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The legacy of Hasan Ikhrata as head of SANDAG

 August 11, 2023 at 3:20 PM PDT

S1: This week on Kpbs roundtable. The direction of transit could be changing in San Diego County. The CEO of Sandag has been pushing for more mass transit options , but now he's leaving at the end of the year.

S2: I think it kind of became clear to Okada that he didn't have the support from the board that he needed to do the kind of work that he wanted to do in San Diego County , and it was just time to give somebody else a chance.



S1: Our panel of journalists are diving into what he was able to accomplish and how priorities might change with a new leader. Don't go anywhere. Roundtable is coming up next. You're listening to Kpbs Roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman. A recent announcement could change the direction of transit in San Diego County. The San Diego Association of Governments or Sandbags Chief executive officer Hosanna. Kuroda says he's leaving the agency at the end of this year. Ikeda has been pushing for more mass transit options as leaders have set ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But those pushes made some enemies who wanted projects like widening freeways to continue. Joining us to discuss the shakeup in San Diego's transportation leadership and what could be changing are Kpbs metro reporter Andrew Bohn , The San Diego Union Tribune. Laurie Weisberg is here with us. She covers tourism and hospitality and voice of San Diego. CEO and editor in chief Scott Lewis is also with us. I want to welcome you all back here to roundtable. Let's just dive into it. Andrew will start with you. You know , it has been with Sandag since 2018 and you actually recently spoke with him.

S2: His most vocal critics were Republicans , just to name a few. San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones , County Supervisor Jim Desmond , who's actually not on the Sandag board but is still very vocally opposed to a Kuroda and his ideas. And these elected officials used it and his policies to sort of whip up anger and resentment among their constituents about the direction that the agency was going in. You know , you mentioned it already more more money spent on public transit , less money spent on freeways , and also the taxes and fees that would be necessary to actually pay for a transportation system that reflects and meets our climate goals. So the public pressure , the most vocal opposition was from Republicans , but the public pressure that they were able to drum up actually made the Democrats on sandbags board nervous as well. And their defense of him and his ideas ultimately had its limits. So I think it kind of became clear to a Kuroda that he didn't have the support from the board that he needed to do the kind of work that he wanted to do in San Diego County. And it was just time to give somebody else a chance.


S2: There was an effort earlier this year to use his performance evaluation at the board of directors to maybe try and get him removed. But he got through that and it seemed like maybe he just wanted to leave on his own terms.

S1: And we're going to dive into all those things you talked about in a moment of maybe what led up to this , you know , what's been done , what's yet to be finished. But , Scott , if we can , let's take a little step back here. Some people , they might be unfamiliar with Sandag or what their CEO does.

S4: So the San Diego Association of Governments is there's a lot of these across the state and in other parts of the country that they're supposed to do regional planning for transportation in particular , but they also have roles in data collection and in housing sort of targets. It was created by state legislation and it it is kind of the UN of local cities , right ? So the cities all send representatives to it. The county has representatives there and there's other representatives from the region that don't have voting power , like even I think Mexico has a seat there to watch. And so their job was to plan for decades out in the future. What highways do we need , What transportation lines and trains and other things do we need ? How are we going to pay for them ? And now the state has , of course , given them the task of meeting climate goals and they they're supposed to do this planning in coordination with those goals and make sure that they hit them. In the past , they could come up with the numbers to make it possible to hit them. But they you know , it was pretty clear that they weren't following the spirit of the Commitments. And the state slapped him back a few times. I think it's Andrew pointed out , the conservatives that rally against him. But it's worth noting that the executive director for a long time was a guy named Gary Gallegos , was really a consensus builder. Sandag had this way of like always being unanimous on all votes and such , but there was a problem. They in 2016 , we revealed that they had vastly overstated how much money they were going to collect from a sales tax , a half cent sales tax known as Transnet , and that they were making promises about a new sales tax that they couldn't back up and that they would. They would have trouble even paying for all the things that they'd already said that they would do with that tax. And the scandal that that created ended up changing led to a law that changed the makeup of of the governance of Sandag , which essentially said that instead of each city having a more or less equal say in what the board got to do , that the weighted presence of the city of San Diego in particular would would carry more power at the board because of how many people live there. And with just a couple of other cities joining the city of San Diego , they could make policy and projections themselves. And Hasan Kuroda was hired after that. In fact , the irony is he put pointed out the conservatives that were against it. It was actually Mayor Kevin Faulconer , who largely engineered Prada's appointment to that seat as the CEO , as it became known. And he he very much looked at the job the way that the governance had been set up , that his job was to serve both the climate goals and the big ideas that they had said he needed to to implement and to serve these these larger cities , because that's the power. And he he really , really made no bones about that. He knew how the power worked , and that was the group that he served. And so this agency that was so built around consensus and not making news became just an incredibly volatile place. And news flowed very easily from it since then.

