Saturday, November 18, 2006
Airport Authority changes may come
It needs to be more regional, some say
By Jeff Ristine
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune
Air transportation planning in San Diego needs to become more regional, encompassing highways and transportation to Lindbergh Field, some speakers at a legislative hearing said yesterday. First inklings of possible changes to the mission and makeup of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority emerged as state Sen. Christine Kehoe wrapped up the last of two public reviews of the agency. Kehoe, D-San Diego, is putting the finishing touches on a bill to change the governance structure of the authority, which was created in 2003 to take over operations of Lindbergh Field and conduct a thorough study of possible replacement sites. A final draft is expected within weeks.
Kehoe said she’s likely to propose trimming the number of seats on the authority’s board of directors, currently composed of three executive members and six regional appointees. The three executive appointments are up in December, and state Secretary of Education Alan Bersin has been tapped for one of them.
On a grander scale, some suggested the airport agency forge ties with the multicounty Southern California Regional Airport Authority, which recently was reactivated as an entity to study ways to better coordinate air traffic. The authority should get involved in its regional approach to aviation planning, they said.
Steve Erie, a UC San Diego political science professor who has performed consulting work for airports elsewhere in Southern California, said San Diego is “part and parcel of the Los Angeles air transportation system” whether it wants to be or not.
Airport plans with “big footprints” invariably run into public resistance, Erie said, as did the authority’s failed proposal for a civilian operation at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.
Finding alternatives that increase the operational capacity of Lindbergh Field will be crucial to prevent San Diego from becoming “an economic backwater,” Erie said.
Without an adequate “gateway airport” to San Diego, he said, high-tech businesses will look to Riverside and San Bernardino counties, “where the available tarmac lies.”
The state Legislative Analyst’s Office, which reviewed the Airport Authority structure at Kehoe’s request, offered a mixed assessment.
Marianne O’Malley, a fiscal and policy analyst, said the authority does a good job making information available to the public but called its two-tier governing board complex.
Two of the executive members are appointed by the governor and county sheriff, the purpose of which is not clear, O’Malley said. Other seats periodically rotate between elected and nonelected officials, making it difficult for the public to understand who represents them on the board, she said.
While some have suggested reassigning the agency’s land-use responsibilities to the San Diego Association of Governments, O’Malley said the SANDAG governance structure is not inherently more accountable than the authority’s.
Poway Mayor Mickey Cafagna, chairman of the SANDAG board, conspicuously did not volunteer to take over the land-use issues that have kept the authority under fire from local jurisdictions and property owners. Cafagna said the airport could benefit from having transportation planning split off from operations at Lindbergh Field.