Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Poll says 66% support airport issue
But voters unclear on who foots bill
By Jeff Ristine
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune
Two-thirds of San Diego County voters are inclined to support an expansion or replacement of their airport, a poll has found, but most are a bit hazy on the idea of who would wind up paying for it. A year of aggressive public outreach and education efforts may have helped push additional voters to support the idea of a new or expanded airport, according to the survey for the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.
Some 66 percent of people polled signaled at least some willingness to vote for the regional airport proposal expected on the November 2006 ballot, up from 55 percent a year ago. Twenty-one percent said they would be inclined to vote against an airport measure, the same as last year.
But some members of the airport authority board of directors were troubled that 72 percent of the respondents believe county taxpayers would be among those paying for a new airport. Far fewer correctly identified the federal government, revenues from airlines and government bonds as the actual source of funds.
“Our outreach is not educating people as to how this is going to be paid for,” William Lynch, an executive board member, said.
The agency’s public relations firm commissioned the poll, by CIC Research, to measure awareness of the airport site-selection program, the rationale behind the effort and next year’s ballot measure.
The telephone survey of 814 registered voters was conducted inSeptember. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The survey found 88 percent of respondents were aware of the site-selection project, but only 32 percent – up from 21 percent last year – were aware of the planned ballot measure.
The airport authority has run newspaper inserts, held a continuing series of town meetings and passed out posters and squishy airplanes at street fairs to draw attention to the project, which began under the San Diego Association of Governments in December 2001.
The agency says Lindbergh Field could reach its capacity by 2015, even with new gates in both terminals.
The authority is using a process of gradual elimination of nine prospective sites to arrive at a choice for the ballot, but it currently is focused on just three options: a new airport in Boulevard or in the Imperial County desert or obtaining maximal use from the existing Lindbergh Field.
Up to five military sites could be analyzed later, depending on how the board decides to consider them. The board agreed to await congressional action on a Pentagon base-closure list, but none of the prospective airport sites were included, shifting the likely focus to the possibility of joint use.
A proposed site in Ocotillo Wells is still on the list but not under active review. A second, parallel runway for Lindbergh Field has been ruled out.
The Imperial County site suffered a setback with an airspace analysis that showed huge complications from its proximity to restricted military airspace and the Mexican border. Prospective arrival and departure corridors are so tight, some flights from Northern California would have to maneuver as far east as Phoenix before landing, analysts said, and a “missed approach” could send aircraft circling on a 250-mile loop to get back in line for a second try.
U.S. Rep Bob Filner, who represents Imperial County in Congress, attended the board meeting yesterday to denounce the idea that restricted airspace could render the location unsuitable. Filner said the Federal Aviation Administration should be assigned the task of resolving the issue.
“The FAA’s job is to figure out a way to make the airspace work,” said Filner, D-San Diego, arguing that the existing Lindbergh Field airport suffers similar airspace constraints.
The poll, meanwhile, did not offer respondents a chance to weigh in on specific sites.
Some 13 percent of those surveyed said they didn’t know how they would vote on a ballot measure until a site is picked.
Among the 66 percent who said they would support a regional airport solution if the election were held now, some had clear conditions. Some 11 percent of the overall sample indicated they would support only an expanded Lindbergh Field, said Skip Hall, an economist with CIC Research. Nine percent said they would support only a new site.