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San Diego Airport's Crowded Terminal 1 Due For $3B Makeover

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Speaker 1: 00:01 Gem pack. Terminal one at San Diego international airport is a step closer to getting a $3 billion makeover. Building affordable and denser housing may become mandatory for California cities. That's a legislature resurrects Senate bill 50 and San Diego is transit cops ticket far more fair evaders than other cities. Amid worries about how these citations affect the working poor. I'm Mark Sauer. The KPBS Roundtable starts now.

Speaker 2: 00:38 [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 00:39 Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS round table today. Laurie Weisberg, who covers tourism and marketing for the San Diego union Tribune. Joshua Emerson Smith who covers the environment and transportation also for the union Tribune and KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Well, more than half century has passed since terminal one was built at Lindbergh field. It's become more and more crowded over the years with Southwest airlines. Currently, the biggest user. Now a plan $3 billion overhaul is overcome a critical hurdle. More battles await, but airport officials are hopeful. A new terminal with 11 additional Gates greatly improved transit and far greater passenger capacity. Say that three times is coming in the next five years or so. So Lori, huge project here, where does it stand now? Compare with just a year ago.

Speaker 3: 01:30 So a year ago, they were hoping to be at the point they are now, but they, um, so that this hurdle that we're talking about was passing the San Diego airport authority board of directors. But the, but getting there took a year because they had released their preliminary environmental impact report back then and there was a chorus of a negativity from all the surrounding agencies about that. E I R because, um, all the different agencies felt that the airport was very dismissive of the kind of traffic congestion that would come with more passengers coming to Lindbergh field, that they weren't doing enough to address it. Um, the airport authority listened, they rewrote their EIR and they made some changes to address that. And so when you got to this recent vote, um, there was no opposition from these agencies. And I guess I should mention what one of the key things they did was they saved space for and agreed to fund a transit. Uh, future transit station that would serve both terminals. One and two.

Speaker 1: 02:30 All right. We're going to get into some of those details. We'll start with it. I mean the, the upgrades, this is a, this is a big project, as I said, a huge [inaudible].

Speaker 3: 02:38 It's basically they're going to demolish, eventually they're going to demolish the current terminal one, which was built in 1967 very dated, very old. Um, and they're going to replace it with a whole new larger terminal that will have a total of 30 Gates. There's 19 now and there'll be bigger Gates than the 19 that we see now today.

Speaker 1: 02:57 Yeah. And you mentioned the, the problem and how they, uh, address some of that now. But, uh, there's new, uh, aspects for getting to and from the airport, uh, vehicle and public transit, uh, big changes around the airport.

Speaker 3: 03:10 Well, so the, so the public transit getting there is still a big open question. Um, various agencies for the last several months are meeting, they're actually doing modeling studies right now to see could there be a people mover or an extension of the trolley to get to the, and would it be an aerial trolley and excuse me, an aerial people mover, um, underground, um, surface [inaudible]. No, no. So that, that's the still open question and that's why I mentioned this transit station that would, what that would serve whatever option they ultimately pick. But they are going to do an electric shuttle free from old town transit station in the interim to, to the airport. And they're also going to pay for, um, a new three lane road, um, that would take about 45 to get into the airport. That would take about 45,000 cars a day off of Harbor drive. So that's one of the other expenditures as part of this, part of this plan.

Speaker 4: 04:04 One of the, uh, plans is that MTS would extend it. The metropolitan transit system would extend its trolley to the airport. Right.

Speaker 3: 04:14 But which is still an open question. There. They, that's um, they're still the, the F they're going to come back with all these very detailed studies to see just the trolley extension make more sense or just the, the people mover make more sense. So it's not a, it's not a,

Speaker 4: 04:30 right. So like MTS could extend the trolley to the airport or the San Diego association of governments has this idea to build the big San Diego grand central that would somehow connect to the airport. But both of those things are contingent on getting a sales tax measure passed. What is, what does the airport say about that? Like maybe it won't happen, right.

Speaker 3: 04:50 Less about what is the airport authority, but it's still, it's more SANDAG and you know, the, the head of SANDAG has just, he's been pushing really hard on this. I mean he's, he's told me that it could be like a $4 billion project. I don't know. You know, you're right. It's going to require a sales tax increase. He's, he's hot. He's hopeful. Right. But I mean that is a, that is a big question Mark. You're right. I mean we've seen lax there. They're doing it on right now. They're building it. And they were able to get funding the airport authority needs. If they were to spend more money of their own, they need the federal aviation mission, FAA to, to um, let them spend money that could potentially be off airport for the people mover. But again, that is a big question Mark in your, and I think that the right to be skeptical whether that's really gonna happen.

