Thursday, June 1, 2006 | Here are two predictions. The airport will stay at Lindbergh Field. The cross will stay on Soledad Mountain. The airport will stay because moving it is more trouble than it is worth. The cross will stay because too much might be lost if it goes.

The deadline for locating and building a new airport that would have been worth it arrived and passed in 1960. In September of that year, United Airlines began the first jet service into Lindbergh Field. Talk about two-plus-two mathematics: desirable destination plus fast, global access equals big airport. Great flat empty swaths of acreage still existed in the south and central areas of the county. It was still five years before total military involvement in Vietnam. The south end of Interstate 15 was still in San Bernardino.

It would have been messy, but if there was ever a time for San Diego to pry the Navy out of Miramar and build an airport there, 1960 was the last moment that the decision could have been made. The Miramar airport would have been finished by 1975, Interstate 15 would have been routed farther east before curling down Murphy Canyon, Highway 163 would be the airport’s main access, Mira Mesa would not exist, and University City from the air would be a patchwork of industry and warehouses.

Harbor Drive would be a corridor of high-rise hotels, south of a sprawling area of condos, theaters, shops, stretching toward Midway Drive. Horton Plaza might be there, a location that to its builders would have been much more attractive than south of Broadway. Maybe there would be a baseball stadium located there. Imagine that: Lindbergh Field, home of the Padres.

Scripps Ranch from the distance might offer a second skyline (like Century City near LAX), of the third downtown in San Diego history, with the farther-east Interstate 15 feeding right into it, office towers and corporate headquarters drawn there by the Miramar airport’s economic magnetism, and maybe also a cultural complex of concert hall, recital hall, museum, the city’s new main library. City government might have relocated there by now, leaving the aging C Street complex for conversion to low-income housing. Sketching the present downtown, based on the 1975 opening of the Miramar airport, is interesting. One thing we know for sure: Starlight Opera subscriptions would be way up.

A 1975 Miramar airport could have produced an interesting urban landscape, based on the quality of leadership throughout the project. Now, the prediction here is that voters will decide that moving the airport in 2006 is more trouble than it is worth. They may vote for a second runway somewhere, for the global flights, but that’s all.

The absolute last opportunity for moving Lindbergh might have been 1972, when the city lost the Republican National Convention and gained a nickname: “America’s Finest City.” Did America’s Finest City deserve America’s finest airport? Might have, but nobody did anything about it, and it’s too late now.

The last date for getting the cross off Mount Soledad would have been sometime in 1953. The monument, to Korean War veterans, was designed and constructed during that time and dedicated on April 18, 1954, in the 165th year of the United States Constitution. If the cross violates the Constitution today, it violated the Constitution on or before April 18, 1954.

Nobody told the designer. It is a shame the designer didn’t have the vision to see a black granite monument, rising like a low black wing from the ground, rows of the names of the dead etched into it. The Vietnam War Memorial is as moving a war monument as you will ever see, and an amazing piece of public art as well.

Instead he (or she) saw a cross, not very imaginative but quite common as a grave marker, and he went with it, 43 feet high including the pedestal, and into place on Soledad Mountain it went, on public land, in violation of the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state.

Today is the 19,015th day (give or take some Leap Year days) of the violation, and in that time the authorities have allowed the cross to acquire an aura that is both unique and universal. It possesses the aura of a monument that represents the sacrifice of all American men and women who have been in war, in this instance the Korean War, a nasty little action without near the name I.D. of World War II.

It is discouraging to read the reports that the Christian machine is gearing up to turn the San Diego cross debate into a national debate, because the aura of this cross is not sectarian, but spiritual. Human reliance on help from spirits is as old as fear. Humans in general don’t like to die. Since life and death is such an important conflict to us, it is used over and over again as a commercial theme, in books and movies.

In these projects, you see and hear a lot of praying about dying. A soldier says: “Please don’t let me die.” Of whom is he asking this? Anybody who will listen, is my experience. There was a moment in 1958 when I thought I was about to die in an airplane crash, and when my brain screamed for help, it didn’t leave anybody out: pilot, co-pilot, stewardess, Douglas Aircraft, Pratt & Whitney, Bernoulli, Newton, God, Jesus, Buddha, the Good Witch of the West.

When a private asks to stay alive, he doesn’t leave anybody out. General, colonel, anyone involved in the battle plan, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, corporal, God or gods, rational, irrational, logical, illogical.

Make the request, give up everything you love, step out from shelter, and fight. That is the spirituality that has developed, like a patina, on this cross in the 52 years since it was put up illegally.

If the cross, a symbol, comes down, its patina comes down with it, and the patina is no symbol. It is the real thing.

Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at Send a letter to the editor.

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