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Thursday, April 24, 2008 | It is hailed as the be-all, end-all. The final study. The last look. A multi-million dollar examination aiming to answer a generations-old question: What to do with Lindbergh Field?

If those claims sound familiar, it’s because the same superlatives were given to the Airport Site Selection Process, a $17-million effort to find a site for a new international airport in the San Diego region. That three-year-long exercise culminated in a failed ballot initiative to move the region’s air hub to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

But the question of Lindbergh Field’s future has resurfaced, and the city of San Diego, airport authority and San Diego Association of Governments have convened a group of regional leaders who aim to find an answer to the 661-acre airport’s space constraints, once and for all. They swear.

That group of regional officials met for the first time Wednesday but made little progress. Lemon Grove Mayor Mary Teresa Sessom, the Sandag chairwoman, walked out of the meeting, citing concerns that San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders appointed former state senator Steve Peace to the group. Peace, who works for Padres owner John Moores, a downtown developer, is the only sitting member who does not hold government office.

Sessom said afterward that she believed the agencies had agreed to appoint policymakers — not members of the public.

“It has nothing to do with Mr. Peace,” she said. “If the mayor’s making it about Mr. Peace, I’m sorry. But it’s not about Mr. Peace. The same concerns would exist with someone appointed outside of the parameters I thought we agreed upon. It’s not personal.”

Sanders said he is “very comfortable” with Peace’s presence on the board. “He brings great policy-making experience,” Sanders said. “He has told us repeatedly there is nothing here that affects any property that JMI (Moores’ company) owns.”

Peace said he would file a conflict-of-interest disclosure form even though he did not believe such a step was required. He has been involved in airport-related planning since his time in the Legislature, when he sponsored the legislation establishing the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. Since the Miramar initiative failed, he and county Supervisor Ron Roberts have pushed for the airport authority to take a more expansive examination of Lindbergh’s future than it has to date. He said he would not participate in the current process if he had any private interest.

“I care about this because I live here,” Peace said. “I’ve got a track record on this. Long before I ever worked for John Moores, I was advocating the same stuff.”

Sessom said she will confer with Sandag executive committee members at a May 9 meeting to seek their input about Peace’s participation and whether they want to alter their appointments as a result.

If the process gets back on track, its participants say they believe they can develop a plan that outlines a way to make the most of Lindbergh’s 661 acres. At its heart, the process aims to find ways to link the downtown airport to nearby Interstate 5 and rail lines. It has been dubbed “Destination Lindbergh: The Ultimate Build Out.”

It offers an opportunity for the airport authority to address one of the fundamental criticisms of the Miramar ballot initiative. While that effort undertook an unprecedented examination of the region looking for Lindbergh alternatives, it never examined Lindbergh in any substantive way.

As the latest effort unfolds, it will touch on sensitive subjects: What role the military’s nearby land may play and whether Lindbergh can accommodate a second, shorter runway. Parts of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, adjacent to Lindbergh Field, have been eyed for an airport taxiway expansion.

The airport authority has budgeted $4.5 million for the process, which aims to be finished by February 2009. At its conclusion, the committee expects to reach consensus on a plan the airport authority could pursue — and finance.

While she waits to see how the committee’s makeup will change, Sessom said she is hopeful the process can offer some finality.

“If we handle it properly, this will be the last planning effort for Lindbergh Field,” she said. “And it can probably be reasonably implemented. Is it the final solution to our air capacity problems in San Diego County? No, but it’s a big piece of it.”

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

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