Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2007 | They’ve been in office barely two months, and airport authority members are already talking about what their legacies will be.

As it sits down Tuesday at a retreat to plot out its future, the authority’s new board faces a stark reality: Most members may not have a job by year’s end.

Legislation introduced by state Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, would require all board members to be elected officials. Just two of the nine sitting members are elected: San Diego City Councilman Tony Young and San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond.

If Kehoe’s legislation is approved, the other seven members — most are freshly appointed — would be forced out Jan. 1. Mayors and city council members from throughout the region would replace them.

“No matter what changes happen with the legislation, there are things that will continue, and we’ll have a legacy we’ll need to leave if there’s a change,” said authority board member Paul Nieto, who would be replaced. “We can’t stop and be paralyzed by the fact that someone thinks we need to change.”

The political legacy is a perk of office typically reserved for long-serving elected officials. They have parks, jails and libraries named after them. Their names show up on bronze plaques inside buildings whose construction they’ve championed. They’re able to point to substantive changes and know they’ve helped effect them.

But will airport authority members be able to leave a mark on Lindbergh Field’s future in 10 months? That’s the question that hovers as the authority sits down Tuesday to plot its goals.

“Legacy is a big word,” said Ramona Finnila, a new board member and former Carlsbad councilwoman. “Hopefully we can leave a legacy, hopefully we’ll have time to leave a legacy.”

After the failed Miramar ballot initiative, the authority’s focus is now on Lindbergh Field and what can be done to maximize its 661 acres. How that happens will be a topic Tuesday — and throughout the year. If this board leaves a legacy behind, it will be its plan for Lindbergh Field’s future.

“You really have to go on and continue to plan for Lindbergh Field, no matter what happens,” said former authority board member Xema Jacobson. “Because it’s going to be there. It’s something you just have to do.”

The question, though, is what. The authority’s $600 million future plan for Lindbergh Field has called for a new parking structure and an expansion of Terminal 2’s gates. Nieto, the only remaining board member who’s served since the authority’s inception, has put forward plans to build a consolidated rental car facility and transit center with bus or trolley connections on the airport’s northeast side.

Moving the car facility would move Hertz, Avis, National and potentially a fourth company and free up bay-front land owned by the Unified Port of San Diego across Harbor Drive from the airport. Doing that, Nieto said Monday, would cut Harbor Drive’s traffic by an estimated 30 percent.

With Kehoe’s legislation looming, the clock is ticking. The new authority board has been together two months since its mid-December swearing-in. Authority members had hoped to schedule their goal-setting retreat last month. Board member James Panknin said he hoped the authority would have one more retreat this month to finish outlining its goals.

Until the state Legislature says otherwise, Nieto said the authority will conduct business as usual.

“I believe that the senator is more concerned about the form,” Nieto said, “but hasn’t told us to change the substance of what we’re doing.”

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

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