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Saturday, January 28, 2006 | This week, two more possible airport sites became nearly impossible when it was determined desert sites would cost tens of billions of dollars to complete. Options in the site selection process are still many, and in a matter of months, the quiet bunch at the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority will have concluded the three-year journey of selecting the site for a new airport.

It’s something that many groups have tried for many years, but this group was created just for this purpose and is mandated by law to put an option in front of voters by November. It’s a tight timeframe for a decision that involves a number of active military sites and will shape San Diego’s economic and quality-of-life for generations to come. We sat down with airport authority Chairman Joe Craver to see how it will all shake out.

How is the site selection going to happen by spring?

It is on time and it is on schedule that we have to have the decision in to the Board of Supervisors no later than the 11th of August. We are shooting with the staff of consultants and bringing it to the board to have a decision hopefully by the end of May or right around the first of June. I would like to go ahead and be able to bring it to the June board meeting for the final decision.

You don’t have all the data right now – but just your gut feeling – how important is military cooperation going to be in this process?

Well, it’s not a gut feeling, because I don’t go by gut … I go by facts. … Right now the military cooperation is extremely well, they are cooperating. They said that they would and they are.

We had one very good meeting where we had an interchange of ideas and shared data and we have a plan to have another meeting … with both the Navy and Marine Corps to make sure they have all the data they need. This is a two-way street, we’re asking them for data, they’re asking us for data and the cooperation we’ve had has been exemplarary.

But outside of meetings to getting something done?

We’re not at that stage. What we’re doing is we’re studying joint use at military bases. … Our study of military bases could come up with all kinds of conclusions.

In many ways doesn’t the decision on what to do with the airport ask county residents to decide on what kind of city or region they want?

That is exactly right and probably more than that. It is a decision that the voters are going to have to make. What is the future of our region, how is this going to best serve them in many areas, not only in commerce, but in quality of life. So that is the big decision and it’s interesting because they are going to be making the decision based on future generations. That is what is so difficult that we find when we go out and do public speaking, is people come up and say Lindbergh is fine, and Lindbergh is great.

It’s such a big decision, as you said for future generations. Is this enough time for San Diegans to make that decision?

We don’t really have a choice, what choice do we have? The reason I say it’s a choice is that airports aren’t developed in a year-and-a-half to two years. People can think ahead, I mean I don’t even know what my vacation plans are for next year …

But because it takes 20 years or more if the decision was made tomorrow, 20 years or more to go ahead and build an airport, you have to make those decisions now. You can’t wait until you come to the situation that will occur at Lindbergh say in 15 years when you begin to go ahead and feel that crowdedness and the FAA comes in and limits the number of takeoffs and landings and people say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got a problem.’ OK, we told you 20 years ago to plan for this. So that is the message we’re trying to get out – think in the future.

Are you convinced that the region needs a new airport?

You know, you’re asking me personally and when you say me, I can’t talk to you about me, I have to talk to you about the board because I am the chairman and I represent the board. I have not made any conclusions, the process is still going and I want to be able to … and I get the feeling the board feels the same way that once we evaluate all the data then we will come up with a conclusion. We do know some facts though that this airport is going to run out of capacity

Let’s say come Nov. 8, the ballot proposal doesn’t pass. What happens to this organization?

This organization stays intact, there’s no sun setting on the airport authority, there is nothing in the legislation that says OK if what all of you have done doesn’t pass, you have another two years to go ahead and bring it to the ballot.

That’s something that would have to be evaluated by the airport authority but more or less we would have to go to Sacramento and be able to talk to them. Right now I am not focused on the strategy or defeat, I am focused personally and I can’t speak for the board but I am focused we will be successful and that is what I am putting my full effort and prayers on.

Do you get a sense that the general public has a preference? Is there an overriding opinion?

Everybody has an opinion, but it’s across the board.

What happens to you after this?

My appointment is over in November; right now I’m not focused in on the future. I’m doing the job I was appointed to do, which is taking about 52 hours a week. I have just sold my company Galaxie [Management, Inc.] because I am putting full time in and I’m totally focused on the mission here and the airport; it will be that way until November. What happens in November, I serve at the pleasure of the mayor of San Diego.

You have been asked to do something that hasn’t been able to be done in at least 50 years; it’s something that predates a lot of us, these efforts. How is it going to be different this time?

I think it’s that it’s an organization that is mandated by law to go ahead and go through the site-selection process. It is an organization that has the money and the funding to go ahead and carry on that mission. … It’s not an elected position, so we are not worried about being re-elected, we’re appointed …

In my opinion, where the studies failed in the past they have run out of money, run out of ambition and gave up.

– Interview by ANDREW DONOHUE and SCOTT LEWIS

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