Wednesday, April 26, 2006 | The man often called the father of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority weighed in on his baby Monday night, offering both praise and criticism of the authority’s push to solve the region’s airport capacity crunch.
During a KPBS-led forum about the region’s military-civilian rift – exacerbated by the airport authority’s search – former State Sen. Steve Peace steered clear of questions about what the ballot language should say, while acknowledging that Miramar will be the likely choice.
Putting off the decision any longer would be a mistake, Peace said, because it would only serve to narrow the region’s remaining options.
“We’re going to survive,” Peace said. “Either way, we’re going to be better off. The important thing is – make a decision.”
Peace was the lead sponsor of Assembly Bill 93, the law that created the independent authority in 2003, pulling it out from the auspices of the Unified Port of San Diego. He lauded the authority for its work in the search to solve Lindbergh Field’s capacity issues. The authority is doing a “great job” of exhausting all alternatives in its multi-year hunt, he said. He didn’t offer specifics, but criticized the authority’s public relations team, saying they “don’t understand their job.”
The authority’s biggest challenge, Peace said, is crafting the question voters will see on November’s ballot. He suggested voters’ decisions will center on an issue broader than where an airport should be located. The core question, he said, is whether San Diegans will choose to keep a small airport on purpose, using their votes to voice opinions about how San Diego should grow.
He acknowledged that more could be done to make Lindbergh Field viable in the future. Creativity and innovation could enhance Lindbergh’s capacity, he said, but have historically been avoided because “everybody’s afraid they will contribute to the notion that [Lindbergh] will work.”
Peace wasn’t the only one to weigh in on the airport during the forum at the University of San Diego. (It’s being broadcast on KPBS radio Thursday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.)
With ease, airport authority board member Paul G. Nieto slipped into a recitation of what’s become a familiar refrain about the search the capacity crunch’s solution. Few options remain, Nieto said, and any decision the authority makes will affect the military, whether a remote site affects airspace or new runways affect operations.
“What I would like to see,” he said, speaking into a microphone held by KPBS’s Gloria Penner, “is a creative dialogue – a win-win situation.”
He was referring to the airport authority’s study of military sites as possible homes for a future airport. And Maj. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert, who commands the area’s marine installations, was sitting just a few feet away.
Penner nudged him. “Ask that question of the general,” she said.
Nieto hesitated. He stuttered. Then he dove in.
“Will the military sit down with us?” he asked. “Can we sit down and put our 10- or 15-year hat on?”
Could the authority and the military find a way, he asked, to protect readiness and solve the region’s airport issue.
Lehnert also repeated what’s become a familiar refrain.
No, he said.
Five rounds of Pentagon base closures have affirmed the region’s military structure, Lehnert said, while estimating that he spends 60 percent of his time fighting encroachment issues.
“We can’t go down evolutionary blind alleys,” Lehnert said. “No matter how hard we look at it, the Marine Corps does not see a win-win.”
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the time of the KPBS broadcast. We apologize for the error.
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