S1: And we know that that Sandag board that's made up of mayors and city council members from across the county who I guess basically ultimately decide what projects will get done. Laurie , we know that you recently wrote that a relationship with board members at times has been rocky.

S3: He can be bombastic. He speaks his mind. He and he doesn't care if he angers or infuriates board members because he has these singular goals he wants to achieve , which involves more mass transit , more transit to the airport. You know , he had these very goals and no one was going to get in his way of doing that. Yes , he I think sure , he realizes that there had to be some consensus building. But the irony is that in recent in the last year , it was almost you were waiting for him to resign because he you didn't it was even more than hinting at it. He he would talk about , well , if the board members don't like what I'm saying , if they don't want to go along with what I'm saying , I'm going to leave. He he he's told he told us that he's told the voice that he's he's not been shy about saying that. And he's got enough confidence in himself to follow through on those threats. They weren't I guess obviously it turned out they weren't idle threats. But ultimately that Rocky relationship did stem from the the lack of consensus on the board about all in for transit versus widening of roads , more lanes on highways and freeways. And so that was if he was very adamant about that position he was taking. And so that in part led to that rocky relationship because not everybody was on board with him and didn't I think probably not everybody liked his plain spoken.

S1: Scott , go ahead.

S4: Jump in. Well , it's really interesting that his vision at first was everybody should be able to get around San Diego as easily without a car as they can with a car. Now , obviously , for those of us who function here , that's a that's a huge promise. And it evolved to the last one. When the last time I talked to him , as he was after his resignation announcement , it had evolved to , well , everybody should have the option to do something else to get where they need to go. So it had the big ideas had whittled down quite a bit as he as he faced reality. But I think that's that's an important part as he was trying to say , you can't just make up numbers anymore to say you're going to deal with climate change. You have to you have to really change how people live. If you really think you're going to hit these goals that you say you want to hit and these this is the big things you'd have to change to do it. And and they didn't they didn't particularly like that on on either side.


S2: The work that the staff do there is extraordinarily complex. They're dealing with very complicated modeling to , you know , that that predicts what type of transit project or piece of infrastructure , you know , what kind of impact it will have on the miles , the number of miles that we drive and the greenhouse gas emissions that we put into the atmosphere. And , you know , the. The board , members of Sandag all have at least one other job , which is the mayor or city council or member or county supervisor. Sometimes they have two other jobs because those elected positions are not always full time. And on top of that , the board only meets maybe 2 to 3 times per month for a couple of hours. So it's very easy for the CEO or whoever's at the top to really just run the show. And when board members don't like the options that staff present to them , it can be really hard for them to push back and steer things in a different direction because they may not have the time or the knowhow to really , you know , drill down on , on or like challenge the types of complex modeling that Sandag staff understand and nobody else does. And , you know , this was true before Hassan Nakata also. I mean , Scott mentioned his predecessor , Gary Gallegos. I think he used this this power of Sandag being such a staff driven agency very skillfully because he would often present things that he and his staff would present things to the board that , you know , maybe had the illusion of giving the board an option. But ultimately , it was kind of just like the decision had already been made for them. So I think , you know , what what led to a his downfall was that the vision that he presented just didn't jive with with the folks on the board. And they often felt very frustrated with the types of options and ideas that were being presented to them. And they couldn't very easily push back or steer it in a different direction.

