San Diego County Regional Airport Authority – It Pays to be Connected

Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Course correction for airport authority
By North County Times Opinion staff
The San Diego (CA) North County Times

Our view: Kehoe’s bill must maintain North County’s influence on board, jettison big salaries State Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, has introduced legislation to remake the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. In the wake of voters’ rejection of Miramar as an airport site last November, we agree that it’s time to make some needed changes at the authority. Our hope is that these reforms will be made with regional equity and future needs in mind. Overhauling the airport authority shouldn’t be perceived as punishment for the failed Miramar vote. The authority was given the nearly impossible task of finding a site for a new airport in a county with few realistic options for one — all under a tight deadline. It fulfilled that legislative mandate as well as could be expected. The authority has also done a reasonably good job of managing day-to-day operations at Lindbergh Field. Most of the board is new and deserve a clean slate. It has wisely reacted to November’s election by concentrating on getting the most out of our existing airport.

Strange structure on board

That said, the board’s composition has a few oddities. Of the board’s nine members, six are appointed by area mayors on a regional basis, with former Carlsbad Councilwoman Ramona Finnila representing coastal North County and Jim Desmond, mayor of San Marcos, representing inland North County.

However, three executive members — Alan Bersin, Robert Watkins and Charlene Zettel — are appointed by the mayor of San Diego, the sheriff and the governor, respectively. If you’re wondering why the sheriff gets a pick, so are we. What’s more, these three appointed members, who have no extra duties or responsibilities, each earn $170,000 annually, compared to the $100 per meeting earned by their peers on the board.
(Editor’s Note: Now that is what I call politically connected!!)

As proposed, Kehoe’s Senate Bill 10 would eliminate the six-figure sinecures and require all board members to be elected officials. Those are sensible improvements.

It’s in refashioning the board that the Kehoe bill hits turbulence. It reduces the number of board members from nine to seven. That’s fine, but not if doing so favors the city of San Diego at our expense. As written, Kehoe’s bill would strip influence from North County by lumping together the inland cities of San Marcos, Escondido and Poway with East County cities like El Cajon and Santee.

We’re glad to hear Kehoe is planning to modify her bill so that North County will keep two distinct members on the board.

Coordination may be key

The bill would also return land-use authority for the region’s airports to the San Diego Association of Governments. If the idea of a new, bigger regional airport won’t fly, the region’s existing small airports, such as Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar Airport, will likely be needed to accommodate shorter routes on smaller planes. Rather than constricting the airport authority’s power, perhaps it should be expanded to include not only land-use planning but some coordination of the region’s multiple city- and county-operated airports, as well.

Now it’s up to the authority to pass on its recommended changes to Kehoe for her consideration. We hope that all those involved in this process will also give some thought to regional aviation needs that cannot be adequately addressed if the authority’s jurisdiction stops at the end of Lindbergh’s runways.

The Big Idea behind the airport authority’s creation — finding a new home for a regional airport — has been grounded for the foreseeable future. We’re pleased to see the board focus on many smaller changes to maximize Lindbergh’s potential. And we hope Kehoe’s bill, with some minor revisions of its own, will help the airport authority do what promises to be an increasingly important job.

Click or paste the link to listen to the audio:

To listen to the North County Times’ April 10 editorial board meeting with members of the airport authority, click on Airport Authority.

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