Democrat Catherine Blakespear received praise from outgoing Republican chair Steve Vaus of Poway and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. Image via catherineblakespear.com

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear on Friday was named chair of SANDAG, the regional planning agency. Her two-year term begins Jan. 1.

The San Diego Association of Governments Board of Directors unanimously elected Blakespear, its current vice chair, to succeed Poway Mayor Steve Vaus.

Local environmentalists hailed her election.

“I am humbled by the kind words said today by the Board members and the speakers, and I will strive to the best of my ability to live up to expectations,” Blakespear said in a statement. “SANDAG is a vital forum for our local leaders to come together to make regional decisions about where people live, how they travel, and how we sustain the environment now and in the future. Being unanimously chosen by my elected peers to chair this organization is a true honor.”

Blakespear takes the helm at a pivotal time for SANDAG and the region. The Regional Plan will be determined at the end of 2021, and the new extension of the UC San Diego Blue Line Trolley will open about the same time.

The agency said that in 2022, it will begin executing the regional plan and work with regional, state, and federal leaders and advocates on funding challenges.

Said Vaus, SANDAG chair since December 2018: “It has truly been a pleasure working alongside Mayor Blakespear. We have worked through every issue together and I know she will do a terrific job.”

Blakespear has served as vice chair since 2018, working with Vaus on a number of issues, including the Regional Planning Committee, the Regional Housing Needs Assessment Subcommittee and the Airport Connectivity Subcommittee.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he appreciated the work Blakespear has done as vice chair.

“(She’s) never been afraid to tackle the tough issues when it came to housing and supporting new initiatives,” he said of the Democrat. “Her bipartisan approach is always appreciated, and I think that is how our region succeeds. I think we will be in good hands in the coming year under Catherine’s leadership.”

Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara, who led the board’s nominating committee, put forward Blakespear’s nomination for chair.

“Every once in a while, you find somebody who is so qualified there really is no other choice. I am pleased to report that the nominating committee feels that way about Mayor Blakespear,” McNamara said. “We are all trying to come to a common purpose … you need a unique person, someone who is committed to the common good and who understands that everyone should have a voice. We have that person in Catherine.”

Several members of the public also expressed support for Blakespear, including Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition.

“Mayor Blakespear is a leader among leaders in our region,” Hanshaw said. “She works for the good of all cities and residents across the region to improve our quality of life and our future as an economically vibrant and responsibly sustainable community.”

Blakespear has been a member of the SANDAG Board since January 2017 after being elected Encinitas mayor in November 2016.

She was re-elected to a third term as mayor last month. In addition to serving on the SANDAG Board, Blakespear is a board member of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, the Encina Wastewater Authority, the San Elijo Joint Powers Authority, and the San Dieguito Water District. Blakespear is a fourth-generation resident of Encinitas and an attorney.

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