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The Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego is being considered as a possible location for SANDAG's Central Mobility Hub. Photo by Travelview
The Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego is being considered as a possible location for SANDAG's Central Mobility Hub. Photo by Travelview
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SANDAG meetings consumed by mobility hub, COVID-19 scare

REGION — The San Diego Association of Governments’ board of directors held a pair of meetings last week that opened with concerns over COVID-19 protocols before the group went on to discuss several hot topics, including the controversial Central Mobility Hub.

During the May 26 special meeting, SANDAG staff passed out masks at lunch, according to sources, after it was revealed Chairwoman Catherine Blakespear, who was in attendance, had tested positive on May 20 for COVID-19.

The following day, the meeting was dominated by the board’s discussion of the Central Mobility Hub, which revealed several confusing statements by SANDAG staff and board members related to the status of the potential project.

Mobility hub, road-user charge sticking points

The center of discussion focused on the downtown mobility hub and road-user charge during the May 27 meeting. Hasan Ihkrata, executive director of SANDAG, said the agency is working with the City of San Diego on agreements and studies for a potential downtown site.

However, Ihkrata stressed “no decision” has been made regarding the hub. The board has also recently discussed several other locations — Santa Fe Depot and Old Town — with existing rail lines and access to public transit and bus connections.

The hub will connect a transit line to the San Diego International Airport.

However, Blakespear said the downtown hub has nothing to do with the current litigation and criminal investigation into the scandal-plagued 101 Ash Street property. The building, along with Civic Centre Plaza, are both considered options for SANDAG to purchase and demolish before building its proposed transit hub.

“What that means is the staff of SANDAG will have to communicate with the staff at the City of San Diego. That conversation is happening or will happen at a staff level or will preliminarily happen,” Blakespear said. “The idea that something sneaky is happening (is not real). The Ash Street litigation is not related to SANDAG.”

Del Mar Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland, who also serves on the SANDAG board, said she is concerned by the lack of disclosures from Blakespear, Ihkrata and others regarding the hub. For example, Gaasterland said she does not know “definitively at this point” whether the City of San Diego and SANDAG staff members are working together on project.

Gaasterland stressed the importance of a connection that makes sense from all directions and believes a “decentralized mobility network” serves the most people, noting most San Diego residents don’t live near downtown.

“It is of the utmost importance to decouple the airport connector from a ‘City Mobility Hub’ concept,” Gaasterland said. “If there is a (City Mobility Hub) in the future, it should have a good connection to the airport. But that can already be accomplished by planning for an airport connector that streamlines transportation from the north, northeast, east, and southeast.

Also, San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones continued to press SANDAG staff about bringing back the approved 2021 Regional Transportation Plan without the road user charge, or mileage tax. Jones said she’s been waiting for months for staff to bring it back to the board.

However, the plan is currently being reviewed by the California Air and Resources Board. Ihkrata said if the plan is revised without the road charge, it will change the plan in its entirety and must be re-submitted for federal and state approvals. Ihkrata once again pledged to bring the revised plan back before the board.

COVID scare

Most on the SANDAG board at the two-day meeting were not aware of Blakespear’s COVID-19 diagnosis which she announced in a May 20 post on Twitter, six days before the roundtable. Attendees were not required to wear masks, but once word spread of the mayor’s recent bout with COVID-19, masks were provided to members during the lunch break, according to several sources in attendance.

According to Blakespear’s state senate campaign, the mayor tested negative on May 25, the day before the event, however, it is not known when Blakespear first showed symptoms.

Gaasterland, a professor at the UC San Diego, said she was not advised of Blakespear’s positive test result and was only told “(Blakespear) passed all the thresholds and days in addition to testing negative.” In light of the lack of details, Gaasterland said she was obliged to assume she had been exposed to the virus.

In addition, others in attendance voiced concerns over Blakespear’s lack of disclosures to her fellow board members, but requested not to make a public statement regarding the situation.

Gaasterland questioned whether to hold the workshop due to the rising number of COVID cases, SANDAG staff said masks and hand sanitizer will be available and doors opened so the meeting is conducted “partially” outside.

“We need to let each other know if we have recently tested positive for COVID — especially with symptoms — so everyone has a choice on how to stay safer,” Gaasterland said. “Had it been me, I would not have attended the workshop. Had I felt it was imperative to be there, I would have worn a KN95 mask or equivalent, kept distance from others, and eaten separately, per university guidance. I would also have told everyone why I was doing it so they could choose to wear a mask.”