The Morning Report
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Tuesday, February 14, 2006 | It would be a nightmare scenario: The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority spends millions selecting a site for a new airport. Political action committees convince voters it’s the right choice. Voters approve it.
Then an in-depth study finds some undiscovered reason the site isn’t feasible.
It may be unlikely, but it’s possible, say board members Xema Jacobson and Mary Teresa Sessoms, who blame the narrow timeframe left to evaluate sites.
As decision day approaches – Aug. 11 is the last day to submit ballot language to the county registrar – some authority board members are concerned they’re not getting all the information they need to make an informed choice.
With 178 days left to make a choice, options are still popping up like a carnival whack-a-mole game. Two proposals were knocked down yesterday, another came back. Questions remain about the viability of every non-military site being considered. Likewise, questions linger about every military site, too.
Three board members said they’re frustrated at the amount of work that remains.
“We don’t have enough time to make the best decision for this region,” board member Mary Teresa Sessoms said. “I’ve never been in a position where I have to make such a huge decision with information that is possibly incomplete.”
Yesterday, the authority’s strategic planning committee all but eliminated two North County sites being considered as possible one-runway supplemental airports.
The sites were ruled out after a consultant said few passengers would use them. Robert Hazel, managing partner of ECLAT Consulting, painted a bleak picture for a supplemental airport. User fees could be $95 higher than at Lindbergh Field, which he said would drive airlines away. The airport would cost as much as a major metropolitan airport, but serve just a fraction of the travelers, he said.
But board member Robert L. Maxwell said he’s not convinced the sites should be dismissed, questioning the airports’ purported $4 billion to $6 billion price tag. The consultant’s study didn’t detail specific expenses of construction, land acquisition or environmental mitigation. On a presentation, it was listed as “cost ?? $4-6 billion.”
In a later interview, Maxwell echoed the concerns of fellow board members Jacobson and Sessoms.
“It’s a very short time and we’ve got a lot that’s got to be done,” Maxwell said. “And I’m not seeing that we’re doing it as quickly as we should.”
The authority also agreed yesterday to revive a concept developed when the San Diego Unified Port District oversaw airport operations. Under the proposal, known as Alternative F, a second runway would be built at Lindbergh Field on land the Marine Corps Recruit Depot currently occupies. It was once estimated to cost $1 billion, displace several businesses and impact the Naval Training Center’s redevelopment.
Sessoms, who asked for the study, was skeptical about what it would produce. She said she expected “a very vanilla” staff response that says the proposal won’t work.
“The majority of staff and the majority of the board want Miramar,” Sessoms said. “So we’re going to sit here and twiddle our thumbs and hope Miramar becomes available.”
In the meantime, a delay of the airport authority’s schedule is unlikely. Most authority members opposed Assemblyman George Plescia’s 2003 failed legislation that would have pushed back the decision two years.
“I don’t think you’ll find the political will with anyone in the delegation – Democrat or Republican – willing to move the vote to 2008,” said Brandon Waters, spokesman for Plescia, R-Mira Mesa.
Chairman Joe Craver acknowledged the quick pace the board faces during yesterday’s meeting. U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, has asked for feedback from the military on a joint-use airport’s feasibility. The authority’s ad hoc committee will travel to Washington later this week to meet with a senior U.S. Navy official responsible for responding to Davis’s request.
Maxwell questioned whether the meeting was premature. Why, he asked, were authority board members meeting to discuss joint-use options before in-depth studies of military bases were complete?
Those analyses are due Feb. 27. They were postponed until the completion of the recent military Base Realignment and Closure process.
Please contact Rob Davis directly at