Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007 | San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond and San Diego City Councilman Tony Young could be lonely members on the airport authority come Jan. 1, 2008.
If legislation introduced Tuesday by state Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, is approved and signed into law, Desmond and Young would be the only sitting authority board members still eligible to serve.
Kehoe’s legislation proposes to eliminate the $150,000 salaries paid to the authority’s three executive committee members: Chairman Alan Bersin, Bob Watkins and Xema Jacobson. Watkins’ and Jacobson’s positions would be eliminated. The two are appointed by the sheriff and governor, respectively.
The bill would require board members to be elected officials. While trimming its size to seven members, the proposal would allow the board the option of appointing an eighth member to serve as chairman. That position would be paid an additional $500 monthly stipend.
The bill is being introduced as an amendment to legislation Kehoe submitted in December. Her first bill — designed to be a placeholder — called for the San Diego Association of Governments, a regional planning agency, to take over the authority’s land-use planning in areas around airports.
Kehoe’s modified bill goes farther. It also calls for an independent taxpayer oversight committee, to provide public accountability. “They’re the public’s eyes and ears on project implementation and financial matters,” said Deanna Spehn, a Kehoe spokeswoman. The bill would also allow the military, Mexican government and other local transit agencies to have a non-voting, ex-officio representative on the authority.
The legislation, if approved, would eliminate many of the airport authority’s oddities. Sheriffs around the state have little to do with air operations or airport security and do not appoint officials to similar bodies across California. Nor does the governor typically make appointments to local governmental bodies.
The authority’s three-member executive committee is also unusual. Its three members are paid full-time salaries, though they do not always work full-time at the authority. William D. Lynch, a former authority member, passed up his salary and didn’t work full time. Watkins, one of the current authority members, is still maintaining his role as chairman of R.J. Watkins & Co., an executive search company.
The current executive committee members, while paid, have no legislative powers different than other board members, who receive a stipend for attending meetings.
The bill, Senate Bill 10, emerges in a different political landscape than the one in which it was first discussed. When the senator announced her intentions to examine the authority’s function, the airport authority was a political consultant’s nightmare. The authority was on its way to a resounding wallop from voters, who rejected a ballot proposal to move the region’s international airport to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
In the months since, the authority’s board has seen massive turnover — five of the seven members who supported the Miramar idea have either resigned or termed out. The authority has steered clear of controversy since then, in part because its board has only met twice.
Kehoe was criticized when the legislation was introduced for trying to inject herself into the Miramar debate. But the debate is over, and the authority has shifted its focus — at least for now — to Lindbergh Field. Kehoe’s spokeswoman said it was never the senator’s intention to affect the Miramar debate or any other issues the authority has undertaken, including a master plan to expand parking and terminal space at Lindbergh Field.
“The intent is not to stop the master planning process,” Spehn said. “And it’s not to stop the current process of approving the airport land-use compatibility plan. The senator has every intention of those two processes moving forward by the airport authority to completion.”
Watkins said he had not yet read Kehoe’s legislation and declined further comment. Jacobson said she’d received the legislation in the late afternoon and declined further comment.
Jim Panknin, a new board member representing four East County cities, questioned how many elected officials would have time to sit on the authority board.
“I’m not sure that what they have right now is broke,” said Panknin, who would be ineligible to serve effective Jan. 1, 2008 if the legislation passes. “I’d be disappointed, I think I add value to this board as a pilot.”