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Back in 2004, there was a regional issue that – like the new airport push this year – business interests considered a vital one. It was the TransNet half-cent sales tax that supports transportation projects. The levy was going to expire and officials needed to ask county residents if they wanted to extend it 40 years longer.
It was a big deal. The San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., or EDC, endorsed the extension of TransNet before it was even a finalized ballot measure. Julie Meier Wright, the head of the EDC, used to show up at meetings of the San Diego Association of Governments pleading with that board to keep on the path and ensure TransNet’s success.
She, and the board of directors of the EDC, didn’t want to wait for SANDAG to finalize the actual language of the initiative before they went to bat for it.
At events, Meier Wright’s staff used to display overhead slides of all the highways in the region. Then, they would put up new slides that showed all the highways in the region spotted with red to signify how congested they would be if residents didn’t approve an extension for TransNet.
Fast forward to this summer. Another regional body – the airport authority – is putting out a ballot measure for a new airport that the EDC says is vital.
Now, however, Meier Wright and EDC’s board of directors are non-committal about endorsing the ballot measure. The airport authority finalized ballot language weeks ago that asks voters if the agency should “work to obtain” part of Miramar Marine Corps Air Station for a new commercial airport.
Meier Wright told me today in an interview that it’s too early to endorse the airport ballot measure and that there was no guarantee that the EDC would ever endorse it.
The EDC, of course, was one of the founding organizations of the umbrella group ASAP 21, which was set up to advocate for whatever proposal the airport authority eventually produced.
So why won’t Meier Wright and her board endorse that ballot language now? I had heard that they were waffling, unsure of whether or not to support something that military leaders have opposed so vehemently.
I called her to see. Meier Wright said her agency was merely taking its time.
“Although the ballot language appears to be final, there are things that need to happen before it’s an actual ballot measure,” she said. In other words, she said there’s a possibility that what the airport authority thinks will be on the ballot won’t be. And the EDC won’t endorse anything until after it’s assured the language won’t change.
If the language did change now, of course, that would be huge news.
We’ve all been working off the assumption that when the airport authority finalized its ballot language, it, you know, finalized its ballot language. Maybe she’s implying that the authority will get sued or something or that the county will somehow deem the language unsuitable for the ballot.
Meier Wright said her agency would begin the process of deciding whether to endorse the ballot measure sometime in September. Obviously, again unlike TransNet, the EDC is not interested in weighing in on this ballot measure before the crucial summer of campaigning.
Let’s give her the floor:
“It’s a challenging issue, the military is a significant part of our economy and national security is paramount and, so you know, at the end of the day, if Miramar is the answer, or any other military site, it will be because the military and the surrounding community reach an accommodation,” Meier Wright said.
Look at what she said: “…any other military site…” Really? The airport authority picked a site and eliminated all others from further consideration. How should we take statements like this: that the ballot language might change, that other sites are potentially still options, etc.? This is the most vocal and prominent supporter of the airport authority’s mission and she isn’t even acknowledging that the airport authority has made a determination it says it has.
“The ballot language isn’t final until it’s filed. That deadline is in August. Our plan is to look at it at our first meeting after it’s filed,” she said.
EDC has a bit of a conundrum to face that I brought up months ago in this column.
The EDC led the campaign to protect San Diego County’s military bases during the most recent round of the Base Realignment and Closure process. It raised money by stoking the fear about the economic devastation that would befall the region if the military dismantled its installations in San Diego. Meier Wright worked tirelessly lobbying military and national political officials to convince them not just of the economic value to San Diego of the bases, but their specific importance to national security.
With most people now openly accepting the conclusion that the Marines would have to move their jet fighters away from Miramar to make the airport authority’s plan work, Meier Wright and the EDC are in a tough jam.
After all, it may look weird to one year beg the military to recognize how important its operations at Miramar are to national security and then the next year tell the Marines they should move some of those operations elsewhere.
Or, as always, there’s probably a lot more to it than that.
Meier Wright does know one thing for sure: San Diego needs a new airport.
“We do believe intensely that the region needs to address airport infrastructure and we’ll pay an economic price if we do not,” she said.