Tuesday, March 07, 2006 | As the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority moves closer to choosing an airport site for voters to consider in November, very polar images of the future have emerged.

The schism stems from two vastly different interpretations of the importance of a two-page letter the Secretary of the Navy sent to Congresswoman Susan A. Davis, D-San Diego Feb. 24. The letter spells out the Pentagon’s objections to the joint use of three of the area’s military bases.

The divide was evident Monday, as the authority voted 5-3 to advance in-depth analyses of the three bases, while voting along the same lines to stop studying supplemental airports near Escondido.

Board member Paul A. Peterson, who voted to advance the military options, summarized one side this way: The studies need to be done, because the letter is just a snapshot in time. The Navy could change its stance in a year – or in 10, he said.

Board member William D. Lynch, another supporter of studying military sites, took it a step further: If voters approve using a military base for a civilian airport, local Congressional representatives would respond by pushing enabling legislation.

Each side has a clichéd battle cry. For Peterson, Lynch and others it’s: “Anything can change.”

For those on the flip side – led vocally by board members Robert L. Maxwell and Mary Teresa Sessom – it’s: “What part of no don’t we understand?”

The “what-part-of-no” board members say military acquiescence is a long shot, given that the region’s elected officials don’t seem to be united behind any potential airport proposal. Maxwell said putting a military site on the ballot would be a “big mistake.” Voters wouldn’t approve it, he said, and even if they did, local Congressional leaders wouldn’t support it. Sessom said the authority is spinning its wheels and should instead study feasible options.

During Monday’s meeting, board Chairman Joe Craver aligned himself with those who favor further study of the military sites.

Craver acknowledged the San Diego area currently has a high concentration of military forces. The Pentagon is increasing its presence in the Pacific in the face of the North Korea threat and China’s rise as potential superpower.

But, Craver said, “Anything can change.”

If China becomes a nuclear threat, Craver said the Defense Department could disperse area forces. That, he said, could clear up space at area bases in 10 or 15 years.

Capt. Mike Allen, chief of staff at Navy Region Southwest, contested that argument. Craver’s assertion that the military might abandon a San Diego base because of a future nuclear threat is a “false hope,” Allen said. The military is not considering it.

The in-depth analyses the board formally approved yesterday are already underway and could be presented in late April, said Angela Shafer-Payne, the authority’s vice president of strategic planning. Each analysis will cost an estimated $1 million and detail specifics: How much will runways and a terminal cost? How many people might use it? How significant might the environmental impacts be?

The joint-use studies will examine a new terminal and runways at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and a supplemental airport at Naval Air Station North Island. Each would require a significant construction project.

While those studies advance, the board unanimously killed a fourth option, labeled the “out-of-the-box idea.” That would’ve built a military-only runway at Camp Pendleton, allowing some Miramar operations to shift north. A new runway and terminal at Miramar would’ve been built to accommodate all of San Diego’s commercial air traffic.

But deeper study of that idea would have cost $400,000, and would have pushed the authority’s site-selection program over its $13.5 million budget.

A 5-4 vote also ended plans to study supplemental airport sites in North County. The authority’s strategic planning committee had panned the sites as non-starters, with too-high construction costs and too-low passenger traffic.

Maxwell, who lives in Oceanside, dissented, saying the ideas merited more study. He questioned the accuracy of the proposal’s cost – listed on a consultant’s presentation as “cost ?? $4-6 billion” – and said that should be researched before being dropped.

But Lynch said the idea was doomed to fail, and compared it to France’s failed Maginot Line – expensive to build, but highly ineffective. (Fortunately, though, this region doesn’t have to worry about the Nazi army sweeping through Julian into Escondido – just the adverse effects of increasing air passenger traffic in the next 20 years at Lindbergh Field.)

Please contact Rob Davis directly at

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