S1: Well , let's hear from Akron himself. Here's what he recently told Kpbs in response to the idea of his tenure being marked by controversy.

S5: I'm gonna repeat something. The CEO of Apple , former CEO of Apple , said Steve Jobs. He said , if you want to make people happy , go sell ice cream. Don't lead. Leading is a massive business. I think part of it is they hear the ideas that they never heard before. Let us provide a multi-modal transportation system. What People have choices.

S1: He went on later to say that some Sandag board members essentially said , Expand my highways or don't talk to me. And Andrew will start with you here and anybody else. Feel free to jump in after.

S2: I mean , Akron tried really , really hard to reframe this debate. He didn't want to talk about freeways versus public transit. He wanted to talk about are we going to meet our climate goals or are we going to ignore them ? Are we going to pursue projects and policies that correct some of the inequities and injustices of the past ? You know , building freeways through low income communities of color and leaving them with horrible , you know , public health impacts and quality of life impacts , or are we going to pursue policies that exacerbate those problems ? And , you know , certain board members just didn't buy it. They saw this this debate in San Diego ultimately as a freeway versus a freeway widening versus a public transit project. And , you know , they wanted their freeway widening , so they wanted to go back to their constituents and say , I got this done for you. You know , this plan was , you know , this freeway project was in the plan five years ago. It got removed for political reasons. And , you know , a lot of times I don't think they were very honest about the reality that Scott alluded to earlier , that we didn't have the money to build the project anymore. And because the cost had gone up and because we weren't bringing in the revenues that we had originally been told that we were going to bring in. And so , you know , not to mention the fact that freeway widening don't actually fix congestion , This is something that we've known for many decades. They ultimately entice more drivers onto the road and and congestion returns to the way that it was , you know , within a couple of years.


S4: So I think there's a lot of consensus majority that would say why we're worried about this situation and we want to do something big. And it's very easy for this community , the state cities , to pass these extremely ambitious goals about how how much greenhouse gas emissions they're going to sequester or reduce. And and I think that they're really good at doing that. It's like saying , you know , they're going to run a marathon. But when it comes to actually running and training for the marathon , they get a little they get a little worried about it and and back off pretty easily. So I think San. Came in and said like , well , you really want to hit these goals. Not only are you going to have to do more transit , more options for people , and people are going to have to get out of their cars. He came in and also introduced his staff , introduced the concept that you're going to have to pay to to drive a little bit more. Now , electric vehicles are going to not use gas and they're not going to pay the gas tax. So that means that just paying for making up that difference is a challenge. And we're going to have to fund roads and transit in different ways than we have with those things. But also we need to discourage driving. In lots of cities across the world , people are experimenting with congestion pricing or other things that would discourage driving. And so he said , look , we're going to have to do a fee on people driving in order to make up for the lost gas tax from the electric cars , but also to discourage people from driving. That's a core part of this plan and to help us fund for for some of these things to build in the future. And that's you have to do. You don't want to do that. You have to do a toll or you have to do a congestion system. You have to do something like that. And they were like , okay , it makes sense. But when it finally became clear that that's something that they might do into the future , no matter how illegal and unrealistic it was right now , it was something that opponents were able to seize on really easily. And I see you see this all the time about gas stoves or about zoning and allowing more units to be built around transit. Every time it gets hard to do something to meet one of these goals , everybody backs off. Not just the conservatives , Everybody , even the most ardent political leaders like Todd Gloria , who will say that climate change is something that they very much hold up as a priority to deal with. They all back off and and he wasn't willing to let them back off easily. And that's a big part of why he's not going to be there anymore.

S3: Yeah , right. And they have to that point. I mean , in the past it seemed like this debate of transit versus road expansion seemed to be Republican versus Democrat. But when push came to shove on this driver fee , it was Todd Gloria , a Democrat , who pushed to get it removed. So it was it was , as you said , Scott , when it when it became like close to being a reality. And , oh , we're really going to have to answer to the public on imposing this kind of fee. They suddenly were not so passionate about climate change and reducing gas house emissions. And and Gloria took the lead on getting that removed.

