SAN DIEGO — Local organizations are calling on SANDAG to allow the public to weigh in as the agency chooses its next CEO.
Current CEO Hasan Ikhrata announced he will step down December 29. Friday marked the first SANDAG board meeting since Ikhrata announced his resignation.
A group of people representing 15 community groups took it as an opportunity to make their voices heard by gathering outside SANDAG’s downtown headquarters before the meeting.
"The selection process must be open and transparent as it holds a pivotal role in shaping the future of our region," said Alejandro Amador with Casa Familiar.
The group says they want the agency's next CEO to make the community's needs a priority, especially when it comes to ensuring San Diego continues to grow its network of transportation options.
"The simple joy of riding a bike brings a smile, but yes the streets are scary. We need leaders that understand the value of investing in safe streets and connected trails,” said one speaker.
"We know what we want. We know what we need and what we're looking for in a new CEO is to be innovated to make sure we get those wants and get those needs in a way that does not impact the environment negatively," said Yusef Miller.
SANDAG is the metropolitan planning organization for the county.
It has an annual budget of an estimated 1.3 billion dollars, making the CEO's position a powerful one. Since taking over in 2018. Ikhrata has pushed for limited car travel, which gained widespread support amongst environmental groups.
But, his ideas have also faced backlash, including proposing per mile fees for drivers and freezing certain freeway projects. His tenure has also been met with controversy, including questions regarding improper spending and poor policies.
While Ikhrata has not said why he's stepping down, during Friday's meeting, he acknowledged past disagreements, saying it's time to move on.
“It's been a very humbling experience for me to serve this region for five years, humbling to work with many of you. Yeah, we don't always agree on things but we have in mind that we need to deliver. I feel it's the right time to hand over the leadership,” said Ikhrata.
Ikhrata's last day is December 29th.
As for what the hiring process will look like, SANDAG chair Nora Vargas has reassured the public it will be transparent and include engaging with the community.
“I'm looking forward to working with our board and community organizations to create a process together,” said Vargas.
WATCH RELATED: SANDAG considers options to move tracks off Del Mar bluffs