Thursday, April 24, 2008
Airport panel convenes, member walks out
SANDAG rep protests mayoral appointment
By Steve Schmidt
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune
SAN DIEGO – A new panel charged with guiding the expansion of Lindbergh Field got off to a rocky start yesterday when a leading member walked out of an inaugural meeting in protest. Steve Peace cited “long track record” on Lindbergh Field issues.
Mary Sessom, chairwoman of the San Diego Association of Governments, left after complaining about the appointment of former state Sen. Steve Peace to the group.
Sessom said the appointment threatens to taint the work of the new Ad Hoc Airport Regional Policy Committee because Peace is lobbying officials to build a massive terminal and transportation hub on Lindbergh Field’s north side, bordering Interstate 5.
Peace is pitching the idea as chairman of the California Independent Voter Project, a nonprofit think tank funded by downtown developer and Padres owner John Moores.
“This process needs to be open and transparent,” Sessom said. “I think this appointment makes that much more difficult.”
Peace was picked by Mayor Jerry Sanders to fill one of two city positions on the 13-member committee. The mayor heads the new panel.
Sanders defended the appointment, noting Peace’s extensive experience as a state policymaker, along with his passion for airport issues and regional planning.
“I didn’t tell (Sessom) who to appoint from SANDAG, and I don’t think it’s her role to tell me who to appoint to represent the city of San Diego,” Sanders said.
Lani Lutar, president of the San Diego Taxpayers Association, said the choice creates a “perception problem” for the committee, but added that it is unclear whether it will bias the planning effort.
“Without a doubt, Steve Peace would have been engaged in the process either way,” Lutar said.
The panel hopes to develop by early next year a consensus on Lindbergh Field’s future now that it appears it will remain the region’s main commercial airfield.
The committee includes representatives from the county, transit agencies, the Port of San Diego and U.S. Department of Defense.
The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority is serving as the panel’s lead agency. Bracing for a steady increase in air traffic, the authority is weighing short-term proposals this year to add more parking and 10 airline gates.
Sessom said she was withdrawing from the panel so she could confer with SANDAG colleagues about the Peace appointment. As the region’s long-range planning agency, SANDAG’s involvement on the ad hoc panel is considered essential.
Peace said he didn’t angle for the appointment. He said Sanders raised the idea after they spent a lot of time discussing the fate of the single-runway airport.
Peace dismissed any suggestion that he is only on the panel to sell his ambitious ideas for Lindbergh Field, or that he is there to advance Moores’ business interests.
“I have a long track record on (Lindbergh issues),” he said. “I happen to think this is a spectacular site for a modern, 21st-century airport.”
Committee members will not cast formal votes. They aim to reach consensus that would be forwarded to the affected agencies.
Alan Bersin, chairman of the airport authority, saw yesterday’s meeting as a major step forward for planners and the public.
Bersin noted that previous efforts to improve the airport have been plagued by a lack of regional cooperation and poor communication among agencies.