S1: I think everybody's familiar with like traffic on the freeways , right ? Like whether whatever freeway you're taking , at some point you're going to run into that. And like somebody pointed out , it might be easy to say well widened freeways because that's what people are doing right now. They're maybe not using transit to the extent that that that we want them to. But is it about changing behaviors then , Andrew ? Is that what they were talking about ? Even when we talk about this per mile fee that they were talking about , which I'm confused on that even because , you know , it wasn't the plan. It was out of the plan. Some people say it's still in the plan.

S2: You know , like when I think what I was going to say , I think it's worth kind of drilling down on exactly what our climate goals are. So California has adopted a goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. It can reasonably accomplish that goal in the electricity sector. All that involves is just building a lot of of renewable energy projects and changing the type of electricity that we feed into the grid. It's not by no means , you know , a done deal or it's by no means going to be easy , but we can see a pathway towards there with transportation. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California , and you cannot necessarily force people not to drive. You know , our economy depends on fossil fuels and on people getting in their cars and getting to work , you know , moving goods around the state. And so , you know , I think anyone who's really paying close attention to these climate goals and is really being honest with themselves can can see a pretty wide gap between what we say we're going to do and what we actually see happening on the ground. The net zero goal , you know , just I mean , like yes , Scott said , we we do Generally in San Diego , there is some degree of consensus that climate change is real and that we need to listen to the scientists and do , you know , take the steps that they say are necessary to make climate change a more manageable disaster than an unmanageable disaster. And so the the Paris Climate Accords are where this goal of net zero emissions came from. And the state has done some very , very complicated math around what how much emissions reductions we can expect from electric. City from electric vehicles. You know , our transition to an electric fleet and they've come to the conclusion and we have no reason to doubt them , that we have to very dramatically and very quickly reduce the amount of of miles that we drive each year that they actually put a number on it. They say a 25% reduction in the average amount of miles that we drive in the next seven years by 2030. So , you know , seven years from now , one out of every four trips you take by car just wouldn't happen or it would happen via another mode of transportation. And I think that's , you know , something that hasn't really tried to confront people with. He wanted us to have a real honest conversation about what it's really going to take for us to to achieve those goals that we've set and that we say are so important to us. And , you know , for for the elected officials. And I think ultimately for a lot of voters and average San Diegans were just not ready to hear that.

S1: Coming up with sandbags , CEO leaving at the end of this year. How might transportation planning change in our region ? That's coming up just ahead. You're listening to Kpbs Roundtable. You're listening to Kpbs Roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman. We're talking about Sandag CEO announcing that he's leaving the Transportation Planning Agency. But what impact could that have on our region ? I'm joined by Kpbs Andrew Bohn , the San Diego Union Tribune , Laurie Weisberg , and voice of San Diego's Scott Lewis. You know , Andrew , when you spoke with Sandag CEO Hassan earlier , there was a quote that stood out to me. He said that we did amazing things despite a dysfunctional board.

S2: He was never a big fan of the design and the decisions around where to put that trolley. But , you know , at least he got it done. He got the funding that Sandag needed to complete Otay Mesa two , which is a new border crossing that will open with Mexico. He got the funding to start work on moving the train tracks off of the Del Mar Bluffs , which are slowly collapsing. And , you know , that's a project that we've kind of been putting off for a really long time and they're trying to get it shovel ready in time for it to attract funds from the infusion of federal dollars from the federal infrastructure law. He also funded the Youth Opportunity Pass , which offers free public transit to riders 18 and under. But , you know , thinking big picture in these , those are kind of the more concrete accomplishments that he can point to. But , you know , he really did change the debate around transportation and climate change. There's been , of course , a lot of backlash to his ideas. But I think sometimes these things have a way of getting normalized over time. So Scott mentioned , you know , our transition to electric vehicles is just going to mean we have less and less gas tax revenues coming in and we're still going to have to spend money on fixing the roads and filling potholes and things like that. So this idea of charging drivers by the mile , I think is something that we're going to have to face eventually. And , you know , I'll just give a plug for my podcast , Freeway Exit. We talk a lot about the history of freeways and how we built the system that we have today. And you can look back a couple of decades to fights over HOV lanes. You know , carpool lanes back in the 70s were an extraordinarily controversial idea. And there was one project in particular in Los Angeles that ultimately failed. You know , they opened up carpool lanes on the ten for a couple of months and then had to back down after people just had an absolute fit. And now carpool lanes are something that we all pretty much acknowledge are an effective way of managing our transportation system. So I think we don't know the true impact of of Hassan's leadership at Sandag for a while in terms of that debate. And , you know , the what we consider acceptable ideas and what we're just not willing to consider. But there are definitely a number of concrete accomplishments that he can point to that , you know , will we can see today on the ground with regards to the trolley and and things that will be coming in the next couple of years.

