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Saturday, Nov. 18, 2006 | Just more than a week after voters squashed the airport authority’s Miramar ballot measure, the focus returned Friday to the organization’s governing structure, which has been criticized as being publicly unaccountable.

At a four-hour legislative hearing at CalTrans offices in Old Town, state Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, solicited a final round of suggestions of possible changes to the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

Kehoe intends to introduce legislation next month that could overhaul the authority. Though she isn’t yet divulging specifics, she offered a few hints about it. A draft bill would stagger authority members’ terms and proposes a “different number of board members,” Kehoe said.

Kehoe said she remains undecided about what to do with the authority’s land-use responsibilities. She has considered turning that task over to the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, a regional planning agency. The authority is in the midst of adopting land-use plans specifying acceptable types of development and densities around the county’s airports.

Kehoe said she does not intend to propose having a publicly elected authority board. The senator is also considering creating an independent taxpayer oversight committee to review the authority’s financial decisions.

The senator said she would consider introducing the legislation on an emergency basis, which would allow the law to take effect immediately. But she said that decision would depend on the level of the bill’s political support.

Whatever Kehoe’s final decision is, a few things are clear: The authority would not be tasked with another site-selection program. Nor would it be required by law to make the most of Lindbergh Field. Kehoe said it is not her role to tell the authority what to do on either issue.

“That’s their job,” she said. “But they need to be doing it better.”

The legislation, if passed, would mark a new era for the young authority. Since its creation, the authority has had clear long-term planning goals spelled out by the Legislature. When the agency was created, it was required to come up with a ballot question by Nov. 2006, to answer projections that Lindbergh Field would soon reach capacity.

Now that the $17 million site-selection process has concluded with an unsuccessful ballot measure, the future of the airport will belong to the authority.

Airport authority officials conceded Friday that some changes would benefit the almost four-year-old bureaucracy, which began operating in January 2003 after its establishing legislation was passed in 2001.

Outgoing authority Chairman Joe Craver said he was uncomfortable with the gap in pay between the authority’s three executive board members, who each earn $150,000 annually, and its six other board members, who earn $100 stipends for each meeting they attend. That “should be changed,” Craver said.

Board member Paul Peterson also said the pay gap was unfair. He suggested paying executive committee members $50,000 annually, and having their fellow board members elect them. The six other members should receive a minimum of $1,000 monthly, Peterson said.

The authority board’s appointment process was criticized by Marianne O’Malley, a policy analyst in the non-partisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office. She said representation on the authority was “the most complex I’ve ever reviewed.”

Three board members are appointed by San Diego’s mayor. The governor, the county sheriff, and regional groups of mayors make other appointments. Some seats have term limits, others don’t. Terms are for two, four or six years, but are not thoroughly staggered. Five of the nine authority members step down next month.

The governor does not appoint officials to other regional boards in the state, O’Malley said. Across the country, sheriffs do not typically appoint officials to airport boards. That, she said, was “somewhat odd.”

More than 75 people attended Friday’s hearing, which featured fewer state legislators than at the pre-election hearing. Assemblyman George Plescia, R-La Jolla, who is leading the effort along with Kehoe, did not attend.

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