Speaker 1: 05:41 Yeah, that gets to how we said there's plenty of hurdles yet to come. While you've segwayed nicely into my next question. The price tag here, Denver airport, which opened in 1995 costs 4.8 billion. It was the most expensive ever. That'd be 8 billion plus in today's dollars. It's still three or

Speaker 3: 05:58 so. Seems like a lot for an expansion project. Where's the money coming from? Um, and I shouldn't mention, I mean obviously it's more than just the terminal one. It's that roadway L they're adding another chassis way. Um, they're, they're building a whole new administration building. So there's other components of the project and the money is pretty much coming from largely from the fees that the airlines, all of the airlines pay to rent the terminal space, concessions, parking fees. But the, the bulk of the money is all coming from the fees that the airport authority collects. Okay. So they bought into it and uh, and that's hopefully going to underwrite the, the whole thing at least. Yeah, the airport has, that's the hope. Now, lots of opposition remains to expanding Lindbergh's capacity increasing, uh, passenger traffic. And I think if I recall in numbers from your story, we're up to, we've been several record years in a row up to about 25 million passengers.

Speaker 3: 06:52 Right this way should to 40, 40 million, it could be by 2035. So we are, as you know, a single runway airport, so it's self-limiting. So when they reach 40 million, they can't, they can't keep allowing more passengers. So they, they can only schedule so many flights. They, they, they tell me that one way to balance it out is that there's certain times of the day now when there's much more congestion. At the airport, they're going to have to schedule flights more evenly throughout the day. But, but it is what it is. That's one runway and they can't know get up to 50 million, 60 million passengers because the airport can't accommodate it. Well, in order to do that, you talk about half centuries or more, we've been talking about a new airport, a different airport, a real modern in a different spot. We've been talking about that for at least a half century. Maybe we'll be talking about at that point you're talking about a second airport or maybe taking over a, you know, a Miramar and, well, okay, so pardon the mixed metaphor, but I think that ship has sailed.

Speaker 3: 07:49 I mean, um, in 2006, the voters voted about Miramar voted on that. And I think ultimately because you're right, just going on for a long time, I think everybody said enough is enough. Let's just make the airport work with the runway that we have. The one runway that we have, I, you know, maybe not in our lifetime, maybe in the way, way just in future, but, but not now. This is a 20, 50 plan, I don't think you're going to see anywhere for it between now and 20, 50 and there's still lots of opposition to expanding the capacity and more passengers and more planes. Mostly those folks are under the flight pattern. 95% of the time when the plane is taken off over the ocean, they must not be keen on all of this. Yeah. Interestingly they didn't show up, but they, they submitted letters, um, to the airport authority, um, protesting spending money when they feel that the airport authority hasn't adequately address noise issues, the airport authority points out that, um, it's not this project that's going to create more noise. It's the inevitable passengers that will come, but they are expanding their monitor, their mitigation program where they, they have a sound insulation program that maybe more people can get, you know, better doors and windows to insulate against the noise, but there's only so much they can do and yeah, I don't know that the neighbors are ever going to be happy with that.

Speaker 5: 09:07 It's kind of the cons to having an airport right next to downtown where so many people are living and visiting that you, you know, it's a convenient location for a lot of people to get to, but it's not, you know, friendly to those who are actually like yours. No, no. I know.

Speaker 3: 09:23 And, and, and I don't think that um, opposition diffidence is going to go away

Speaker 1: 09:28 almost out of time. What's next to the timetable?

Speaker 3: 09:30 Oh, right. So they help to break ground by the end of next year, but they need to get on federal approval of a federal level environmental impact report. They need California coastal commission approval and they need to hire a designer and a contractor to build it and to actually design what it's really going to look like. So they think all that's going to take considerable time, but they hope the first phase will open in 2024 a lot more.

Speaker 1: 09:54 How about as we move forward on that story? Well, we're going to move on. California is double barreled crises. The climate change and housing shortages that we talk about all the time is the focus of a single bill in Sacramento. Senate bill 50 has attracted a lot of controversy, so much so that it was removed and amended by its author state Senator Scott Wiener. And here he is last April, introducing this bill,

Speaker 6: 10:20 hyper low density zoning, often in the form of banning and prohibiting all forms of housing other than single family homes. Makes it impossible for California to close our massive 3.5 million home deficit.

Speaker 3: 10:38 Yeah.

