4 options, followed by 4 maps showing the elements of each one.


Geoff Page June 12, 2019 at 9:07 am

Well, there are not exactly four options. Two of those both show the Grand Central Station at SPAWARS or NAVFAC as it is now called. That was what the discussion is about, where, not about what will go in and out of the station. The slides do not say they are modeling all four options, it says “Modeling and analysis (4 to 6 week).” I would be skeptical to think they would spend that much time on all four but possibly, it’s just the slides do not state that specifically.


ZZ June 10, 2019 at 4:09 pm

Congestion pricing has been a success in Los Angeles and London for a long time now. I don’t know if we need it here, but there is no reason to attack it.

Transit hubs should be in places that already have other transit infrastructure in place, and also are dense with jobs and/or housing. Midway doesn’t fit the bill on any of these counts. Further, Old Town already is a hub with a large bus transfer point, trolley stop, and Amtrak all together, as well as a large walkable tourist attraction. Why would another hub go so close by?

The best thing we can do for transit right now is ensuring high density housing is allowed and actually built near the new trolley stops, as well as existing ones. The airport needs a special bus that is free, clearly marked with a different color than other buses, and that frequently goes between the terminals and downtown, maybe just stopping at the One America trolley stop/Santa Fe Station Amtrak, then Horton Plaza, and then back to the Airport.


Geoff Page June 10, 2019 at 4:49 pm

ZZ, I think your word choice is a little strong. I did not “attack” congestion pricing. What I did was point out the inequality inherent in road costs that some people can afford and others cannot. This same issue plays out in toll roads everywhere. Those who cannot afford the tolls take alternative, less desirable routes to avoid them. Congestion pricing might get some people to out of their cars into public transportation or off the road to reduce congestion. But, I would bet a study of those people would show they are the least affluent.


retired botanist June 10, 2019 at 5:43 pm

and, although I’m not really informed enough on this particular transit hub topic to comment, I can say that the whole toll road/EZ-pass/HOV thing on the east coast has gotten out of control and, indeed, is subscribed by those who are single driver, no passenger, affluent enough to buy expensive apparatus/apps to allow them into these entitled lanes! Once again, the lower echelons left with underfunded,inadequate public transportation, while millions are spent on signage, exclusive lanes, and re-configuring (at taxpayer expense) of commuter traffic that only benefits a few!


Tyler June 11, 2019 at 6:51 am

> toll road/EZ-pass/HOV thing on the east coast has gotten out of control and, indeed, is subscribed by those who are single driver, no passenger, affluent enough to buy expensive apparatus/apps to allow them into these entitled lanes!

My mother, a 3rd grade teacher of 35 years, uses an EZ pass on the East Coast to get to work faster so she doesn’t spend 2 hours on the road. Damn those affluent jerks amirite?


retired botanist June 11, 2019 at 7:34 am

Tyler, you could be right, except that I’m not damning the affluent jerks, bless their lucky little hearts- that would be a different, if possibly equally worthy, discourse. :-)
I’m criticizing local government and infrastructure planning that doesn’t adequately address those folks that don’t have/can’t afford fancy devices in their cars, uh, and those that don’t actually have cars…skewed assumptions are constantly being made about what the ‘workforce’ needs with respect to getting to work and, invariably, it results in built-in bias, and the shortchanging of other taxpayers, whose taxes also pay for these designs and public transportation.
…Sort of like the tax filing assumptions- that everyone will go out and spend $40 its assumed everyone can afford, to buy Turbo Tax for the computer its assumed everyone has, b/c the instructions and process of filing taxes are so unintelligible nobody but a CPA can understand them anymore…


Tyler June 11, 2019 at 6:52 am

> Transit hubs should be in places that already have other transit infrastructure in place, and also are dense with jobs and/or housing. Midway doesn’t fit the bill on any of these counts.

Pretty sure the Midway Master Plan calls for massive increase in residential/commercial density in the Sports Arena area, no?


Peter from South O June 11, 2019 at 6:12 am

Not nitpickin’ (just reporting). SPAWARS is no more. They recently changed the name of the command to NAVWAR (Naval information Warfare Systems Command). There will be a lot of reporting on the NAVWAR site redevelopment and the proposed transit center, so we should get used to calling it the NAVWAR site.

For once, I seem to be in agreement with ZZ in that the idea of a “Grand Central Station” is a solution in search of a problem. Improve Old Town Transit Center. All of the rail infrastructure is there, but the place was built in a piecemeal fashion and suffers from a lack of creature comforts (no rest rooms, lack of shelter from the rain and sun, the horrendous condition of the undertrack tunnel). The every 15min bus shuttle from Santa Fe Depot already meets up with trolley, Coaster, Amtrak, the express busses from SDSU and Escondido . . . what more do we need? New free stuff is always welcome, but really, the bus fare is an infintesimal fraction of what you are gonna spend on an airplane trip, and the system already exists. Painting the busses on this route a different color would limit equipment used on the route to be dedicated to that route; very inefficient.


Geoff Page June 11, 2019 at 9:35 am

You are correct about the name change, Peter. I have to wonder why they did that at this stage. To go out on a conspiracy limb, it could be intentional. Many people know what SPAWARS is. No one will know that the new name, NAVWAR, refers to the same facility and the news stories will be left unread because it will just sound like another Navy something somewhere. So, yes, let’s get that new name out so people will understand they are talking about the old SPAWARS buildings and not something else.


Peter from South O June 11, 2019 at 10:24 am

Heck, I worked on the Point in the 80s when the command was called Navy Ocean Systems Center . . . what’s in a name, huh? Keeps the tshirt and embroidered patch businesses IN business.

Anyhow, here is the Navy ‘splaining things:



Geoff Page June 11, 2019 at 10:56 am

Thanks for posting that link, Peter. I had chuckle at the Navy guy’s nickname of “Boris” and his last name of Becker. Anyone familiar with tennis would know Boris Becker as a former world champion player.


ZZ June 11, 2019 at 11:48 am

The point of a free and different colored bus is to get people who don’t ride them normally to do so for at least the quick trip between the airport and downtown. Figuring out a new city’s bus system, worrying about method of fare payment, and so on makes everything more complicated than using an Uber or taxi for this short ride. “Take the orange express bus for free downtown” is something a tourist from Atlanta going to a convention and hotel downtown will understand and cab be placed in signs in the terminals.

As for the cost, probably nothing compared to a trolley line to the airport as proposed.


Peter from South O June 12, 2019 at 6:07 am

I surmise that you have never taken the existing rt 992 to or from the airport. It runs every day, 5am to midnight between City College and the terminals via Broadway. The lighted, foot-high LED sign on the front says AIRPORT.

People who cannot figure this out, or lack the ability to do a bit of planning in advance should take a taxi or rideshare to the airport. We have pressing needs in the basic transportation infrastructure and I have little patience with wasting funds on pretty paint jobs for the impaired.


Geoff Page June 12, 2019 at 9:10 am

“I have little patience with wasting funds on pretty paint jobs for the impaired.” Seems a little harsh, Peter, painting some buses would not be expensive. I think we should be open to all ideas and this one makes sense and costs practically nothing.


Vern June 12, 2019 at 10:46 am

Coloring a standard 40′ bus, via a “graphic wrap”, generally runs about $9k – $15K (includes prep, install & removal).


Geoff Page June 12, 2019 at 12:23 pm

This is what I like about blogs, you learn things from people who know what they are talking about. Thanks for the information, Vern. I guess some people would think that is a lot of money or money that could bu used elsewhere, but if it helped and encouraged people to use the buses, it could be money well spent. That’s open for debate I suppose.


Peter from South O June 12, 2019 at 1:16 pm

Missed point: Painting the busses would not be an issue (they would wrap them anyway). The then created problem would be the lack of flexibility in managing the MTS fleet. Those ‘special busses’ would be the only ones available to run one route, but worse would be the impact of isolating one little segment from the equipment scheduling and maintenance pool.

I stand by my premise that the service being requested already exists, and a big honking lighted sign coming at you down broadway should be the only visual ID you need.


Peter from South O June 12, 2019 at 1:18 pm

Frank: How about getting someone from MTS to comment?


Geoff Page June 12, 2019 at 2:23 pm

I don’t think anyone missed the point because you didn’t explain your thinking until this post. What I see is just logistics, those things could probably be worked out. But, sure, if someone wants to ask the MTS what they think of the idea, that would be interesting.


Peter from South O June 12, 2019 at 4:40 pm

From my first post:

Painting the busses on this route a different color would limit equipment used on the route to be dedicated to that route; very inefficient.


Geoff Page June 12, 2019 at 4:53 pm

From the Missed the point post:

“The then created problem would be the lack of flexibility in managing the MTS fleet. Those ‘special busses’ would be the only ones available to run one route, but worse would be the impact of isolating one little segment from the equipment scheduling and maintenance pool.”

The first post was a statement. This one was an explanation.


Peter from South O June 12, 2019 at 4:57 pm

And EVERY word was a GEM, I tell ya! ;-)


Geoff Page June 12, 2019 at 9:29 pm

Except for “busses.” :)

ZZ June 13, 2019 at 11:27 am

Peter, I am aware there is already a bus from downtown to the airport. I believe more people would use it if it were free and very obvious. I also think this would accomplish much of the goal of extending a trolley line to the airport and a much lower cost. And it isn’t a question of “can someone figure out exiting bus routes.” It is a question of will they do so in practice.

The point was not that MTS should cancel/divert resources from other routes to create a free one benefiting convention tourists, but that upgraded bus service should be tried before the giant expense of a rail extension.


Geoff Page June 13, 2019 at 11:54 am

I agree that trying upgraded bus service is a good idea. I’ve mentioned here before that I traveled all over Mexico and Central America 95% on buses. Mexico has first, second, and third class buses and you could get anywhere on a bus any time. Being a Californian and used to all travel by car, this was new to me but it worked beautifully. Same with the other countries. These places had extensive bus systems because car ownership was not universal by any means. Since the idea is to get people out of cars, an extensive bus system built on the premise that few people have cars could just have that desired effect. There would be more buses on the road but fewer cars.


Peter from South O June 12, 2019 at 11:57 pm

Proving just how ancient I really am:

The plural of bus is buses. A variant plural, busses, is also given in the dictionary, but has become so rare that it seems like an error to many people.



Geoff Page June 13, 2019 at 12:01 pm

No spring chicken myself, the word “buss” to me meant two things. A kiss and an electrical device. I looked it up and learned something. An electrical “buss” is also spelled “bus.” “Buss” is a kind of brand name that evolved for a fuse invented by Cooper Bussman. So, I have to agree, the word “bus” is another confusing English language maze, no wonder people say English is so hard to learn.


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