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Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006 | Five years ago, then-state Sen. Steve Peace penned legislation that created the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. He was credited with being the father of the fledgling bureaucracy.

Once the authority started its site-selection process – and as it heated up this year – Peace purposely faded from the debate. Now that the authority’s ballot measure to put a new airport at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar has failed, Peace is again returning the media’s phone calls.

In a lengthy interview, Peace weighed in with criticisms of the airport authority’s performance during the last three-and-a-half years. He spoke about his interpretation of the vote. And he dispelled rumors that he is seeking a seat on the authority’s board, which stands to lose five members next month.

“There was nothing wrong with those who wanted to try to put an airport at Miramar. It just was never going to happen,” Peace said. “They had four years to convince San Diegans otherwise. It doesn’t matter whether I think it’s a good idea – or everybody in the chamber of commerce and the labor community. The public is simply not going to embrace the construction of a large new airport.”

While the airport authority called last week’s vote an advisory measure, Peace said the 62 percent to 37 percent vote is a lifestyle choice San Diegans made for their city. It is a chance, he said, to reexamine San Diego’s bayfront from Lindbergh Field to National City. There’s a “tremendous danger,” he said, that people will misinterpret the result as a vote against Miramar – instead of as a vote for Lindbergh.

Peace, who now serves as a senior adviser to JMI Realty, was critical of both the airport authority and the military for the way each handled the Miramar debate.

The authority and its board were politically naïve, Peace said. He said the authority “went dangerously into the region of advocacy” during the site-selection process. At the same time, he acknowledged that Miramar was the appropriate – but awkward – choice for the ballot.

Peace said he tried to make a case to the airport authority’s board members to protect the agency’s reputations as a neutral body. But they didn’t, Peace said, which damaged the authority board. He attributed that to decisions and direction provided by the airport authority’s staff.

“Had they not been so insistent on the commissioners themselves being out there in virtual advocacy positions,” Peace said, “I think the public could’ve looked at the airport board as a more credible reservoir of information.”

The Marines and Navy also went too far in the debate, Peace said, when they contended that leaving Miramar was impossible because it was essential to national defense. The military didn’t need to make the argument, Peace said.

The Soviet Union won’t rise again if Miramar’s fighter jet training moves elsewhere, he said. While calling the military’s election-season rhetoric “hyperbolic,” Peace said it likely didn’t swing the vote more than two or three percentage points.

Peace, a Democrat, said he supports the efforts of state Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, and Assemblyman George Plescia, R-La Jolla, who are in the process of drafting legislation that could overhaul the authority.

As that process moves forward, Peace called on the authority to abandon its $600 million master plan, which would add more airport parking and 10 new gates to Terminal 2. Peace said it is purposely designed “to make Lindbergh be the worst it can be.” Using an older plan developed by the Unified Port of San Diego would move the terminals to the east side of Lindbergh Field – closer to Interstate 5, Peace said. That would free up Harbor Drive and allow the construction of what he called a “multi-modal transportation center” at Lindbergh.

Arriving passengers could hop in water taxis to hotels, he theorized. The waterfront could be redeveloped to include a people-moving conveyance with a loop to Balboa Park, Old Town and downtown.

“Lindbergh can be a really cool place,” Peace said, “that serves the business community with some real positives. … Now is the time to get focused on that stuff.”

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

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