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MTS Board Elects Georgette Gomez Chairwoman

San Diego City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez stands in front of the 12th and I...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: San Diego City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez stands in front of the 12th and Imperial trolley stop, Jan. 18, 2018.

The board of the Metropolitan Transit System on Thursday unanimously elected San Diego City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez as its new chairwoman, making her the first Latina to ever hold that position.

Gomez, a progressive Democrat, represents some of the most transit-dependent neighborhoods in the city, including City Heights and parts of southeastern San Diego. She was elected in 2016 on a platform of shaking things up at City Hall. Prior to her election, she worked for the Environmental Health Coalition on issues of air quality and environmental justice.

Gomez said in an interview after the board meeting that she wanted to focus on getting funding for free or discounted youth transit passes and on growing ridership beyond those who have no access to a car.

"I'm a full believer that we have not maximized our public transit in San Diego, and that's one of the things that I'm going to be pushing for," Gomez said in an interview after her election.

City Councilman David Alvarez, also an MTS board member and a frequent ally on the City Council, said the decision to support Gomez was easy.

"I know who she is as an individual, as a person, and her character, and I know that she believes this organization can do a lot better," Alvarez said. "She's not someone who is going to go out and cut a deal to make something happen, as we've seen too often happen."

Gomez takes the helm of the transit agency at a time when years of declining ridership threaten to derail state and local goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from transportation.

In an effort to reverse that trend, board members last year approved an overhaul of bus routes and frequencies that will shift more resources to the most popular services. The first changes in that plan go into effect Jan. 28.

MTS officials have slightly more revenue to spend this year thanks to an increase in the state gas tax and vehicle fees. And as of Jan. 1, the agency also has new authority to ask voters for sales tax increases that could fund new transit services and improvements to roads, sidewalks and bike facilities.

Gomez said she would be proactive in starting talks this year about whether MTS should field such a tax measure.

"We need to do a lot of work in terms of what that initiative would look like, and that discussion needs to occur now," she said.

The new taxing authority was granted under a law signed by Governor Jerry Brown last year. The law, called AB 805, also gave Chula Vista a second seat on the MTS board and eliminated a seat that was occupied by a community member appointed by the board.

Board members on Thursday also elected National City Councilwoman Mona Rios as vice chairwoman and Imperial Beach City Councilwoman Lorie Bragg as chair pro tem.

San Diego City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez won unanimous approval from the MTS board of directors. She says she wants to focus on growing ridership, especially among youth and people with access to a car.

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