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Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2006 | The airport authority narrowly affirmed its public outreach strategy on the Miramar ballot initiative Monday, although board members questioned whether their review was too late to be effective.
The examination, spurred by concerns that public funds are being used to advocate for the Miramar initiative, did prompt some immediate action. Chairman Joe W. Craver pulled out of at least three speaking engagements Monday afternoon, including one Tuesday night in University City.
San Diego County Regional Airport Authority spokeswoman Diana Lucero said the speaking engagements were canceled because the authority wanted to avoid the impression that it is advocating for the Miramar initiative, which calls for moving the region’s international airport to the Marine Corps base. The authority will continue to accept requests for speakers, Lucero said, but only if the authority alone is on the agenda so that appearances don’t become debates.
A couple of Craver’s other speaking engagements were canceled after the meeting, Lucero said. She would not specify where or when they were scheduled. Craver said Friday that he had 25 such engagements scheduled before Election Day, Nov. 7.
At the morning meeting, authority attorney Lance Olson said Craver and board member Xema Jacobson should attend such engagements on their own time. Doing otherwise would be an expenditure of taxpayer funds, which is prohibited by state law, Olson said.
Board members had raised questions about whether Craver – a paid airport authority employee – was advocating for the airport’s ballot recommendation by attending such events while he was on the clock. Jacobson said she was concerned about a speech that had been prepared for her authority staff to deliver to the San Diego County Taxpayers Association’s board, which ultimately voted to oppose the Miramar proposal.
Jacobson said her speech, which she refused to deliver, included a line that said the association’s reasons for opposing the ballot measure were premature.
Jacobson asked Olson, the attorney, if that was advocating for Miramar.
The line, he replied, needs to be taken in context of the larger speech. But he admitted that it could be interpreted as advocating a particular position.
The questions came during another review of the authority’s controversial $3.8 million outreach campaign, which has delivered a consistent message: Lindbergh Field will become constrained between 2015 and 2022, dragging down the local economy.
Critics have questioned the outreach effort, saying it has overstepped its legal boundaries. By law, the authority is allowed to educate the public about its decision, but cannot use public funds to advocate for the ballot measure. It has been criticized for excluding viewpoints contrary to the authority’s – that Lindbergh Field won’t work in the long term.
The outreach program has included terminal-wide videos warning of Lindbergh Field’s capacity crunch, as well as ghostwriting articles for opinion leaders to submit to newspapers.
Violating the state law can be a criminal act. It can also subject a violator to civil sanctions or penalties from the Fair Political Practices Commission.
The authority’s board made a few other minor changes to its outreach materials, tweaking some language of one direct-mail brochure. Board members voted 7-2 to tone down several words – such as turning “will” into “may” or “could” – in the brochure, which will be sent to 800,000 residents at a cost of between $181,000 and $189,000. The board left its remaining materials alone.
Lani Lutar, president and CEO of the taxpayers association, a Miramar airport opponent, urged the board to be fair to both sides of the airport debate. Don’t waste money, she said, on doom and gloom fear tactics.
“It shouldn’t be about what you can legally get away with,” she said.
Some Miramar opponents say that the authority hasn’t fully explored ways to maximize Lindbergh Field.
The review had been months in the making. The authority agreed in May to review their pre-election materials as soon as they’d decided on their ballot language. They got the language June 5. The review happened Monday, with 57 days to the election. Board members Mary Teresa Sessom and William D. Lynch – who rarely agree on much – concurred that their review was too late to accomplish much.
“It’s important for us to recognize that we unknowingly allowed staff to run this educational campaign,” Sessom said. “… We’re not going to effect much change today. It’s pretty much put together and pretty much done.”