San Diego's New Airport Site Search

Tuesday, November 2, 2004
Board asks for further review on airport site
The North County (CA) Times

SAN DIEGO—- A board studying locations for a new regional airport expressed serious reservations Monday about the prospects of an airport in the Cleveland National Forest, but stopped short of giving the site a thumbs up or thumbs down. The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority voted 5-4 to have the site studied by its public working group, a committee of 32 people charged with evaluating potential airport sites.

Lindbergh Field is expected to become overcrowded by 2012, and the airport authority is required by state law to submit an airport site recommendation for a countywide vote by 2006. Nine sites are in the running for a new airport, including Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

The site in the national forest, known as the Corte Madera Valley site, is about 45 miles east of San Diego and five miles south of Interstate 8. At Monday’s meeting, East County residents described the site, with its high altitude, sometimes inclement weather and blustery winds, as a bad fit for a regional airport. Environmentalists and a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service said the site would imperil endangered species and hamper recreational outlets in the valley.

“I will be looking forward to the day we can officially vote this off the list,” said Oceanside Mayor Terry Johnson, who sits on the board. Other board members also said each site must undergo the same review process.

So far there are nine sites on the list. It’s not clear how long it will take the committee to evaluate whether Corte Madera, the Cleveland National Forest site, should be No. 10, said Diana Lucero, spokeswoman for the San Diego Airport Authority.

In the meantime, the board will “retreat” to Borrego Springs next weekend to refine the criteria for selecting an airport with the goal of eventually whittling the list. A number of speakers on Monday said that a numerous factors should rule out Corte Madera.

David Hogan, speaking on behalf of the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, said the far-flung sites the authority is considering would encourage urban sprawl and harm the environment and small-town life in rural East County. He said the groups would also oppose the two sites in Anza Borrego, 95 miles northeast of the existing airport, and a site in Campo, 75 miles east of the airport that are also under consideration.

Hogan said putting a regional airport in East County would be destructive and wasteful.

He described an untamed area that could be too dangerous for airplanes and for San Diegans who would rely on the airport.

“If these winds could overturn a semi-truck, what would they do to a jumbo jet?” Hogan asked. “Can you imagine San Diego drivers trying to drive through snow to get to the airport?”

John Chalker said that taking the project off the list would allow other communities to ask for potential sites —- especially those in Campo and Miramar —- to be excluded before full reviews were done. Chalker was the only member of the public —- 13 spoke in all —- to say the site should be evaluated.

“Site discussion early in the process leads to a breakdown in the process,” he said.

A number of board members agreed with him.

“I believe we have a process we need to go through,” said board member Xema Jacobson, who was in the majority in voting that the committee review the site.

Mary Sessom, the mayor of Lemon Grove, said that other potential sites had been kept off the study list. “It makes no sense to add Corte Madera to the list because my sense is we’ll just be pulling it off.”

Corte Madera surfaced as a possible airport location after a recently completed computer analysis of the county’s American Indian reservations, state parks and U.S. Forest Service lands revealed seven more areas where an airport could be built. Most were in the far eastern and northeastern parts of the county. Because of environmental and regulatory difficulties, only the Corte Madera Valley site was recommended for more study.

The other sites currently under review are March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County; two sites at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego; North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado; an unspecified location in the Imperial County desert and the existing downtown San Diego airport.