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Monday, Sept.11, 2006 | In the Rob Davis article, “Airport Authority PR Push Continues Without Review,” Davis sets out an unsupported and erroneous assertion that we would like to correct.
Davis describes a “controversial behind-the-scenes planning effort – one that has sought to convince San Diegans that Lindbergh Field will soon hit capacity and drag down the local economy.”
The airport authority is prohibited by law from advocating, or seeking to “convince San Diegans” regarding the authority’s November ballot measure asking county voters’ opinion on whether to site a commercial airport at MCAS Miramar. Advocating for relocating the airport to Miramar or attempting to persuade voters to favor the proposition has never been the purpose of the authority’s community outreach program. Rather, its purpose is to educate and inform the public of the relevant information and the facts the board carefully weighed prior to formulating its ballot proposition.
To ensure that the authority and its consultant stay within the realm of education, in Oct. 2005, the authority retained the legal services of Lance Olson of Olson, Hagel & Fishburn, LLP. Olson is one of the foremost authorities on election campaign law in California. He has provided an extensive training to both authority staff and consultants specifically on the do’s and don’ts of community outreach by a public agency when sponsoring an election ballot measure. This also runs counter to Lani Lutar’s statement in Davis’ article that the authority has “…not provided clear guidance to their consultant on what’s appropriate, when they clearly stated they would do so.”
At its May 1 meeting, which Davis attended, the authority board voted 7-2 to accept the education plan for public outreach and education related to airport site selection through Nov. 2006. The board also directed staff to schedule a workshop after adoption of the ballot language to study how and what the authority’s message would be going forward. That meeting is scheduled for Sept. 11.
As part of outreach activities, the authority had planned to hold an event to educate the public on the airport selection process. In his article, Davis states that the decision to cancel this event “was made by the authority’s staff, not its board of directors…” The decision to cancel the event was, in fact, made by staff after carefully considering its advantages, disadvantages and Olson’s legal opinion about holding the event – an example of how we ensure we did not venture into the realm of “advocacy.”
The authority will continue to work closely with legal counsel to ensure that all public outreach efforts related to airport site selection conform with the law We are confident that our actions to date reflect our commitment to the spirit and intent of laws prohibiting advocacy actions in putting this important public policy issue before the voters.
The writer is President/CEO the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority