Wednesday, May 31, 2006 | Referencing Former Mayor Dick Murphy’s 10 goals has become an easy way to elicit a few chuckles in today’s San Diego. But a quick look at the vanquished blueprint of his truncated tenure provides a telling tale of the region’s arrested development.

One of his coveted 10 goals: Build a new regional airport.

It was well-known at the time that the region’s existing military installations provided the best locations for a new airport, and it was likely that a military base would end up on the ballot.

But at the same time the region’s business leaders, and politicians like Murphy, heralded the need for a new airport, they undertook a fevered lobbying effort – complete with paid consultants and trips to the nation’s capitol – to protect San Diego’s military bases from the cuts of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, process.

Which takes us to the current situation: Whether it was due to those efforts or not, San Diego’s bases all survived BRAC, keeping in place a military industrial complex that they say generates upwards of $19 billion a year in local economic activity. It was an accomplishment trumpeted by local leaders.

Now we’re left with one simple question: Where do we put the airport? The answer from the same people that saved our bases: Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.


Simply put, this region needs to make a decision. Do we want a new airport? Or do we not want to offend our military tenants, hopefully preserving San Diego’s bases? We understand that both have been deemed vital to the region’s future economy, but the lack of a concerted effort to choose one as a top priority has again left the region stuck in hairy situation.

This anecdote is a symptom of larger ill that has been hounding San Diego for some time. Decisions are made in a fantasyland. It’s a wonderful place, fantasyland. Everything you want can be had. Sacrifices can be chucked out the window. Except the problem with fantasyland is that everyone’s great until the day arrives that you must reckon with the consequences of your visit.

That day has come: the airport saga.

We must begin to make decisions in reality. Sure, having all the military installations we want along with a new airport would be great. But it’s impossible. We should have chosen which we wanted more as a region while the Navy was considering its need for local bases last year.

This language of fantasyland is spoken in all corners of our civic island. We talk about reforming city finances, but shut out solutions such as tough cuts, increased taxes or bankruptcy because they generate resistance. We want a new library, but refuse to admit that it would cost significantly more to run than the current library – and that we simply don’t have the money to do so. We want a new football stadium and assume that we can build one without the city or the football team paying for it. Some pretend that all we have to do is tell others to be “leaders” and the dream will come true.

Eventually, on each topic, fantasyland becomes reality, but it’s usually too late. We end up getting half-baked, underfunded versions of everything we thought we’d have.

In an announcement last week, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders spent equal time talking about the importance of both an airport and preserving our military bases. He took no position on the airport measure. To his credit, he faced reality with the Chargers.

But the mayor still stands in danger of ruling over the same fantasyland of his predecessors. Indeed, he continues preaching reform, yet has put together a budget that avoids tough decisions altogether. It continues the pension practices of the past, and allows the city to skate forward another year without the desperate cuts – or massive influxes of revenue – that will eventually have to take place to make the city whole again.

Simply put: An inability to be decisive can paralyze the most intelligent and well-meaning of individuals. Likewise, it can debilitate a region. Let’s leave fantasyland and reckon with reality, however tough that may be.

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