Editorial

Gonzalez-Fletcher Wrong on Collapsing Airport Board

March 16, 2018

By Arturo Castañares / Publisher and CEO

Fighting for smaller government is usually a good thing, but not when it comes at the cost of limiting the representation of millions of San Diego County residents in decisions affecting our region’s largest airport.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher recently introduced a bill in Sacramento to fold the San Diego Regional Airport Authority into the San Diego Unified Port District, a seemingly good idea if you believe the special purpose governmental agency has outlived its original purpose.

But, in her explanation of the reasons behind her bill, Gonzalez-Fletcher misses the point of why the independent airport agency was created in 2001.

Her contention that the Airport Authority was created to move the airport to the site of MCAS Miramar is flat out wrong.
The idea for a regional airport agency was first proposed by then-State Senator Steve Peace as one of a series of local government changes he launched.

Peace’s argument was that plans for moving the airport had been floated for 20 years, but no decision had been made because the airport was run by the Port District, which only has jurisdiction along the tidelands of San Diego Bay.

Peace argued that the Port District would never agree to move the airport out of its own jurisdiction, thereby limiting the possible locations for a new airport.

Under a new state agency that could run an airport anywhere, even outside of San Diego County, an honest discussion about the future of our region’s air transportation could finally take place without any bias to stay on the tidelands, Peace argued.

When it came time to author the bill, it was State Assemblyman Howard Wayne that authored AB93 to create the new San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

The bill created a regional board with representatives from the entire county, not just the five southern cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, National City, Coronado, and Imperial Beach that control the Port District.

After the creation of the Airport Authority, one of its primary duties was to study and recommend to voters a proposal for a future airport solution.

After two years of planning, the Airport Authority selected MCAS Miramar as the preferred location for a new airport, and it submitted Proposition A to the voters of the entire county.

In an effort to remain neutral on the issue, Senator Peace stayed out of the campaigns for and against the Miramar plan.

On November 7, 2006, voters rejected the Miramar plan by a 38 to 62 percent vote, thereby deciding that the airport would stay at Lindbergh Field. The long-fought war over moving the airport was finally over, and the new Airport Authority set out to best develop San Diego International Airport.

The other duties of the Airport Authority also include focusing its full attention to managing all airport plans in the region.

Although the City of San Diego owns and operates Montgomery Field and Brown Field airports, and the County owns and operates the Ramona, Carlsbad, and Oceanside airports, it’s the Airport Authority that manages airport planning for all airports in the County. Its regional view and countywide board representation help maintain a wider perspective than the much narrower representation on the Port board.

With its $250 million annual budget, the Airport Authority generates more revenues and manages more grant funding than the Port District, and leverages billions of dollars in bond monies to continue improving access
to what is now the busiest, single-runway airport in the country.

San Diego International Airport is a regional asset, serving residents from the entire county.

Since 2002, citizens from all corners of the county have had representation on the Airport board, including unincorporated county areas.

But, by folding the Airport Authority back into the Port San Diego, voters from other areas outside of the five Port cities will lose their input into regional airport decisions in the future.

Residents from North and East County will no longer have representation on the area’s largest airport, going backward from the regional planning approach that led to the decision to keep the airport at Lindbergh in the first place.

If Gonzalez-Fletcher is truly interested in improving the functions of our local special agencies, instead of reducing the airport’s representation, she should expand the Board of the Port District to give more voters a say in its governance.

Since its creation in 1962, the Port’s economic impact has grown more important to our region, from expanded shipping capacity and Bayfront development, to the delivery of new cars for the Western United States. Billions of dollars move in and out of the Port each year, yet only nine appointees from the five southern cities control decisions, and none of them are directly elected by voters.

That should change.

Local planning agencies are vital to San Diego’s future success.

SANDAG, the Port District, and the Airport Authority must work together on many issues affecting our transportation needs and economic success, but each has specific issues to focus on.

Keeping a regional Airport Authority focused on managing and improving air travel and cargo access to and from San Diego is vital to our future, and a regional board ensures accountability.

We need to move forward, not backwards. Turning the clock back on the Airport Authority and Port District is wrong for San Diego voters, and for all airport users.

We should demand more voter representation in our local agencies, not less.

Assemblywoman Gonzalez-Fletcher is right on many issues, but this one needs more input and thought.

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