S1: And Laurie , we know that one of those big projects , too , I mean , hasn't happened yet , but that's connecting transit to the airport. I mean , that's something that we've been talking about for years here. But is that becoming closer to reality ? And I imagine that would be just an absolutely massive project.

S3: Yes , it is. And if you had asked me this , you know , several months ago , I would say it's just a pipe dream because it was in the past discussions , it was as much as $4 billion or even more talking about tunneling under roads , part of it. Ariel. But this most recent meeting where Sandag planning staff , as Andrew pointed out , they did the deep dive into the modeling and they're kind of directing and pushing the board toward toward what I think is their favored recommendation. But they they have gotten the price down to about one and a half to $2 Million. But that's only because it's it's a less ambitious proposal. But it would go from and would go from the Santa Fe depot to the north to the airport. And there would be a stop in potentially the convention center or the civic center area and it would be all aerial. There would be no tunneling. And like I said , the price has come down considerably because before it was also going to go north of the airport as well to Old Town. They also looked at the trolley. But but they're saying that the biggest bang for the buck you get from an automated people mover or driverless vehicle , that would that would take , you know , stop every 2 to 4 minutes and take you right to a terminal , right to a station at the airport. So it's getting closer , but it's still it's still going to require a local match of money. They believe that they could get the federal money and some state money , but they will need a local match. Some of that will come from the airport , but they're still going to have to be some money from Transnet or potentially a new sales tax measure. But before the more ambitious proposal was entirely reliant on a new sales tax measure , which we don't have yet for a future ballot. So it's getting closer , but I think you're still going to have to get convince people. Is it still worth the investment to save some time on the current transit option ? It does save. It does save some time. But people still may just want to drive their car or take Uber to the airport to and from the airport. So that's that's part of the problem. That's getting people to change their behaviour , as we've been talking about.

S1: And I know you said that that was a project that was near and dear to his heart. But Scott , we know that a kurata he told Andrew earlier that maybe the next Sandag CEO can achieve more without some of these like political fights or political bickering.

S4: And the state will have to decide immediately whether that does conform to the climate change goals , the state said. And he he says , Yeah , I hope they do. But , you know , he's he's not entirely 100% certain they will and I don't think anybody is. So that's the that'll be a big challenge if the state rejects that somehow. I think that , you know , there is a lot of accomplishments and I'm I'm certainly one whose ideas haven't worked out before , so I can't really hit somebody too hard for that. But Asante's , a lot of Hasan's ideas really burned down and went poorly. Like he he had an idea of a major downtown mobility hub , some kind of Grand Central San Diego station. Worked really hard to push that vision and it was just it was really indicative of how little juice he had at the end that the city of San Diego basically ignored it completely as it as it planned its redevelopment of the downtown Civic Center area. And I don't think has any plans to incorporate that , which is a pretty big swing and a miss. The $2 billion to go to the airport and you know , that that would probably grow is , I think , a real tough thing for even transit activists. I think to swallow , to be excited about. Yes , connecting the airport matters , but it's a certain population of people that benefit from that that , you know , our there's already a bus that is pretty convenient to get to the airport to to spend $2 Million on something like that when there's so many other needs for options for working people around the community , even just more frequent busing would have a tremendous impact on , you know , on our transportation system. And $2 Million would go a long way to making that a reality. So I think there's a lot of he was very attracted to these very big ideas of and frankly just big construction projects in the central city area. And I think largely the city has has has said that they're not interested in that. And the new CEO will have to meld some of these old ideas. We'll have to deal with that long term plan. But the other big thing that's on the horizon is that there are people , unions and other activists supporting a sales tax measure that they want to put on the ballot. That would be a citizens initiative that would raise the sales tax , that would compete potentially with other taxes on the ballot. They're gathering signatures now. They're going to turn those in to see if if they have enough and they are promising a new airport connection and potholes. They want to fix potholes. Everybody. They know that that's that moves the needle on a lot of things.

