Friday, Nov. 17, 2006 | Many of our bedraggled civic needs could be served if we did what many lesser cities have managed to do: Get together more often to discuss civic affairs, listen carefully to each other, judge merits and the route to success and compromise.

But we San Diego voters can be a selfish and distracted crowd with narrow views focusing on our own partisan interests, not how those interests might become part of the larger civic interest. Islands of civic interest have built their own gimme-gimme lobbies at City Hall, effectively postponing regional negotiations on issues that can be solved at no other level.

Here are my personal views on a few of these issues:

  • Mayor Sanders, a good and honest mayor who would like to be as familiar and effective a figure to San Diegans as Fiorello LaGuardia once was to New Yorkers, has not yet managed to project an image or any substantial message. One suggestion: He is a smart cop, and with some injections of humor and lightness into his TV appearances and his talks, he could begin to win attention and become more effective. Maybe there’s a way to look at this: We tend to like cops more than mayors. Jerry shouldn’t try to change his image.
  • There is a better way out of the pension fund mess for the city of San Diego than the current route, which is mostly hunkering down and waiting for the ax to fall. One comparative projection of the exit costs in damages against the city of San Diego suggests that the city could save a substantial amount, at least as much as one-third, by swallowing the bitter pill now and declaring bankruptcy.
  • The most venerable issue, of course, is a larger airport. The first deadline for action on a second airport expired 52 years ago. We didn’t get one and so we assumed we hadn’t needed one. But the numbers show that we do. The question has been a daily staple on the San Diego issue list. The current airport authority has been a bust. It gets a B for planning, but an F in persuasion and execution, which is no surprise and does not reflect unusual blame on the earnest members of the airport authority.

This performance follows a generational pattern of failure by San Diegans in airport expansion planning. Failure has become a civic lore. We might miss it if we ever get a new airport.

We are fortunate to have Lindbergh Field. It will continue to serve San Diego for another generation or longer. Eventually, a larger regional airport will become an urgent necessity, both for passengers and freight. The longer we delay building that regional airport, the more expensive and the more remote its location will become. Any reasonable proposal for another airport should be approved.

(Brown Field, of course, would have been ideal. A real estate developer lobbied Mayor Dick Murphy and the council out of the site. We taxpayers would have saved a bunch of money and time, I suppose, if we had got together our own money pool and done our own lobbying. The Brown Field blunder joins a long list of great or seemingly inevitable ideas that San Diegans have rejected.)

  • Contrasted with many U.S. cities, remarkably few San Diegans follow civic affairs, and even fewer volunteer for civic service. This may in part be because, more than in most cities, we have come here for sunshine and the easy life. We regard San Diego as a resort. Polling supports this interpretation.
  • We badly need to fix the preceding paragraph. Only you and I can fix it.

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