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Airport Initiative Ballot Language Analyzed

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Originally aired October 18, 2006

On November 7, voters in San Diego County will be asked whether a commercial airport should be built at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. And, like many ballot initiatives, Proposition A is as much about what is between the lines as what the measure itself says. Tonight, we take the ballot language apart, line by line, to find out what it really means. As part of our ongoing Envision San Diego airport coverage, producer Lee Swanson brings us this report.

Proposition A: 75 very carefully chosen words, important as much for what they don't say, as for what they do.

"To provide for San Diego’s long term air transportation needs, shall the Airport Authority and government officials work to obtain approximately 3,000 of 23,000 acres at MCAS Miramar by 2020 for a commercial airport."  

"3000 of 23,000 acres at MCAS Miramar." That's correct, but it's not quite accurate. There are 23,000 acres of land at Miramar. No one disputes that. It's just that there aren't 23,000 acres to choose from to build an airport. First, subtract the 3500 acres the Marine airfield already uses. Neither the Marines nor the Airport Authority wants to share that – an option that's usually called "joint use." 

Joe Craver, Airport Authority Chairman: The ballot language does not use the word “joint use.” 

Col. Chris O'Connor, MCAS Miramar Commanding Officer: When you look at the number of operations we do here at Miramar - approximately 120,000 - and you add in 200,000-plus operations that are conducted annually at Lindbergh, that combination just doesn't work. 

Another 1400 acres is the city landfill. So take that away. And the area east of Interstate 15 is 15,000 acres of mostly hills. The Airport Authority's consultant study considered east Miramar as a separate site, and ruled it out because the land is too rugged. However, some of it could be used if Interstate 15 is moved to the east. The ballot measure doesn't go into all of that. It does say it wants to get the land by 2020. Not now. Later, if things change.  

Joe Craver : There's no one that we know within the military or the military planners can predict what will happen within the next fifteen years. 

Col. Chris O'Connor: We don't see anything changing that would negate the requirement for Marine aviation, right here, now and in 2020. 

Let's move on. Next, the ballot measure spells out some conditions that have to be met. “Necessary traffic and freeway improvements are made." That's seems pretty straightforward, but we'll come back to that. 

"Military readiness is maintained without expense to the military for modifying or relocating operations." Some, the Marines, for instance, read this to say, since joint use isn't possible, that they will have to leave altogether.  

Joe Craver : It is not our position for the Marines to leave Miramar. We want the Marines to stay at Miramar. The Marines and the Navy have been an integral part of this region for years, and we want it to stay that way. 

Colonel O'Connor says they not only won't leave, they can't.

Col. Chris O'Connor: We're right where we need to be. We're right in the middle of a constellation of ranges in the southwest United States. Take a look at why go anywhere else, we're not gonna because right where we are is where we need to be. It's the best place where we can do our training and we can make sure our forces are ready when the nation needs us. 

So what does it mean? 

Joe Craver : We will work with them to go ahead and do whatever … their operations, if they choose to change to accommodate an airport we would be happy to look at those costs to be able to support them. 

So, don't move out, just move over. 

"No local taxes are used on the airport." Technically, that's correct. A portion of every ticket, every latte, every nickel that's spent at the airport goes to the Airport Authority, and that, along with landing fees paid by airlines and money from the Federal Aviation Administration, would pay for the new airport. But those traffic improvements we talked about? Some of that would be tax money. 

"Overall noise impacts are reduced." Overall is the key word. By moving the airport to Miramar, the noise would be moved away from Golden Hill, downtown and Point Loma. Other areas of the city would get the noise, but the noise of the final approach and the initial takeoff would be, mostly, over the Marine base. And depending on which acres they build on, the consultant report concludes it could be quieter. 

And the final condition: "Necessary Lindbergh Field improvements are completed." If everything was in place to start work on a new airport tomorrow, the Airport Authority estimates it would take 20 years to complete. Whether Prop. A passes or fails, Lindbergh Field will be San Diego’s airport for many more years. And, even if it does pass, there's no guarantee that a new airport is in the offering. 

Joe Craver : Proposition A is about a dialogue with the military, the Marines, the elected officials to come up with a solution for an air transportation system for our region. 

Col. Chris O'Connor : As we look at what the community thinks of our presence here, we think it's very important. However, we have to abide by federal law, and law says we can't enter into any agreements. The secretary of the Navy has already made a decision on this matter that it doesn't work and he's said no, so we’re following through based on what our superiors have said. 

Just 75 words. But a big decision.

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