Airport site divides San Diegans; Chamber to vote on issue
Thursday, July 27, 2006
This morning, the Chamber of Commerce Board will weigh in on the controversial ballot proposal to push for Miramar as the site of a future commercial airport. The San Diego business community is split over what is recognized as one of the most important land use decisions in decades. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more on the economic dilemma.
The decision is such a difficult one that some speculate many of the 60-plus voting members of the Chamber's board won't show up for this morning's vote. It may be easier to avoid taking sides on this critical economic and political issue. But what the Chamber board decides is bound to have a significant influence on San Diego voters who will have their say in November.
Chamber spokesman Scott Alvey says business leaders have heard presentations, been on site tours and engaged in lengthy discussions, but the outcome of today's vote is still up in the air.
Alvey: "I don't think there's any way of predicting which way it will go I think this vote reflects what you see in the populace right now in San Diego I would say about a third of the people are for Miramar as the alternative, about a third are against it as the alternative, or the language, and another third doesn't know yet and they are up for grabs, they need to be convinced."
On the one hand, the economic evidence is compelling that San Diego needs a new commercial airport. The Airport Authority's research suggests without a new airport, the region will loose between 22 and 38 thousand jobs by the year 2035, and the region's economic output will shrink $4 to $12 billion.
On the other hand, the fear that asking the Marines to free up Miramar will start a gradual pull out by the military is equally devastating economically.
Litrenta: "This could be the first domino."
Peter Litrenta is chair of the Chamber's military affairs advisory council. He says the direct positive economic impact of Marine Corp Air Station Miramar is about $500 million a year. But more importantly the military in general has an $18 billion a year impact on the San Diego economy.
Litrenta points to what happened in the past in San Francisco.
Litrenta: "Even though it was a fine Navy town up there we had air craft carriers in San Francisco Bay, we had a lot or presence up there, but gradually it became eroded, now there's nothing up there."
Litrenta says his committee voted against the Airport Authority's ballot language because it is misleading.
Litrenta: "It implies that joint use would be feasible with using only 3,000 of the 23,000 acres In fact the only acreage that would be available or suitable for a commercial airport are the same acres being used by the Marines so the Marines would have to leave for the airport to got there."
It's not surprising the military advisory committee voted against the ballot measure. But the Chamber's public policy committee also voted it down. That committee represents the interests of many businesses that work with the military and the federal government, as well as people who live in areas that would be affected by the flight path of commercial jets coming out of Miramar.
The biotech community, some of which is based in affected areas like Torrey Pines Mesa, faces the dilemma of wanting good air transportation in the future for their executives to fly in and out of town, but not in jets roaring right over their heads!
Predictably, the Chamber's transportation committee voted in favor of the move to Miramar. So did legislative committee.
But Craig Bennedetto, chair of the Chamber's infrastructure committee found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to break a tie. His vote was in favor of a new airport at Miramar.
Bennedetto: "The chair doesn't vote unless you're breaking the vote so yes got to cast the vote , I was the lucky guy..."
Alison St John: "Did you have any doubt in your mind?"
Bennedetto: "I still have doubts in my mind, you know the military is such an important component of our economy here its important for national security in this day and age its clearly the pacific rim is as dangerous as the middle east, so telling the military we want to use your facility for a commercial airport definitely causes me some concern."
But for Bennedetto the issue comes down to if there has to be a new airport outside the San Diego region , should the military move there or should San Diegans travel there?
Bennedetto: " The military is more portable and that's not to show them the boot and not to ask them to leave San Diego, but you can't put a commercial airport in the middle of the desert and expect it to serve the metropolitan area of San Diego, and I think the bottom line here is do you inconvenience 3,000 people in military uniform at Miramar or do you inconvenience the two-and-a-half million people in San Diego. That's the question that's on the table."
Businesses connected to the tourism industry in general want a new airport at Miramar, as do many members of the high tech community. They say that without a new airport, San Diego's best paid jobs will suffer and the next generation will never be able to afford San Diego's high home prices.
But the Chamber's Scott Alvey says it's almost impossible to tease out the economic costs and benefits and to reach a conclusion on the airport initiative.
Alvey: "It's an interlinking fabric of economic impact. There is no simple way to do it or this would be much easier."
The San Diego Airport Authority is hoping for the business community's support for their ballot initiative. That's why many are watching today's Chamber vote to see where it lands . Alison St John, KPBS News.
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