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San Diego’s Airport of the Future
by J. F. Kelly, Jr. [writer] 10/12/06

Election season has become the silly season and nowhere more so than in California, famous for its deceptively-worded ballot measures. This year is no exception, with the state’s fifteen and a half million voters being asked to make major policy decisions on a dozen or so issues that many of them understand only vaguely if at all. It’s no wonder, given the misleading and confusing advertisements promoting them.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

In San Diego County, we have a perfect example of a perfectly terrible ballot measure, provided by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. It asks county voters the following: “To provide for San Diego’s long-term air transportation needs, shall the Airport Authority and government officials work to obtain approximately 3000 of 23,000 acres at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Miramar by 2020 for a commercial airport, providing necessary traffic and freeway improvements are made, military readiness is maintained without expense to the military for modifying or relocating operations, no local taxes are used on the airport, overall noise impacts are reduced, and necessary Lindbergh Field improvements are completed?”

It was written by the Airport Authority board to sound like an all-inclusive, win-win proposition for all parties. Military readiness is “maintained”, no expense to the military is involved, no local taxes, reduced noise impact, traffic and freeway improvements, etc. Sounds swell. Trouble is, Miramar is not available, not even 3000 acres of it, and will not be in the foreseeable future. Giving up the coveted acreage would require a relocation of existing military runways and even then would result in armed warplanes and commercial passenger airliners operating in dangerous proximity to each other.

As for airport authorities and government officials “working together”, there is nothing left to “work together” on. The Navy Department’s response to either joint use or civilian use of a portion of this vital defense facility has been an unequivocal, unambiguous, clearly enunciated and carefully explained “no”, repeated several times for emphasis and clarity, both orally and in writing by the secretary himself.

Why, then, would the Airport Authority persist in such a futile quest by having this measure placed on the ballot? Well, because the Airport Authority is determined that San Diego must have a big-city airport no matter what and, darn it, Miramar is such a convenient place for it. By getting a “yes” vote, they hope to create pressure on elected officials to persuade the Navy Department to give up all or part of this prized site. But why should the Navy Department and U.S. taxpayers be asked to give up vital defense resources to provide for a new airport in San Diego, especially when there is disagreement on the need for it? 

The Airport Authority acknowledges that the Base Realignment and Consolidation (BRAC) process retained Miramar and that it is correctly regarded as a vital part of the defense facilities network but they say that circumstances can and do change. In support of this, they cite past statements by Navy officials that the Navy would never withdraw from Miramar and look, now the Marines are there.

But this is disingenuous. The Marines were relocated to Miramar from El Toro and Tustin when those facilities were closed incident to the BRAC process and there was nowhere else for them to go. The taxpayers have since invested heavily in infrastructure at Miramar and the Marines are there to stay. They are, moreover, under the jurisdiction of the Navy Department and are a part of naval aviation. The mission of Miramar is to support the operation of aviation activities and units of the operating forces of the Marine Corps, Navy and other activities as designated by the Commandant of the Marine Corps in coordination with the Chief of Naval Operations. It is not as if the Navy abandoned Miramar.

Placing this measure on the ballot was a cop-out by the Airport Authority and a disservice to the voters, many of whom remain under the mistaken notion that a “yes” vote means that Miramar will be San Diego’s airport of the future. It will not, at least as long as there is a U.S. Marine Corps. Miramar is an integral part of the San Diego region’s Navy-Marine Corps base complex which is the largest in the world and which will continue to contribute far more to the region’s economy than a new airport ever will.

This ballot measure is a pitiful climax to a costly and futile search for a new airport that has spanned half a century and produced absolutely nothing of enduring value. It has unnecessarily strained the cordial relations between the region’s civilian and military communities. Finally, it has diverted attention from other approaches which, while far from ideal, must be pursued because they are the only ones viable, to wit: expanding Lindbergh Field, San Diego’s airport of the future, in conjunction with the improvement and use of other airports in the area to accommodate the cargo and commuter passenger overflow from Lindbergh.

San Diego has many wonderful attributes and the best climate in the world but it is simply not the major market area and transportation hub necessary to justify a huge new international airport, nor is it likely to become one. For that we have Los Angeles. Let us be glad. CRO

copyright 2006 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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