For a couple of years now, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s leaders have contended that they are in the process of finally answering a question that has plagued San Diego for several decades: What do we do with the airport?
Officials such as authority Chairman Joe Craver have said the adventure they were on was so exhaustive and so detailed that in the end, there would be little doubt that the question had been considered to the fullest extent possible and with all the technology and expertise available. At the end of that process, they promised, we would have an option to solve the airport conundrum.
Monday, we got a glimpse of what they envision as that option. Unfortunately, it appears to put the onus on somebody else to solve the problem. It asks voters for the mandate to ask somebody (not sure whom) to ask the federal government to accommodate a commercial airport at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
The full board of directors of the airport authority must still consider the ballot measure but a committee pushed forward the following language it hopes to put before voters:
Shall San Diego County government officials make every effort to persuade Congress and the military to make available, by 2020, approximately 3,000 of over 23,000 acres at MCAS Miramar for a commercial airport, provided: (1) military readiness and safety are maintained with no cost to the military for relocating or modifying operations; (2) necessary traffic improvements are made; and (3) no local tax dollars are used on the airport.
The language, it seems, conveys to voters that this is merely an advisory vote – a resolution. There’s nothing in it that would make a law and nothing in it that approves any kind of bond or spending plan or course of action. In fact, the presumed author of the language, board member Paul Peterson, included nothing in it that would tell voters what will happen if they approve it.
If put before voters and passed, the resolution – and it is just that: a resolution – would not bring about any sort of change. It would merely tell other people to change something.
If this is the language the full board settles on, what “government officials” is the airport authority talking about? San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders? County Supervisor Ron Roberts? Or is it talking about the current board of directors of the airport authority, which has been so successful so far persuading the military and Congress to cooperate?
And what 3,000 acres of Miramar are they talking about? It makes a big difference to a voter in Scripps Ranch or another in Santee, for example, if the airport authority is talking about somewhere in East Miramar, or somewhere near the current Marine Corps air operations terminal.
What happens to Lindbergh Field if voters approve this? Some voters might be curious to know the answer to that before they do approve it.
And what happens if the voters don’t approve this advisory resolution?
The goal of the resolution, as it’s currently worded, appears to be to merely add some kind of political mandate to an idea that is quite a bit older than the airport authority. It’s a mandate, in fact, that voters already gave – at least to some extent – with an advisory vote about Miramar in 1994.
While leaving unanswered so many questions, the ballot measure does do one thing undoubtedly: It focuses the debate on Miramar and Miramar only. That might be refreshing after years of back and forth about dozens of sites in and outside of San Diego County.
But what’s the debate? They’ve given us this: Should we ask elected officials to do something that they can already do now if they want? Mayor Sanders doesn’t need a costly ballot measure in order to get the guts to ask the military and Congress to abandon Miramar or completely change the Marine Corps’ operations there. County supervisors also could do that.
Sanders already has a lot on his plate, but maybe he could take on the task of persuading the federal government to overrule the objections of all military leaders and make an undetermined 3,000 acres available at Miramar. He may, of course, succeed – stranger things have happened.
But is fostering the fleeting hope that the mayor might do something and that he might succeed really what all these years of study and funding was for?