Thursday, June 1, 2006 | Add four San Diego County Supervisors to the list of local political officials who are either ambivalent or resistant to a possible joint-use airport at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
They join a bipartisan who’s who of regional politicos including Mayor Jerry Sanders and Reps. Bob Filner, Duncan Hunter, Darrell Issa and Susan Davis. Sanders last week said he would stay neutral on a ballot measure that proposes to move the region’s international airport to Miramar. Davis has stayed silent on the issue. Filner, Hunter and Issa have opposed the authority’s plan.
Last week, a San Diego County Regional Airport Authority committee approved draft language for a November ballot initiative that would ask voters whether San Diego County government officials should make every effort to persuade Congress and the military to hand over 3,000 acres of Miramar for a new commercial airport by 2020.
It is a plan that authority officials and other observers say needs a political champion with the political will to push an objectionable military and Congress toward a solution. But it does not yet have a champion outside the confines of the airport authority’s boardroom – despite the authority’s inclusion of the broad term “government officials” in its draft language. Those “government officials” have not been formally identified as the authority draws close to making a final decision on the ballot language June 5.
Excluding Supervisor Bill Horn, who a spokesman said has not yet reviewed the authority’s studies, the four other county supervisors don’t appear poised to take up the cause – at least not before November.
Supervisors’ opinions are hardly uniform. They run from those of Pam Slater-Price and Dianne Jacob, who both outright oppose the push toward Miramar, to the ambivalence of Greg Cox and Ron Roberts.
Slater-Price, whose district includes the eastern portion of Miramar, “opposes a joint-use airport at Miramar and opposes converting Miramar into a commercial airport,” spokesman John Weil said. “She will support the military remaining at Miramar as long as they want to remain there.”
Jacob, who represents a massive swath of East County, echoed Mayor Sanders’ remarks. She crediting the authority for completing an exhaustive search for a new airport site, and said she had supported the 1994 advisory vote pointing to Miramar as the best site for an international airport – if the military decided to leave. But it hasn’t.
“My position is this: the military says that Miramar is needed for our national defense,” Jacob said. “To me, our national defense comes first and I support the military. Period. And that goes for joint use.”
Cox and Roberts were more noncommittal. Cox, whose district includes Lindbergh Field, “doesn’t need to feel the need to weigh in,” spokeswoman Nicole Cretelle said. “He’s happy to leave it in the hands of the voters.”
Roberts acknowledged that a solution to the region’s airport capacity crunch is going to require working with the military, but pointed to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton as the best option, not Miramar, which sits in his district.
At the same time, Roberts said he would hold off judgment on the authority’s draft ballot language. He said he doesn’t want to influence their decision.
But do the opinions of the county’s supervisors – a disparate group representing a 4,900-square mile county slightly smaller than Connecticut – carry the political weight to lobby Washington? Several authority members have squarely pointed to Sanders, not the supervisors, as the be-all, end-all champion.
“It matters what they think in terms of selling anything on the ballot to the voters,” said board member Mary Teresa Sessom. “But in terms of selling it to the federal government it’s going to be Sanders, not the supervisors.”
Board member William D. Lynch has also identified Sanders as a vital voice on the airport issue. Lynch was encouraged by Sanders’ stance last week, calling the mayor’s acknowledgment of the need to replace Lindbergh Field a boost to the authority’s cause.
“I don’t think there’s any magic in the supervisors, although they’re all important people,” Lynch said. But of all potential advocates, he said, San Diego’s mayor is the most important.
But board member Xema Jacobson said the airport is a regional issue, not a city issue – even though both Lindbergh Field and Miramar are inside city limits. For that reason, the supervisors could be important pieces of a larger group of regional political leadership.
“I have absolutely no disrespect for Mayor Sanders at all,” Jacobson said. “But there are 16 others mayors in this county. It’s not going to be decided by the people of San Diego, it’s going to be decided by the people of San Diego County.”