Diego County Airport Authority- Dysfunctional?

Sunday, May 8, 2005
Commentary
An authority that has lost its way
By JOHN VAN DOORN
The San Diego (CA) North County Times

It may well be time to get rid of the kids on the San Diego County Airport Authority or to arrange spinal transplants. The nine members are supposed to be in charge of Lindbergh Field —- that’s what “authority” tends to mean —- and, even more important for the future of this region, in charge of finding a suitable site for a new airport.

Lindbergh, a pleasant place to fly in and out of, is just not big enough anymore.

But the commission, by all the evidence and by its own admissions, is in charge of nothing whatever, not even the emotions of its several members. It “took over” management of Lindbergh in 2003 (from the Port of San Diego) and was charged by the state Legislature with finding somewhere else for air traffic by the year 2006.

This was and is a solemn responsibility. Go, and be independent, the Legislature said.

Sad to say, the kids can’t get along. They argue, they yell, they disagree, they pout, they run off in a huff. Or not, depending on which of the Nebulous Nine is out of sorts on a given day. Recess at your average elementary school would appear by comparison to be a field of mature congregants.

Believe it or not, the authority recognizes this particular shortcoming. It thinks maybe it should go on a retreat to examine the interpersonal relationships among its members. This is not a joke. Staff writer Mark Walker has documented it in his running reports on this segment of San Diego County’s transportation. The kids need to see the school psychologist.

Or, as board member Xema Jacobson put it to Walker: “There is a feeling among some board members that there is dysfunction in how we deal with each other. I think we need to get rid of some of the issues that are boiling underneath us.”

Then there’s the matter of bullies, big bullies, loud bullies. Without question commission members are going to have to revisit the bullying and why they caved in to it.

The bullies are members of Congress and the state Legislature who look at the word “independent” as an invitation to interfere, to shove the authority around, and to dictate to its members what sites they can consider and what sites they can’t.

Both civilian and military sites have been under consideration. The civilian sites left —- how this band reached agreement on anything is a mystery —- are Campo, Borrego Springs, Imperial County and Lindbergh itself.

Then there are military sites that the authority once was looking at. Still on the list are Camp Pendleton, North Island Naval Air Station, March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, and two sites on the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in northeastern San Diego.

When is a site not a site? When politicians say it is not a site, or should not be talked about as a site.

A congressional delegation sent a strong letter to the authority asking it not to study, or permit to be involved in any public or private examination, any military base or installation as a site until, oh, say, late November or early December.

That’s when a Pentagon report, due next week, on what military bases across the nation face closure will have been taken in hand by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. It will conduct public hearings on the Pentagon recommendations and make its own recommendations to President Bush by autumn. By Dec. 31, Congress and the president are expected to have acted.

If this timetable is abided by, there goes the vote in November of 2006 that the authority was ordered by its creators to be ready for. It was part of the mandate by the state Legislature.

How, it is reasonable to ask, would the authority be able to absorb the lessons of the closure plan, begin to study the bases that might still be available, perhaps visit them and come up with ideas in time for the November ballot? It would not be able to.

Oops. The independent authority did not want to ruffle feathers of the signers of this declaration of anti-independence, and it caved in. It will not comment publicly —- or, presumably, even consider —- military sites for Lindbergh II.

The last sentence of the congressional letter read: “Continuing to study these installations is fiscally irresponsible and undermines the validity of your entire effort.” That was strong language.

In other words, don’t even think about it. (Trying to squelch thinking might seem to be outside the purview of members of Congress, but perhaps not: Few of them have had an admirable thought in years. As for caving in, why, that’s practically a job description in Congress.)

The authority should not have caved in. It should keep on the site list, publicly and for open and steady discussion, all the sites it believes to be viable. Its mandate was to perform a terribly important job. It was given funds and power to do so. So it should quit squabbling, stiffen its resolve, tell the bullies to buzz off —- maybe to a retreat that will help them get their power thing under control —- and get on with it.

Or Sacramento should find someone who will.

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