Monday, October 31, 2005 | Voters with a little local election fatigue may feel tempted to imagine that after next week it will all be over for while.

Yeah, right. We’re just getting warmed up. Sure, the mayor’s race may be the most important one in decades. It may be a dramatic and engaging fight between two totally different leaders and it may seem like once it’s resolved, voters will be able to disengage at least a little bit. After all, what’s the point of a representative democracy if the voters can’t relax most of the time and let their representatives handle all these tough decisions?

Don’t we get to just watch at some point?


Not only will there most likely be two City Council races still to be resolved, but both the mayoral candidates have plans to take some ideas to voters.

Are you ready to make a decision about bankruptcy? Changing the City Charter to make the city auditor an elected position? A hybrid pension plan that combines the aspects of both a defined-contribution retirement system and a defined-benefit plan?

Didn’t think so.

But even that’s only the beginning of what’s going to come before voters after next week.

Ever heard of the San Diego Chargers? How about the airport?

Yep, a year from now – assuming all the promises come true – we’ll be inundated with information about two of the biggest civic projects ever imagined for the city: a new airport and a new football stadium. All on the same ballot and all only a short year away.

The Chargers and their allies and their counterparts at the city still have a lot of work to do to prepare for a promised ballot measure in 2006 that would either authorize the city to move forward on a stadium proposal or actually approve a comprehensive proposal. Neither of those two are very easy things to produce so there may still be some question as to whether we’ll actually see something from the Chargers on next year’s ballot.

The airport is a different story though.

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority has a legal obligation to put something on next year’s ballot that will, for once, supposedly solve one of the hardest questions that the region has wrestled with for half a century: What can we do, if anything, about the airport?

Since its inception, the Airport Authority has had to walk this delicate line between promoting the idea of a new airport and merely studying the viability of a new airport. In other words, at any given time, the Airport Authority is either engaged in a process of proving that a certain option won’t work or working to persuade residents that they need and actually do want a new, larger, more modern airport.

The mission, they say, is not only to solve the area’s transportation needs, but to put the question to rest once and for all.

And they have one more year to do it.

Last year, about this time, they flew in the former mayor of Denver – Federico Peña, who after his time in Colorado served as Secretary of Transportation under President Bill Clinton.

Denver was the last major city to construct a new airport.

He described in captivating detail the bureaucratic challenge the Denver airport was. And he made a point that still resonates today: For Denver it was rather obvious that a new airport was needed. Cities like Salt Lake City were advertising their destinations to businesses and tourists solely on the basis of how congested and inconvenient and problematic the Denver airport was.

The new Denver International Airport, he said, would have never became a reality if the Colorado capital city had not mobilized all its power, all its energy and made a collective decision that it needed a new airport to become the city it wanted to be.

That was a city that not only served its own needs but those of a worldwide network.

Then he said something that should stick in the mind of every San Diegan as a damn good question: Has San Diego made that decision?

Have we decided that we want to be something more than we are?

That we want a new airport to handle all of the things we’re afraid we won’t be able to handle? That the continued expansion of our business and cultural cosmopolitanism is dependent on a new airport, and that we’re willing to solve the logistical nightmare that will inevitably affect thousands, if not tens of thousands, of San Diegans?

Peña said he wasn’t sure that we had.

Yet we only have a year left.

The Airport Authority has so far deftly handled the boomlets of controversy related to its project. But by doing so, it now finds itself with really only one option on the table. And that is to build a new airport far out in the eastern desert areas of the county.

The Airport Authority’s administrators deferred to the powers to be that didn’t want them to look harder at the military sites or to give the impression that San Diego did not want to protect the country’s military investment in the region.

As was announced this week, the military’s Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, process is now more or less complete and the San Diego region has kept its major military installations.

So the Airport Authority did its part – it didn’t screw up the BRAC process that so worried other power bases in San Diego.

But that left it without much in the way of options of sites to build a new airport. And the Airport Authority now has one year to put something on the ballot.

Got voter fatigue? You better sleep it off.

Please contact Scott Lewis directly at

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