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Friday, Sept. 8, 2006 | The state Legislature intends to revisit the future of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, the second time this year that local politicians have tried to restructure the group.
State Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, said she wants a more accountable, transparent airport operator with fewer layers.
Airport authority board members are currently appointed to terms of varying length. Three executive board members are paid, while six others serve for free. (One executive board member, William D. Lynch, does not accept the $149,160 annual salary.)
The authority is a young government agency. The legislature created it in Jan. 2003, moving the airport’s management out from the auspices of the Unified Port District of San Diego and setting the table for the effort to locate a new international airport.
“Operations of Lindbergh Field are good,” Kehoe said. “But they were good before. That poses a question: Do we really need an airport authority to do what was done before under the port?”
In a letter sent to authority chairman Joe W. Craver, Kehoe said the authority has completed a chief task it was created to undertake: The airport site-selection process, which culminated in June with the choice of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar as the best site to accommodate future air travel needs. (Voters head to the polls Nov. 7 to weigh in on the Miramar initiative.)
“While we may not agree that the ballot measure that the Airport Authority has placed before the voters meets the full intent of the legislation,” the letter states, “we will accept that the Authority has, in fact, completed its charge.”
Kehoe and many other legislators who signed the letter are Miramar opponents. In an interview, Kehoe said the airport review is not related to her objections to Miramar.
“They were required to put the question before the voters in this election,” she said. “They can’t be faulted for that. My questions are more about what do we do after the election.”
The letter comes at a precarious time for the authority, when its operations have come under increased scrutiny and it has struggled to find political allies for a ballot measure facing strong pushback from the military and some businesses.
Airport authority board member William D. Lynch said some things about the authority could be streamlined, but warned against a system that would require authority members to run for office. He said he did not believe the review was an attempt to influence the November vote.
Assemblyman Jay La Suer, R-La Mesa, introduced a measure in the spring that would have replaced the appointed nine-member board with an elected five-member board. That effort fizzled.
“Is there some better solution?” Lynch asked. “It is not going to be to have elected officials. That is not in your interest as a citizen.”
Kehoe said she wanted input from local residents, though she suggested that the San Diego Association of Governments might be one option for governing the airport.
Lynch countered that SANDAG would be an unwieldy airport operator.
“Do you know how big that thing is?” he asked. “And they’re all politicians trying to come up with whose problems should be dealt with first.”
The Legislature will consider how other California airports are structured: How they undertake land-use planning, how they compensate board members, how the actual airport is managed. Kehoe requested that analysis, which is due within the next week.
Kehoe and Assemblyman George Plescia, R-Mira Mesa, are expected to lead hearings next month to review governance options and accept public comment. Recommendations on the airport authority’s future would be introduced in the legislature in Jan. 2007.
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