Thursday, July 20, 2006 | Two months ago, joint use was alive and kicking.

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority had studied the intricacies of the shared commercial and military use of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Its costs and impacts were spelled out in a 2,900-page report.

The authority’s technical consultants had declared joint use at Miramar technically feasible – albeit unprecedented. The consultants delivered the report May 16. An authority committee chose Miramar six days later. By June 5, Miramar was officially headed for the November ballot.

It appeared that the joint use report and the Miramar decision were interrelated.

But – surprise! – they’re not.

A funny thing happened in the weeks after the early June selection, which capped off a three-year search to address projections that San Diego will max out its air capacity at Lindbergh Field sometime after 2015.

The idea of joint use disappeared. Where did it go?

Was it in the ballot language the authority chose? No, only indirect reference was made to it. The authority, the ballot language says, wants 3,000 of 23,000 acres at the Marine training base.

Was it in the comments authority board members made after their June 5 decision? Nope, not there, either. Board Chairman Joe Craver quickly panned the idea after the ballot language was drafted.

And so what was once a solid concept complete with maps, sound contours, a price tag – and unwavering resistance from the military – simply evaporated.

The airport authority was no longer after joint use in the November election. Instead, its officials admitted publicly that joint use didn’t work. Its members said all they wanted was a dialogue with the military. And that’s what they say the ballot language gives them.

What they don’t want anymore is to share Miramar’s airspace with fighter jets. That would douse 10,765 homes in Tierrasanta, Kearny Mesa and Clairemont Mesa with excessive levels of noise. That exceeds a criterion that was used to eliminate other sites from consideration.

“We just decided not to use the phrase ‘joint use’ because we were hearing all this static about it,” said authority board member William D. Lynch. “But we didn’t want to put language in that says we want them to close the base, because we don’t want that to happen. This is the middle ground.”

And that middle ground is simply a voter-approved dialogue, he said.

But the jettisoning of the phrase “joint use” could haunt the authority politically. It has caused confusion among the public and even some politically astute observers, who are unaware that the “joint” in “joint use” has been stubbed out.

“I think it’s fair to say there’s a good amount of confusion in the marketplace right now,” said John Chalker, president of ASAP21, a pro-new airport group. “I think it probably benefits the opponents more, because I don’t think the authority has made it clear what their objectives are.”

This much is clear: The phrase “joint use” was applied to one very specific concept for using Miramar. The authority’s consultants detailed it in depth. The authority based its decision on Miramar around that. And then the authority subsequently pointed out that other types of shared use might work better – that joint use didn’t just mean a four-runway airport with fighter jets screaming over 10,765 homes’ backyards.

“The basic problem with what came out in the decision document that was used on the June 5 meeting is that only one joint-use concept was detailed in that document,” Chalker said. “And it happened to be a lousy joint-use concept.”

The authority now hopes the military’s jets will eventually leave – though helicopter operations could stay without affecting a large number of people. The ballot language has accommodated that, saying the authority will help the military move its operations, without cost to the Marines.

Mary Teresa Sessom, one of two authority board members to oppose the Miramar choice, describes the joint-use evolution as an attempt to reduce political resistance to the ballot initiative. She calls it a shell game.

“You just shape the facts to fit where you want to go,” Sessom said.

“It’s just a matter of semantics. You put the word beneath a shell, push it around a little bit, and no one knows what happened to it.”

Please contact Rob Davis directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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