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SANDAG Chief Shakes Up Agency’s Management; Three Top Directors Out

Traffic on a San Diego freeway is shown in this file photo, Nov. 22, 2011.

Photo by Associated Press

Above: Traffic on a San Diego freeway is shown in this file photo, Nov. 22, 2011.

The chief of San Diego County's principal planning agency announced a major shake-up of executive management Tuesday, as he seeks to build support for his vision of radically revamping the region's transportation network.

Hasan Ikhrata, who was hired in December as executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments, sent an email to agency staffers and board members Tuesday morning announcing the changes. He said three upper managers — Chief Deputy Executive Director Kim Kawada, Communications Director David Hicks and Land Use and Transportation Planning Director Muggs Stoll — were leaving the organization.

"I know that change can be hard at times, and in my experience, I've learned that embracing the opportunities that come from change are important if you want to achieve great things," Ikhrata said. "Therefore, after giving it considerable thought, I've made some difficult but important decisions regarding executive-level leadership within the agency that I believe are necessary to help us accomplish our goals."

Ikhrata only hinted at the reasoning behind the managers' departure, saying "alignment, collaboration, and a shared commitment to new ideas are important to our long-term success." A SANDAG spokeswoman declined to comment on the personnel changes.

RELATED: New SANDAG Exec: Climate Change Will ‘Absolutely’ Guide Transportation Spending

SANDAG is in the process of rewriting its Regional Transportation Plan with a greater focus on improving the county's public transit network. The agency is required by state law to plan for major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions — most of which come from cars and trucks — and Ikhrata has told the agency's board of directors it cannot achieve those reductions while also funding freeway expansions.

Photo by Matthew Bowler

SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata speaks with in an interview with KPBS, Dec. 20, 2018.

SANDAG officials last spring unveiled a framework for their regional plan update called the "5 Big Moves." It includes strategies to increase the capacity of the existing freeway network, but it does not include a handful of freeway widening projects previously planned by the agency.

Earlier this month, SANDAG's board members debated whether to halt the agency's pursuit of a regional plan without those freeway projects. Ultimately the board voted to keep an open mind and allow the current planning to continue.

Ikhrata took the helm of SANDAG after its previous executive director resigned amid a scandal surrounding the agency's failed 2016 sales tax measure.

"I understand the changes I've announced today may be hard to accept at first and please understand they're part of a larger plan designed to help us be a stronger organization, where each employee can do their best work, and achieve great things," Ikhrata said. "I believe we're at a unique point in time to shape the future of the region and make a significant, lasting impact and I'm committed to doing the work to get us there."

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