Speaker 1: 10:39 So, uh, Andrew SB 50 had fundamentally shifts, uh, much of the power to decide what type of housing is built, where from localities to the state. What are the key aspects of this bill?

Speaker 5: 10:50 So SB 50 would require local governments, that's cities and counties to offer developers a bonus when a piece of land and where they want to build is close to a major transit stop or close to a major job center. Uh, so it would require cities to allow, um, four to five story mid-rise apartment buildings, um, that they wouldn't allow, uh, they couldn't put restrictions on the number of parking spaces or, uh, the, um, you know, the other kind of restrictions on, on density, um, for that piece of land. Um, the premise of the bill is basically that cities and local governments who have a lot of authority over land use in California, um, have failed to plan for enough housing to accommodate California's growing population and our growing economy. And so, uh, the state needs to step in and require cities to actually ups own that land, um, near public transit where people, you know, we all acknowledge that, um, the growth has to be concentrated, um, so that people will get out of cars and have more mobility other than, you know, that very carbon-intensive transportation that we rely on,

Speaker 3: 11:57 put an end to sprawl. That's the, that's the whole idea. Well, you're starting know it's a broad coalition supports us be 50. And who's, who is some of the folks backing this?

Speaker 5: 12:05 Yeah. So it's a, you know, some strange bedfellows getting behind this bill. So you have the California chamber of commerce and the California labor Federation. You have the developer lobby, the building industry association and the, uh, uh, construction worker unions, um, groups representing seniors, the AR, ARP, uh, groups, groups, groups representing, uh, the UC San Diego students, um, environmental groups. So there's like, it's basically a who's who of interest groups in Sacramento. Um, but it has come up against a lot of opposition as well, both from, uh, equity groups concerned with its impacts on gentrification and, uh, groups that, uh, want to preserve local government's authority over land use and a lot of homeowners and neighborhood associations that like the neighborhoods that they live in the way that they are and they don't want them to change.

Speaker 3: 12:54 Yeah. The, one of the main groups, uh, according to your story, livable California, and they call it unprecedented taking of local planning powers, hands, city and community decision making directly to luxury housing developers provides no help for cities, recover from developers, disruption, low income neighborhoods. And it goes on. Is, is it accurate? Is this group, uh, telling the truth on all this?

Speaker 5: 13:17 Well, it's a statement of opinion certainly, and they represent, uh, you know, a significant portion of, of Californians who don't want to see a lot of growth in the state and want, uh, things to, um, you know, be, uh, grow at least a lot more slowly or not grow at all. Um, they, uh, you know, to add some context to that, Senator Wiener has, um, been working with a lot of those equity groups representing low income neighborhoods and has changed the bill to accommodate some of their requests. So if a piece of land has ever had a tenant, uh, living on that piece of land, the devel a developer would not be able to demolish a building and use this bill to then displace those people. Um, he's got an a five year exemption for a sensitive communities that are, uh, at particular risk of gentrification.

Speaker 5: 14:04 Um, he's got, uh, low income housing, inclusionary requirements. So a developer, uh, would have to include some low income units in their projects or pay a fee. Um, and, and I think where livable California is coming from is that doesn't apply to projects with 10 units or fewer. So, you know, they, you can argue over the the scale, but I think, I don't think it's accurate to say it would do nothing to increase affordable housing. Several independent groups. And I'm not, uh, you know, outside observers have said it would actually increase affordable housing, uh, writ large in California.

Speaker 3: 14:37 Uh, Laurie, so let's say for argument's sake, this word to go through, um, I'm kind of skeptical that how are they going to enforce it because we know, um, that for, for decades the state has a mandated housing plan that cities and counties have to comply with that they have to accept so many units of housing. Rarely do those, those housing units ever get, get built. There seems to be little enforcement or power to enforce that and now you're getting into an even more difficult kind of thing to enforce how, how can that even happen if it were to be,

Speaker 5: 15:11 I think you're right. When we look back over the past several decades, the state's housing accountability act has been pretty toothless, but those laws have been changing. And we do have now another bill for a law, a bill that became law from Senator Wiener SB 35 that requires cities to approve a project by, right. Um, without, you know, a, a vote at a city council, let's say. Um, if it meets certain conditions, meets the zoning requirements. Um, so there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to the state actually telling cities and counties what the rules are. And uh, you know, enforcement, it's certainly possible that cities could just, uh, give the middle finger to Sacramento and say, we're not going to follow this. But that's where the courts have to step in and say, no, this is the law and we're going to enforce it.