S1: And as we wrap up here , we want to hear from everyone. It sounds like a crowd is going to have some type of lasting legacy. They'll be here through the end of the year. But what's left unanswered or , you know , what are you going to be watching for in the months ahead ? And Andrew , if you want , you can also fold that into what's at stake in terms of the next CEO. But we'll start with you here , Andrew.

S2: Yeah , well , we'll definitely be watching this selection process for the new CEO. Is it will it be an internal candidate who came up under Hassan across his leadership and might be sympathetic to his views , but is perhaps less abrasive or polarizing ? Will it be somebody from outside , you know , San Diego County ? Who is it somebody who is willing to state at the very outset what their vision is , or are they going to kind of wait and take their cues from the board of directors ? And then , you know , to to , uh , reiterate what Scott said , I think we we have to pay really close attention to whether or not the state gives approval for Sandag to remove. Of this mileage tax or mileage fee from their regional transportation plan. I think that if ultimately the state rejects that change and says , no , this is the plan that you gave us and you have to stick with us with it. Um , you know , despite Hassan saying he wants the state to approve this new plan , I think a rejection of it would be something of a vindication for him because he's been saying all along that , you know , you can have the best plan , the best type of infrastructure in the world , but if you don't price the system correctly , if there's not a financial incentive for people to leave their cars in the garage and take public transit instead , then it's not going to work. So that's what I'll be watching.


S3: So the bus system I've been in lots of airports and I'm not going to I'm not going to take a bus like the way we have it now. It's not it's not a people are not going to get on that system. But anyway , I , I think that they're still going to be a push even without Hassan here because of the huge airport expansion going on. I mean , it's a $3.4 billion project. Many , many , many more millions of passengers. I think I think pressure will continue to build for some kind of system. So I , I remain kind of hopeful that that that will go forward. But I realize it's a very tough sell when there's so many other competing projects looking looking ahead. And obviously , we don't know if that sales tax measure will get on to the ballot. And if it does get on the ballot , will it be approved ? So that's that's my thought on the on the airport project going forward.


S4: It's just part of the same thing that the city and sandbags been doing is just like kicking it down , saying , well , we'll make sure somebody else has to make those hard choices to meet the goals that we have set. It's always easy to say you're going to lose weight until you get hungry. It's easy to run a marathon until you actually have to run it. It's and and that's what this this community is all dealing with. And the new CEO , I bet , is a much quieter consensus builder who focuses on getting money into the region and making people happy that he he or she answers to. And I think it's going to be maybe a little bit less news coming from Sandag after this.

S1: We'll have to stay tuned and see how that's going to change the future of transportation in San Diego. I've been speaking with Kpbs , Andrew Bohn , the San Diego Union Tribune , Laurie Weisberg and voice of San Diego's Scott Lewis. And everyone , thanks so much for being here. Thanks. Thanks.

S2: Thanks. Thanks.

S1: Coming up on roundtable. Some other top stories we're following in the roundup. You're listening to Kpbs roundtable. You're listening to Kpbs Roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman. It's now time for the roundtable roundup , where we take a look at some other stories happening in and around San Diego. Kpbs border reporter Gustavo Solis is here with us this week.


S1: Good to have you here.

