Monday, March 5, 2007 | Most of you probably are already aware of Café San Diego. We’re pretty proud of how it’s grown in popularity and some of the discussions that we’ve been able to host on it.

Each weekday — or close to it — a different person hosts the Caf&eactute;. It’s really their opportunity to be a blogger for the day. To talk about one issue or maybe 10. It’s a way for them to receive and respond to instant feedback. It’s been a lot of fun.

A week from this Friday, state Sen. Christine Kehoe will host the Café and field comments from readers about her idea to completely revamp the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

I have been a bit surprised that the debate about the future of the San Diego region’s air transportation needs didn’t completely die out after the failed bid last year to persuade voters to put a new commercial airport at Miramar.

Now, Kehoe wants to eliminate the board of directors for the airport authority as we know it. At the same time, former Assemblyman Steve Peace presented a radical change in the way all local agencies look at the San Diego waterfront. And real plans are beginning to form that might eventually lead to a binational air terminal at the U.S.-Mexico border. You could drive to the border and check in. Cross the border while inside the terminal and get onto a plane bound for Mexico or Central or South America — or any other worldwide destination — from Tijuana’s airport

The discussion about this regions air transportation needs, in other words, has hardly subsided.

Now, back to the Café.

We’ve recently had two hosts of the forum who talked about the area’s airport issues. Art Castanares, a political consultant who helped create the regional airport authority that exists today hosted the Café not long ago. So did Richard Kiy, the president and CEO of the International Community Foundation.

But both had more to say than we were able to fit in the one day they hosted each. I wanted to get their extra posts (their desserts) up on the site and use the experience as a chance to describe how these types of discussions are blossoming in the Café.

Kiy had advocated that, even as we plan to build a binational air terminal with Tijuana, we should do more to link up Tijuana’s airport and San Diego’s as they are right now.

He even suggested a way to do it — perhaps set up a busing system from Lindbergh Field and Tijuana’s Rodriguez airports. That might make it possible for someone to use San Diego-Tijuana as a hub to fly somewhere else.

He got this response from a reader who called his or herself: “What’s the Goal?”

“Mr. Kiy, your objective seems to be enhancing service for Tijuana when the real problem is San Diego’s air service capacity. Furthermore you, like [former state Assemblyman Steve] Peace, fail to understand that there simply is not enough room on [Pacific Highway] to support enough gates with an adequite mix of aircraft parking positions in terms of size (aircraft wingspans from 120 to 200 feet – about 10,000 linear feet of net terminal space) to max out Lindbergh. It’s nice to toss out ideas and pretend it will answer San Diego’s aviation ills, but you should really ground such ideas in reality.

Mexico’s recently deregulated air carriers would benefit substantially from higher yield paying U.S. passengers they could attract to TIJ for flights within Mexico and to International Destinations outside of Mexico with a cross border terminal. U.S. carriers aren’t going to use this airport, Mexico’s carriers will, and guess who pays for it? That’s not a slap at Mexico — it’s a fact. Now we know who foots the bill and who reaps the financial benefits from it. Anyone else smell the stench?”

Kiy wanted a chance to respond. And I’m posting that here:

“I am sensitive to Mr. Goal’s concern, however, he must recognize that San Diego has very limited options for airport expansion and in the absence of Miramar as a possibility to replace Lindbergh our region’s civic leaders and elected officials need to start thinking outside of the box even if that means looking across our border into Mexico. See my related voiceofsandiego.org op-ed on 6/15/06 entitled “Lessons from Brownsville.” 

Contrary to what Mr. Goal thinks, promoting a binational terminal with improved connections to Rodriguez Field is a win-win proposition from both San Diego and Tijuana.  It’s merely compliment to Lindbergh not a replacement.  Improving the ability for arriving passengers from Lindbergh Field to access flights in Mexico will only make our region that much more attractive to those considering continuing southbound travel from San Diego.   So, it’s not a zero sum game, especially in a binational region like San Diego-Tijuana with 4.3 million residents and the busiest border crossing in the world.

While Mr. Goal remains skeptical about whether a U.S. carrier would ever decide to originate flights out of Rodriguez Field, I don’t think that this option is that far fetched, especially when one considers that there are now more than 1 million Americans residing in Mexico and more to come especially with the growing number of  U.S. baby boomers that are now in the process of buying retirement or 2nd homes in Baja California and coastal communities on the mainland of Mexico. Who knows, in time, there might be a day when a carrier like Southwest Airlines or JetBlue decides to co-share with Mexican budget carrier, Volaris. Imagine a Southwest/Volaris Binational Airport Shuttle? Can you give me a bag of those chile-coated peanuts?

— RICHARD KIY

Castanares also wanted to get a point in response to the readers who wrote about his perspectives on the airport debate.

It is clear from these responses that the issue of our airport is still a hot topic. Clif’s story that his now 60-year-old dad studied the airport when his dad was in high school punctuates the conversation we had all day; this debate has lasted long enough!

Sen. Kehoe is currently considering legislation that would revamp the airport authority. The port district, SANDAG, the city of San Diego, and the county all have some piece of the responsibility for airports or planning. These entities and their decision-makers, along with Senator Kehoe and San Diego’s other state legislators should now design a process to move forward with Lindbergh’s next generation of improvements to make it work for the foreseeable future as part of our transportation system.

The election decision in the defeat of Proposition A (to move the airport to Miramar) should have been a final decision. The Airport Authority’s goal was to study possible sites, put the question on the ballot, and move forward. The public overwhelmingly voted to keep Lindbergh and, whether we individually agree with the decision or not, that was the process.

If that decision is now spun as just another temporary impasse, this will simply never end. Let’s call it a day. Let’s agree to disagree. But let’s move forward into the future with a commitment to make transportation in our region, by land or by air or by water, more workable and efficient for all of us. This community deserves it.

— ART CASTANARES

Soon, we’ll get to hear from Kehoe and others on the subject. The Café is open and taking your feedback.

Please contact Scott Lewis directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor. Also, please consider becoming a financial supporter and member of voiceofsandiego.org.

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