Speaker 4: 15:56 And I would say it does seem like there's a lot of elected officials, and especially in larger cities that may be philosophically would I like to allow the density but politically are afraid to, and this gives them cover.

Speaker 5: 16:09 Exactly. And this is something that we've heard from Senator Wiener. He says he talks to a lot of city council members and mayors saying, you know, please pass this bill because, uh, because I don't want the decision making authority when I have, when I'm faced with the voters yelling at me. Yeah. When I, when I have to vote on whether or not to approve this big project in a neighborhood, um, you know, it would be a whole lot easier if I could just point the finger up at Sacramento and say they made me do it. Now that we have to take him at his word, that those conversations are happening. But, um, it does kinda track, I think with the way that housing politics works in California.

Speaker 1: 16:42 Well, let's look at the, uh, the power broker here. A Senate leader pro Tim, uh, Tony Atkins, the San Diego. Here, we're gonna listen to what she says about why this law isn't needed.

Speaker 7: 16:52 If you say you care about homelessness and rising rents and your grandparents and your parents and your children who are becoming adult age and want to remain in California, if you say you care about those things, then you have to be part of the solution to figure out how we plan it and do it appropriately. There's no getting around it if you want California to continue to be economically viable and a place where people want to live.

Speaker 1: 17:19 All right, almost out of time in this segment, but a development today out of Atkins office, I mean it's, it's far from the finish line.

Speaker 5: 17:26 Yes. We're speaking on Friday this morning. She, um, basically, uh, moved it out of the appropriations committee, which is where it, uh, got put on hold last year. Um, it creates a, a different pathway or more options for this bill to actually survive and get to a, a floor vote on the Senate. So I'm certainly something to watch. And probably one of the biggest bills that, uh, legislators will be debating in Sacramento year

Speaker 1: 17:50 in a, you were at Amir, Faulkner's last state of the city address and he talked about his co complete communities plans, some of the elements in common with this, right? Speaking of conveyors.

Speaker 5: 17:59 Yeah. So a mayor Faulkner has not endorsed this bill and we should be clear, neither has Senator Atkins, she's not a coauthor, although she has spoken in support of it kind of in general terms. Um, but mayor Faulkner has this a plan called complete communities. It would, uh, it has similar goals to SB 50 intensifying the land use around a public transit stops and um, raising height limits and density limits. Um, it would also require developers to set aside more affordable housing and, um, pay for infrastructure improvements in that neighborhood. So it's a bit of a push and, uh, you know, give and take, um, situation. It doesn't necessarily address the, the baseline zoning of, of what would be allowed in each, um, in those areas. But, um, he, you know, Faulkner is kind of in line with the, the principles behind SB 50. But we haven't seen an endorsement from him.

Speaker 1: 18:47 All right. Lots to follow up on. A lot more reporting to come on that. It's a fascinating story. Well, we're going to move on. It's easy. Maybe tempting to simply step onto an MTS trolley coach without bothering to pay the fair. A few years ago, chances were low that a transit officer would come down the aisle and ask to see your ticket. Not anymore. So a Joshua's start with this remarkable spike and how many citations are now being issued and when did it start? What are the numbers?

Speaker 4: 19:12 A 2017 I got 'em right here. So in 2016 it was like 25,000 citations a year. But then in 2017 that shot up to more than 45,000 citations a year. And then in 2018 61,000 citations. And we don't have the final numbers for 2019 yet, but it looks like it's tracking roughly about the same as it was in 2018 maybe even a little higher.

Speaker 1: 19:39 They're getting writer's cramp out there writing the citations. And how does that compare with other cities? It's really spiked here is nowhere else, huh?

Speaker 4: 19:46 Yeah. It does seem like we have our writing more tickets than a lot of other cities are writing. Even when you look at other transit systems that are open access, right. That's where you don't have to go through a turnstile. You just hop on and then you have to check the fare proactively after the fact like we do in San Diego.

Speaker 1: 20:04 Now you're storing notes though that the fair evasion rates steady for several years at about 3% so what's behind this huge increase in [inaudible]?

Speaker 4: 20:12 Yeah, and maybe we should just like explain the fair evasion rate and how they come up with that because it does seem a little odd that that stays the same even though we're handing out more tickets. Right. Why a crackdown when there doesn't seem to be. So like they do these, these surveys where they try to figure out how many people are not paying, which includes the number of citations they're handing out, which is roughly 1% of every interaction. But then they also track how many people are jumping off the trolley when they get on. And when they figure all this out, they figure about 3% of people are on the trolley not paying for it. And that's been pretty steady. Right. But what happened was in 2007 they changed the whole way that they handed out the citations. And then that's what really drove it up.