S6: All good ? Perfect. Well , the first one , it's a fun story. It's a fun , fun border story that doesn't really have anything to do with with migration or death and chaos. It's a positive one about Tijuana's Little League team and how they're going to represent Mexico in the Little League World Series.

S1: I saw that story and it looked pretty cool because , like you were saying , because not only because they won like the national championship , but then now they're going to go like on the world stage. And then you said it was kind of cool. Like they're almost like celebrities right now.

S6: Yeah , yeah , yeah. So we've been following the team for a bit now. We followed them before they went to the national tournament where they were , you know , competing against all the best Little League teams in Mexico. And then they won. And we've been following them and ever since they won , when they came back from that national tournament , they've been many celebrities. I mean , while Matt Butler and I were out there filming and reporting , there were a bunch of little kids just watching them practice. One of the parents had a baseball that he was passing around to all the other players and they were all signing it for them. So it's been pretty wild to see. I mean , they got invited to the Tijuana Toros , which is a professional baseball team over there where they all threw out the first pitch. They've been in a bunch of local TV and radio shows as well , so they've been getting a pretty good celebrity treatment.

S1: And then it sounds like now they'll be heading to Pennsylvania to play in the Little League World Series. One other interesting thing in that story was 112 year old pitcher you talked to , 73 mile an hour fastball. That is fast. Okay. Let's move on to what's next. It sounds like this is also south of the border.

S6: Yeah , Yeah. It's a it's a two part series that we published on Wednesday and Thursday of this week looking at Tijuana infrastructure and how I think a lot of people don't realize how big Tijuana is and that whole , you know , city , that whole region , it expands to Rosarito a little bit out east , to Tecate. But government figures in Mexico say 2.2 million people live in Tijuana , which would put it right behind Houston. In terms of most populous cities in the US , it would rank six. So it's a massive metro area and the infrastructure is crumbling. I mean , one of the stories was about landslides and crumbling buildings , and the second one was about the city's storm drain and sewer system and how that's all a big mess. So it's been interesting to explore the city from that angle.

S1: And is that like people pointing to that infrastructure as why , you know , people that live at like areas like Imperial Beach or Coronado see those beach closures or.

S6: Like yes and no. It's obviously a contributing factor. I mean , we went to Playas. Tijuana's a neighborhood that's right by the beach there. And you can just see like a dozen pipes , storm drain pipes emptying out into the ocean. And then normally when the system is functioning , you only see water flowing through those pipes after it rains. But we went there like a month after it had rained and there was water coming out and the water was kind of brown and it smelled like poop. And that's just directly going into the ocean. Now , that's not the main contributor. I think the main contributor are another type of infrastructure problems with overburdened waste management plants , you know , water treatment plants that just haven't been maintained properly and break down all the times and leaks among along the whole system. But this little part of the the contamination that we covered is definitely contributing and really hasn't gotten as much attention. And it's a lot difficult to fix. Right. You can't it's easy to fix one water treatment plant that needs very basic repairs. It's a whole other thing to fix an entire city's storm drain and sewer systems.

S1: Yeah , sort of along those lines , too , I think in your reporting , you said that , you know , some people might be thinking , oh , this is like old infrastructure. But even some of like the new homes , I think you said like an estimated like 40% , like they don't have permits. So they also might be kind of in this lack of infrastructure area.

S6: Yeah , exactly. That's a big problem for both of the types of problems we talked about. Right. With the landslides. Tijuana's is a city built on hills , I think. Think of San Diego. Think of like Mission Valley in San Diego. Imagine if all of Mission Valley was just no vegetation on those hills and illegal construction all over the place. Right ? Some of these houses don't have foundation. They don't have retaining walls. When it rains , it rains a lot. The soil underneath moves around and it's prone to to cause landslides. And people lose their homes and their properties and some. Other life when it comes to the sewage issue. Similar thing. A lot of construction is illegal , so there's no ownership papers , there's no deeds. And when people get to the point of the construction where they have to connect their sewer line to the state sewer line , they just connect to whichever one is closest. And a lot of times that's just the storm drain. So you have a lot of people just funneling their wastewater into the storm drain system to the point in Tijuana where it's all kind of one big mess.

