It is the nature of the ego to take, and the nature of the spirit to share.—A proverbPerhaps no topic has so flummoxed San Diego's best and brightest than what to do about Lindbergh Field.Small? No argument there—five Lindbergh Fields would fit in the 3,400-acre footprint of LAX. Tough approach? Pilots say roger that, comparable to landing in a bowl. Move it elsewhere? Not interested, voters say.
Former state Sen. Steve Peace, now senior adviser to Padres owner/downtown mogul John Moores, has been scratching his head over the issue for 25 years. “That's 25 years of failure,” he points out.
But now Peace has a new advocate for his burgeoning vision of Airport as Beacon of Sustainable Development, Community Integration and Worldwide Adulation. After a couple of years of commercial-airport ambivalence and Sunroad jabs, Mayor Jerry Sanders sounds ready to invest considerable political capital on a long-term expansion plan that could relocate the airline terminals to the northeast side of the airport along Pacific Highway and link them to a state-of-the-art “green” transit hub.
The question is, can a region with such infamously dysfunctional political tendencies pull it together? Port Commissioner Laurie Black offers a blunt assessment: “If we can put the egos in a closet and work on this together.”Ah, the human ego. To the cynics among us, talk of expanding Lindbergh requires using words like “lipstick” and “pig” in the same sentence. They wave around the forests of studies dating back to the 1920s that decry Lindbergh's puniness. They note the season (election time) and wonder if our civic leaders have wandered over to the liquor cabinet again and are now regaling us with tunes of promise and fancy so we will re-elect them.
Certainly, history is on the cynics' side. But Peace, who crafted the legislation that took airport responsibilities away from the Port District, senses something bigger.
He saw it last week during the first-ever joint meeting of airport overlords, known collectively as the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, and regional transportation honchos, aka SANDAG.
“As for the egos,” Peace declared, “I think we have a genuine moment where the overwhelming majority of the elected officials in that room really would like to get this done.”
Just how that will happen is anyone's guess. For the Airport Authority, expansion can't happen quickly enough. Plans to add 10 gates to the west side of Terminal 2 and a multi-story parking garage are presently being studied, but SANDAG has already hinted that it's not pleased with the vision, which could involve widening North Harbor Drive to eight lanes to alleviate traffic congestion.
Murmurs of lawsuits from the city, SANDAG and Caltrans over the Authority's short-term plans certainly make rethinking Lindbergh's future more compelling.
The Authority's environmental study of its west-side proposal, recently released for public comment, “is riddled with errors and relies on mitigation measures that are impractical,” Peace said. “I believe that we are actually helping the Authority avoid failure.”
Bruised egos, anyone?
Peace says his plan isn't really his at all, but a follow-up to a proposal developed by airport consultants in 2001—and later shelved while the failed push for a new airport location took center stage.
For the past year, Peace has worked with transportation planners, “green” experts and other consultants to come up with a plan he says will put San Diego “on the forefront of innovation in transportation and community planning.” Peace said Moores has picked up the bulk of the tab for the work, roughly $500,000.
Following last week's joint meeting, there stood Airport Authority Chairman (and potential city attorney candidate) Alan Bersin alongside Sanders, Peace and other politicos urging further discussions of the Peace plan, including the possibility of creating a joint-powers authority to marshal it through.
Bersin gurgled words like “extraordinary” and “unprecedented” to stoke the embers of civic pride, which have been growing colder for years, supplanted by a national suspicion that San Diego's fiscal proclivities have made it a governmental laughingstock devoid of big thinkers.
Already, some noses have been bent out of shape. Some port officials reacted sharply to City Councilmember Jim Madaffer's most recent “e-newsletter,” in which he boasted of his own efforts to push the Peace plan as head of SANDAG's Transportation Committee.
“At issue is whether we want to see Lindbergh continue to operate as a hodgepodge of terminals with a dysfunctional master plan—or do we want to dream bigger—and make San Diego's airport the very best possible?” Madaffer wrote.Apparently, Madaffer's faux pas was not mentioning the Port District in his online pep talk.
Sharon Cloward, head of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, fired off an e-mail to port colleagues suggesting Madaffer needs some educating. “He only mentions working with the Airport Authority and doesn't mention the Port of San Diego AT ALL,” she wrote. “This is ridiculous to not think about a Port when we talk about transportation.”
Peace, who has watched insecurity levels rise at the Port District as its role in the region diminishes, suggested that “Sharon's reaction seems a little over-sensitive. I think her principal concern is… that port revenues could be reduced. I think the opposite would likely be the case.”
Black, the only port official to attend last week's joint summit, said it's incumbent on the port to get involved, perhaps by pooling some of its money with that of SANDAG and the Centre City Development Corp. to “literally plan the transit operation together.”
Renderings of the Peace-proposed Lindbergh “Intermodal Transportation Center” (available at www.caivp.net) envision an expansion of the current airport footprint by some 90 acres of public and private land between it and Interstate 5 from Washington to Laurel streets. A brick-and-glass arched structure—riffing off the historic neighboring Mission Brewery—would straddle the current rail and trolley lines and accommodate long-term parking for 20,000 cars, short-term parking for 2,000 cars and plenty of room for rental cars, buses and shuttles that now blight the bayfront experience.
The plan also calls for 63 airline gates, a modern air terminal and a new freeway off-ramp entrance for the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, whose leaders have been reluctant to discuss giving up land that would be required for an extended taxiway.
Deciding the future of San Diego's “navel,” as one speaker last week described Lindbergh, will test our leaders' mettle. Sanders wants an answer in nine months. Only time will tell if this will be tougher than childbirth. Egos beware!
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