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Friday, Feb 23, 2024

POLITICS–Vargas Charges Warden Played Politics, Derailed Project

Given that three members of the San Diego City Council are running for mayor and two others are running for state Assembly seats, it’s no wonder the rhetoric at City Hall is getting rather muddy.

Last week, the veneer of collegiality that exists among the nine-member council was shattered when one member lashed out at another for what he called a “political hit” on his community after he supported a competing candidate.

Councilman Juan Vargas, who is running for the 79th Assembly District, said Councilwoman Barbara Warden, who is running for mayor, eliminated a key transportation project in his district right after he endorsed Supervisor Ron Roberts for mayor.

“This is nothing more than simply stupid politics and it’s incredibly egregious,” Vargas said.

Vargas charged Warden, who sits on a subcommittee of the San Diego Association of Governments, yanked nearly $2 million that had been earmarked for a bus and trolley station in San Ysidro in Vargas’ 8th District. The project that had originally been ranked as fourth most important, was dropped to 11th most important, following a motion by Warden. The subcommitte only approved funding for the top nine projects.

Instead of the San Ysidro project, the subcommittee recommended giving $4.1 million toward constructing bicycle and pedestrian paths in Mission Valley, in Councilwoman Valerie Stallings’ 6th District.

Warden proposed the change because there were other projects that made better use of the federal transportation dollars, and “got more bang for the buck,” said David Johnson, Warden’s press secretary.

He denied Warden was playing politics, and said the San Ysidro project wouldn’t have as great an impact as some other projects that were given higher priority.

“It’s a good project and good for San Ysidro, but does it improve transportation? No, it doesn’t,” Johnson said of the funds, which can be used only for landscaping and amenities at the planned $8 million trolley and bus center.

The subcommittee voted 5-1 in favor of Warden’s proposal. Santee Mayor Jack Dale voted against it. The priority list for spending the $22.5 million in federal transportation funds goes to the full Sandag board made up of all 18 cities and the county for its final vote Feb. 25.

In all, Sandag received 55 applications totaling about $71 million for the latest round of federal funds, said Garry Bonelli, Sandag spokesman.

Johnson said Vargas is “going off bonkers” on a project he never previously showed any interest in, and is “literally lying to the people of San Diego about this project.”

“Barbara has done more for Juan’s district than Juan has,” Johnson said.

He noted Warden has actively led efforts on two key transportation projects , the widening of Otay Mesa Road and the extension of Interstate 905, having traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby for them. In addition, Warden has also spearheaded obtaining funds to build a new fire station and library in San Ysidro.

Vargas retorted that while Warden takes credit for these things, she should also take credit for de-funding a project that benefits many poor people in his district.

“How could you hurt the poor people of San Ysidro to get back at me for supporting Ron Roberts?” asked Vargas.

The dueling words demonstrates the ugly reality of politics and its intensity as campaigns draw down to the wire.

“It comes down to choosing sides,” said Ann Shanahan-Walsh, a veteran political consultant not employed by any local candidate. “Now that Juan has cast his lot with Ron, he’s going to do whatever he can to help him win.”

Shanahan-Walsh said she doesn’t view Warden as a petty woman, but Vargas “has always been a grandstander, so if he’s grandstanding for Roberts’ benefit, it’s no surprise.”

Vargas said he’s not sure how this will affect his future dealings with Warden on the council. “I think it’s going to be stormy. She’s very vindictive.”

Warden is in her second term on the council and cannot run again. Vargas’ term expires in 2002.

In another mayoral campaign story, Councilman George Stevens, who has represented the 4th District since 1991, announced a 21-day tour of the city.

“The voters need to know that I am in their neighborhoods and I care about the issues in their communities,” Stevens said.

“It’s a good gimmick,” Shanahan-Walsh said about the “tour” by Stevens, who is a part-time minister.

Polls show Stevens running in fourth place, out of the top two spots needed to make the cut for the primary election on March 7.

“He doesn’t have a prayer, pardon the pun,” Shanahan-Walsh said.


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