The Morning Report
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Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2006 | For months, airport officials had been asked what they would do after the election if their ballot measure was defeated.
Their answer had always been the same: We don’t know. We’re staying optimistic.
Last week, San Diego County voters soundly rejected the measure that would have attempted to move the region’s international airport to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. On Monday, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority gave a glimpse of life post-Miramar. And with major changes on the horizon, post-Miramar airport business appears a little uncertain.
The authority canceled a 9 a.m. committee meeting because it didn’t have enough members present. And when the board of directors met an hour later, a decision about the major item on its agenda – revising a $600 million long-term plan to enhance parking and terminal gates at Lindbergh Field – didn’t have enough support to be approved. (It will be taken up again in December, when more board members are expected to attend.)
But the meeting revealed the complexity of the bureaucratic limbo that the authority now sits in. Its governing board of directors is about to lose several members. And its bureaucratic life is on the line in the state Legislature.
Within a month, four of its nine board members will be gone. Joe Craver, William D. Lynch, Mary Teresa Sessom and Robert Maxwell reach the ends of their terms Dec. 4. A fifth member may also leave. Xema Jacobson, a Democrat originally appointed by Gov. Gray Davis, is lobbying Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to keep her position on the authority’s paid three-member executive committee.
The authority’s governing structure could soon change, too. State Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, is considering introducing legislation in December to overhaul the authority’s governance. If Kehoe’s legislation is introduced and approved on an emergency basis, changes to the authority would happen immediately upon approval.
In the midst of those potentially massive changes, the authority is mulling a $600 million makeover at Terminal 2, which would add 10 gates and additional parking to accommodate passenger growth projected through 2015.
The authority is in the midst of the proposal’s environmental review. On Monday, it was to consider spending $600,000 more on the review to expand the study of the project’s impacts. The authority has addressed the plan’s impacts through 2015. The San Diego Association of Governments, a regional planning agency, wants the authority to spell out the project’s impacts through 2030.
As the authority considers the plan, two board members who were Miramar opponents say the current Lindbergh master plan needs to be jettisoned and redrafted. Board member Mary Teresa Sessom has said the plan was developed with the expectation that voters would approve the Miramar plan. They didn’t, and as a result, Sessom said, the master plan is designed to “build Lindbergh into crisis.”
Monday’s board discussion about the master plan centered on this question: What did last week’s vote mean?
Was it a vote that guarantees the region’s international airport will stay at Lindbergh Field for decades to come?
That answer is uncertain. The authority maintains that Lindbergh won’t serve the region in the long-term future. But with the three-year site-selection process concluded, Sessom and others ask whether the authority will now begin looking at Lindbergh to accommodate growth not only in the next few years – as the master plan would do – but also in the coming decades.
“We got a clear advisory opinion of the will of the people that Lindbergh is going to be our site,” said Jacobson, who opposed the Miramar measure. “Under this master plan, we can’t be all that we can be. I don’t think we’re addressing the needs of the region.”
But board member Paul Peterson, the only member at the meeting who isn’t being replaced, said the existing plan needs to move forward. (Three others, Tony Young, Morris Vance and Paul Nieto, were absent.)
Subtly referencing rumors that former State Sen. Steve Peace, the creator of the authority, may be seeking an airport authority board seat, Peterson said: “To stop this process now, while we wait for unknown politicians – or ex-politicians – to come in would be a terrible mistake.”
Peace, who did not return a call for comment, said last week that voters sent a message: Make the most of Lindbergh. In an interview on KPBS’s Full Focus, he called the master plan flawed, saying it was “designed to send a message that Lindbergh won’t work.”
Lynch said the authority needs to make the most out of Lindbergh since it did not find another site during its three-year search.
“We need to get started,” he said. But, he cautioned: “We don’t want to build something that is going to get torn down.”