REGION — In April, the San Diego Association of Governments announced it was including the scandal-plagued and asbestos-ridden 101 Ash Street and Civic Centre Plaza buildings in downtown San Diego into its controversial 2021 Regional Plan.
However, nearly the entire SANDAG board — with the exception of Chairwoman Catherine Blakespear, Vice Chair Todd Gloria and Executive Director Hasan Ihkrata — appeared to be unaware of the deal.
Now, according to an explosive report from La Prensa San Diego, a supermajority of the San Diego City Council approved a deal during closed session for the City of San Diego to buy the 101 Ash Street building — which was abandoned more than two years earlier due to asbestos exposure and non-functional mechanical systems — to bypass at least two lawsuits brought against the city over original deal.
According to La Prensa’s report, Gloria, members of the San Diego City Council and City Attorney’s office agreed to keep the vote secret until after the June 7 primary. The media outlet reported “City Hall insiders” suspect the city will buy the property and sell it to SANDAG as part of its Central Mobility Hub.
SANDAG’s regional transportation plan calls for a mobility hub to centralize rail, trolley and bus connections; however, a majority of the board questioned why staff hadn’t looked closer at current facilities, such as Santa Fe Depot and the Old Town transit stop.
The SANDAG board is expected to resume discussions on the mobility hub during its May 27 meeting.
Blakespear, Gloria and Ihkrata acknowledged their plans to Voice of San Diego, although most of the SANDAG board was unaware of the deal until after the press release had already started trickling out from media outlets.
Last month, Ihkrata said he disclosed to the board twice about the plans for the Central Mobility Hub, however the properties involved were unknown to other board members until the press release.
“In a Dec. 3 meeting, we had a deep discussion,” Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said at the April board meeting. “Chairwoman Blakespear promised. Mayor Gloria, too. Mayor Gloria said this board would be part of the process. All of a sudden, it’s in the paper and SANDAG is moving forward at warp speed. I’m very disappointed.”
The hub is part of SANDAG’s plan to connect the airport to transit, as San Diego is one of a few major cities without a transit connection to its airport. The cost to purchase the buildings is expected to exceed more than $100 million.
During last week’s SANDAG board meeting, Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas, Del Mar Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland and others said details about the mobility hub from the three major players — Blakespear, Gloria, Ikhrata — have been scarce.
“I’m a little put off by saying a majority of the board was ready to go one way or another,” Salas said at the May 13 meeting. “I just do not have enough information to make a good decision to make sure it’s efficient, cost efficient, meets objectives and practical. I need to know that before I’m driven in one direction or another.”
Blakespear, Gloria and Ihkrata have not clarified when the discussions centering on the two properties first took place or why SANDAG would want to jump into a legal battle — and the District Attorney’s criminal investigation — by purchasing those controversial sites.
SANDAG has budgeted at least $2.4 billion for the hub’s construction and site acquisition. SANDAG has already spent $20.6 million on its Central Mobility Hub program with a remaining budget of $19.4 million.
In addition, the hub project could be combined with a proposed development owned by the state on two adjacent blocks, according to La Prensa. The newspaper reported, “the clues point toward a possible deal between the city, SANDAG and the state where the city purchases the 101 Ash and CCP, then roll them into the proposed Grand Mobility Hub through funding provided by SANDAG and/or the state.”