S1: I know it's a story that you're going to continue to follow. All right.

S6: They needed after the buyout that they got last month. But but I thought Lori Weisberg had a great story about what's going on with SeaWorld and just the city's efforts to try to collect , what was it , $12.2 million in back rent ? Yeah , I.

S1: Think And that was like from pandemic times , right ? Like when they weren't necessarily operating.

S6: Yeah , they've been trying to collect this for years which which is the part I thought was interesting how the city has given SeaWorld multiple warnings. I think they're up to three warnings. Last time this was in the news , the city council had authorized the city attorney's office to file a legal action to collect that money. And the attorney's office still hasn't done it. So just personally , what jumped out about that story to me was how much leeway the city is giving to SeaWorld after three years of not paying rent and owing millions of dollars.

S1: Yeah , I'm not sure how that collection process works , but we should also point out that that story was done by Lori Weisberg , who you all just heard on Roundtable talking about Sandag and the future of transit in our region here. And as we wrap up here , Gustavo , I know it's August , but we have an election right now.

S6: Yeah , we do have been getting a lot of mailers for that one actually , because I live in County Supervisor District four.

S1: And that's Monica Montgomery staff Janessa Goldberg , Amy Reichert and Paul McKeague , who are vying for Nathan Fletcher's old seat after he resigned. But it sounds like there's been a lot of kind of you know , I know you mentioned some of those mailers , but a lot of back and forth on some of that. Yeah.

S6: Yeah. I mean , I knew sources Joe Castellano was on here last week talking about the report she did on some of the mailers , specifically how much money the police and deputy district attorney's unions have put into criticizing Montgomery step. I will say , like , I don't cover this race. I don't cover San Diego County politics too much. But just as a resident who gets the mailers , most of them are in favor of Monica. And the only other candidate that I've received mailers from is Janessa. So those two , just from an outsider , seemed to be like the frontrunners in the election. And I thought Jill's , you know , Jill Castellanos story was really , really interesting because it tells you a little bit of what the police union and the deputy district attorneys union think of criminal justice reformers. Right. Some of the reforms that Montgomery Step was proposing were an independent oversight committee and addressing some of the racial disparities that that I think the one that sticks out to me was the fact that black and brown San Diegans are stopped by police at a rate that's four times higher than white San Diegans. Like , you know , someone's trying to stop those things and provide a little bit more accountability for the police. And the response you get from the union is to attack her. I think that kind of tells you a little bit about the culture of law enforcement and prosecutors.

S1: And as a reminder for our listeners , this race is to replace county supervisor , former county supervisor , I should say , Nathan Fletcher. He resigned from the board after being accused of sexual assault , something he denies. But voting ends on August 15th. So that's like get your ballot in the mail by then or vote in person. There's like 29 different ballot drop boxes in the area. Gustavo , thanks so much for joining us here on the roundup. Great to have you.

S6: Yeah , thank you , Matt. Really appreciate you having me on.

S1: That's it for Roundtable this week. We'd like to hear your thoughts on our show. Leave us a voicemail. (619) 452-0228. You can also email us roundtable at If you missed any part of our show , go ahead and check out the Kpbs Roundtable podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Our show airs on Kpbs at noon on Fridays and again on Sunday at 6 a.m.. Roundtable was produced by Brooke Ruth , and our technical producer is Rebecca Chacon. I'm your host , Matt Hoffman. Thanks so much for being here with us. Have a great weekend.

SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata stands in front of the future Balboa Avenue station on the Mid-Coast Trolley, March 5, 2021
Andrew Bowen
SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata stands in front of the future Balboa Avenue station on the Mid-Coast Trolley, March 5, 2021

The executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), Hasan Ikhrata, will be stepping down at the end of 2023.

On this week's Roundtable, we talk about what led to his departure and the impact he's had on the future of transportation in San Diego County.


Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS News

Scott Lewis, CEO, Voice of San Diego

Lori Weisberg, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune