san diego airport
A plane touches down at San Diego International Airport. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

As the Port commissioner representing Chula Vista, I was dismayed to learn the Airport Authority joined a lawsuit that threatens funding for a waterfront development unlike any other in San Diego County.

The Airport Authority knows how important the Chula Vista Bayfront project is to the South Bay, to our region’s tourism economy and to the 270,000 residents of Chula Vista, the second largest city in the county. It’s a game-changing development that will create 20,000 permanent jobs and $2 billion in annual economic impact, and it ends a practice of overlooking South Bay communities.

Voice of San Diego Commentary

For too long, the South Bay has been passed over in favor of developments in San Diego and North County.

Instead of trying to work with the Port to support this 535-acre waterfront development, the airport overlooked Chula Vista. It joined a lawsuit with two rental car companies challenging a small fee to pay for a 1,600-space public parking garage, integral to the success of a new convention center and related 1,600 hotel rooms that will anchor the Chula Vista Bayfront.

I wonder if the Airport Authority would have acted differently if this project was slated for San Diego or North County?

The Airport Authority did not have a problem with this fee when it was used to pay for the public parking garage that services the San Diego Convention Center, as well as Petco Park, the Gaslamp Quarter and the Hilton.

It’s a modest fee applied to rental car users — $3.50 per rental, or about 1.5 percent of the average three-day car rental. Again, this is the same amount, $3.50, collected from 1999 to 2006 to pay for the $29 million public parking garage adjacent to the San Diego Convention Center.

The fee is a fraction of what the airport charges rental car users — $9 a day (with a $45 cap) to pay for its new rental car facility.

The airport’s decision to join a lawsuit against the Port is particularly troubling because it did not give the Port any meaningful notice, nor did it attempt to work out its differences with the Port. The day the Airport Authority joined the lawsuit, July 24, is the very same day its CEO called the Port’s CEO to break the news. This is the same agency that claims it is a good regional neighbor that works collaboratively to make every corner of San Diego County a better place.

What works for San Diego should work for Chula Vista. This is an equity issue. And its standing in the way of the Chula Vista Bayfront is also bad for business.

The new convention center will serve as a magnet for conventions. Most of the attendees will fly here and many of them will rent a car. In fact, a new study says the Chula Vista Bayfront project is expected to increase demand for rental cars by 20,000 to 44,000 annually.

The project will transform a largely vacant and underutilized industrial landscape into a thriving recreational, residential and resort destination on the Chula Vista waterfront. When complete, the public will enjoy more than 200 acres of parks and open space, a shoreline promenade, walking trails, RV camping, shopping, dining and more.

The Airport Authority should immediately reverse course and drop its lawsuit. It interferes with 20 years of hard work by the Port, the city of Chula Vista, the business community, labor and leading environmental groups.

It’s also never a good idea to sue your neighbor without first trying to work things out.

Ann Moore is a San Diego Port commissioner, former city attorney of Chula Vista and practicing land-use attorney.

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