Speaker 4: 20:59 So it used to be that you'd have a security guard on there, a contracted security guard. And then if they found someone who wasn't paying their fair, they'd have to call a separate person in called a code compliance officer. And this is someone that MTS employees that has to go through state training and then they'd have to come find the person and write the ticket, sit there awkwardly while they wait. A lot of times the security guards were detaining people for 10, 15, 30 minutes at a time. So they made this change in 2017 where they hired more of the code compliance officers. They actually um, scaled back the number of security guards that they were contracting with. So it was budget neutral and they created this beat system where the security guards and the inspectors are going out together now on trolleys and they write them on the spot.

Speaker 4: 21:48 They can write the citation right there. Yeah. Laura, see your story pointed out that there's a lot of people getting ticketed who can ill afford to pay the fines. Um, so do you have a sense of, um, how many people are actually paying? Is this a fool's errand or are they really, are they, are there a substantial amount of people who are just getting the citations, they're not paying and they're never collecting money? Yeah, I don't, I don't think we know like how many people that get citations are poor or homeless. We don't really have that data as far as I know.

Speaker 5: 22:22 Well, I recall hearing some discussion at the MTS board of directors saying that, uh, you know, fair officers have some discretion when they want to, you know, take a passenger's word for it, that the, maybe they forgot to tap their car, they've got a monthly pass, but they didn't tap it so it's not activated. Um, and you know, there's some displeasure from the elected officials who oversee MTS about, you know, who they, who they let off with. Um, you know, a, a warning and other folks that they're more strict with. And actually we'll write this idea through.

Speaker 4: 22:52 I have a ton of, a ton of, um, uh, discretion over that. Um, I, when I've been out with the trolley enforcement groups a number of times now and yeah, they can decide whether or not to write someone to take it. And you know, a lot of times they just have to like go on the person's story. Did they really forget to tap? Because our system is this open access system. People have to tap before they get on. They can have a whole bunch of excuses, right? So the guards do have a, the officers really do have a lot of discretion over that, but we don't know how many people are indigent that are getting the tickets. Although a bunch of the people that told me that I went out with said it's actually a very small amount now that's just anecdotal. No, our uh, our colleague, uh, Lisa Halverstadt of voice of San Diego was written about this as well.

Speaker 4: 23:35 And, and you, you both point out it's not cheap to pay this citation and it snowballs, right? Yeah, totally. So the first one you get when you factor in all the court fees is $193 and it goes up from there. Your second citation here, I'll just read it here, is 280. Third is 450. And if you don't pay it, it goes to collections and they tack on another three 15 on top of that. So yeah, we're talking hundreds of dollars. And the idea is if we're giving this to people who are indigent or homeless, it just makes it harder for them to rise out of poverty. And we're not the only ones talking about this. There are cities across the country that are talking about criminalizing poverty and how in New York they have a huge crackdown on a fair of Asian or the subway system. And there they've had a lot of push back saying, Hey, this is, this is not something that really is good for society as a whole.

Speaker 4: 24:25 And there's something that, you know, if you, uh, if you don't pay a F a toll and a toll road, the penalties are much lower than if you, you know, failed to pay a fair for public transit. Right? Okay. So right, so this is like a criminal thing. And so what MTS is talking about now is making it civil and bringing it in house, creating like a trolley court or a transit court, similar to what, um, LA Metro is done so that you wouldn't have all the court fees and you, they could have more discretion on helping people out who are homeless. And so that's something that's in the works. But definitely the MTS board is looking at ways to address this right now.

Speaker 1: 25:02 All right. A few seconds left here before we're out of time. But a lot of the revenue from, for MTS, of course it comes from fairs. Yeah. A third, a third. So I mean, pretty substantial. It's not insignificant. It's gotta be enforced. Totally. Yeah. And since they've been enforcing crime is down with this new beat system, uh, pairing the security guards with the code compliance, uh, inspectors, we have seen a drop in crime onboard the trolley. So a lot of people like this. All right, well, another good one to watch as we go forward here is fascinating stuff. Well, that does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. And I'd like to thank my guests, Laurie Weisberg and Joshua Emerson Smith, both of the San Diego union Tribune and Andrew Bowen of KPBS news. And a reminder, all of the stories we discussed today available on our website, kpbs.org I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today and join us again next Friday on the round table.

Terminal 1, the home to Southwest, Alaska and a few other carriers, is closer to a major makeover.

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KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.