The Morning Report
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Friday, February 17, 2006 | The hastily called press conference inside Terminal One at San Diego International Airport drew crowds yesterday: 16 media, six television cameras, a gaggle of curious air travelers and a group of senior airport officials.
What it didn’t draw: Any news.
The crowd came to greet four senior airport authority officials returning to San Diego after a morning meeting in Washington, D.C. with B.J. Penn, the assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy.
After the trip was mentioned during a Monday committee meeting of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, media attention has focused on reasons airport officials were meeting with Penn. Though the airport authority is studying the possible joint use of three local military bases – Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Naval Station North Island and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton – no formal analyses of the sites are complete.
At the Monday meeting, two board members questioned whether the meeting was premature. Authority Chairman Joe Craver said it was necessary, as part of a response to a letter from U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego. The Congresswoman had asked for the military’s feedback on a joint-use airport’s feasibility.
The press conference was designed to alleviate speculation about what might have happened behind closed doors. But Craver, fresh off the plane from Washington, told reporters little about the meeting’s substance, though he insisted the process was “full and transparent.” When one reporter pressed Craver for specifics, the news conference was quickly halted.
The conference was fraught with problems from the start. The flight from Washington was 40 minutes late. But just after 6 p.m., Craver approached the podium, stood under the blistering television lights and began speaking.
One problem: The reporters could hardly hear him. Terminal One was awash in the airport’s frenzied sounds. Travelers were arriving and departing, their baggage click-clacked past. Outside, traffic was chaotic. Inside, the public address system blared.
Through the noise, Craver addressed the meeting in generalities. It was productive and informative, he said. The Navy officials had listened intently and respectfully, he said. The Navy would have three criteria for evaluating any base issues: Would a proposal support the Navy, the troops and the country?
Craver continued. After he said the Navy “will cooperate with us,” the trouble started. Reporters pressed him for more information. Did that mean the Navy was going to listen to proposals to use a base as a civilian airport? Did it mean they’d cooperate with joint-use plans?
“To me cooperation means they will work with us,” Craver responded.
And that was the beginning of the end. Ted Sexton, the airport authority’s vice president of operations, symbolically drew his hand across his neck.
“Tell him to cut it off,” Sexton quietly told authority President/CEO Thella Bowens, who was standing behind Craver. Bowens hesitated. The two board members behind Craver – William Lynch and Xema Jacobson – appeared confused, too.
Then Diana Lucero, the authority’s public relations director stepped in, approached Craver and whispered in his ear.
“One more question!” Craver said, and Lucero stepped back out of the spotlight.
Craver concluded, saying the board had not made a decision on a site. The Pentagon meeting was simply to share information and data, he said.
“This,” he said, “is a full and open process.”
The television lights flicked off.
But the questions continued, in small groups of two and three reporters. Craver and Lynch were peppered with questions. Seeing it, Sexton shepherded the officials away from the press, tugging on Lynch’s jacket to get his attention.
And then they were gone.
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