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Thursday, June 8, 2006 | A day after the airport authority chose Marine Corps Air Station Miramar as the best site for a new international airport, Tierrasanta Community Council President Eric Germain fired off an e-mail to 170 base neighbors.
“Today,” he wrote, “the battle begins in earnest. Now the organizing, letter writing, door knocking, fundraising (alas) and campaign planning must begin.”
He wasn’t the only Miramar opponent sending e-mails after the decision was made. Assemblyman George Plescia, R-Mira Mesa, sent out a press release denouncing the choice. San Diego City Councilman Jim Madaffer e-mailed constituents to shout: “STOP THE MIRAMAR MADNESS ONCE AND FOR ALL.”
The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority this week wrapped up a three-year search that identified Miramar as the best site to house a new airport and solve an air capacity crunch projected after 2015. But the knock-down, drag-out political war expected over the Marine base’s future is still in an embryonic stage. Campaigns on both sides are gearing up for the five-month fight that will culminate Nov. 7.
That’s the day voters will take to the polls and answer this question: Should the airport authority and local government officials endeavor to convince the military to give up 3,000 acres of the base for a commercial airport?
A group of 31 speakers opposed to the Miramar plan spoke when the airport board made its decision Monday, concluding a search that has spanned the authority’s three-year existence.
But a larger group spanning the neighborhoods around Miramar hasn’t yet united, Germain said. The effort isn’t yet well-organized or well-funded, he said.
T.J. Zane, a local political consultant, has signed on as campaign director for an anti-Miramar group called Taxpayers for Responsible Planning – using the name of an Orange County group that fought a fail proposal to put an airport at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in the late 1990s.
But fundraising efforts have been quiet so far. Zane said less than $20,000 has been raised by the group, which aims to raise $1.5 million to $2 million to fund direct mailings countywide.
Zane and other campaign managers will be jockeying to take the lead on the fight against the ballot measure, said Jack Monger, a local political consultant.
“None of them have been able to generate a whole lot of interest and money,” Monger said. But the authority’s Monday decision “throws down the gauntlet.”
But it is still early. Many consultants aren’t yet willing to speak about their still-evolving roles in the campaign.
When the debate heats up, the battle will be fought over whether the authority intends to share the base or kick the Marines out, Monger predicted. Arguing that the airport authority wants to give the Marines the boot will have a broader appeal to voters outside the Miramar area than arguing about such things as noise impacts, he said.
“The big temptation is going to be to stay in their backyards,” Monger said. “But they’re going to have to fight this battle in North County and South County and East County.”
Not everyone will be fighting the Miramar proposal. The Alliance in Support of Airport Progress in the 21st Century is a proponent.
ASAP21 has touted the need for a new airport by 2020. But the organization hasn’t yet taken a stance on the Miramar measure and likely won’t for some time, as it awaits a consensus from its member groups, which include major business groups such as the AFL-CIO Labor Council, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.
The chamber does not yet have an official position on the ballot measure. Several of its committees will review both sides of the debate and produce a recommendation in late July. The careful process reflects the delicacy of handling a proposal that some business interests will support and that others in the defense industry will fight.
Dennis Burks, ASAP21’s chairman, said he understood the reasons behind the delay, but admitted it poses a challenge to mobilizing the campaign efforts. He said he does not yet know who will lead the campaign.
ASAP21 is holding five forums throughout the county dubbed “San Diego Speaks. We Listen,” to solicit input from local residents. The first is being held Thursday night in Rancho Penasquitos. Burks said the forums give ASAP21 an opportunity to find out what the community thinks.
“We want to go beyond the letters to the editor that we read,” said Burks, SeaWorld’s former general manager and now a hospitality consultant.
But the barbs are already flying.
“It’s a focus group, pure and simple,” said Germain of Tierrasanta. “There’s no doubt that ASAP21 is on the side of Miramar, pure and simple. They can pretend to be a fence sitter, but that’s ancient history for me.”