Sanders Calls Sunroad Irresponsible; Mayor Outraged Over Plan for Hotel Towers

SAN DIEGO -- Mayor Jerry Sanders condemned Sunroad Enterprises yesterday as an irresponsible company with a pattern of aggressive development that skirts the law and could endanger the public.

The mayor's outrage was in response to a report in The San Diego Union-Tribune yesterday detailing Sunroad's plan to build two hotel towers near Lindbergh Field that exceed Federal Aviation Administration height standards.

Sunroad is proposing 600 hotel rooms and related amenities on Harbor Island, public property run by the San Diego Unified Port District. Meanwhile, the company is embroiled in a dispute with the city of San Diego over the height of an office tower near Montgomery Field in Kearny Mesa.

"The fact that Sunroad continues to propose projects that the FAA believes will endanger public safety is irresponsible and an affront to our community," said Sanders, who accepted $3,600 from Sunroad executives during his mayoral campaign.

"There is now a pattern that is developing that shows that Sunroad is willing to thumb their nose when it comes time to obeying the law," Sanders said at a news conference he called on the matter.

As proposed, the two Harbor Island hotels would exceed FAA height standards by 124 feet and 69 feet. Sunroad officials declined to discuss the mayor's comments, instead issuing a statement through the company's communications office.

"Sunroad has a 30-year track record of developing first-class commercial, residential and hospitality venues in San Diego," the statement said. "We are honored to have the opportunity to participate in the development of another excellent project on Harbor Island."

It further said: "The company is certainly aware of the FAA's interest in developments near the airport, and has reassured the Port District that the project will fully comply with any FAA determination."

Sunroad was criticized for ignoring directives from the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority and the San Diego Unified Port District to confer with the FAA over its Harbor Island plans. The port district oversees construction on public tidelands along San Diego Bay.

The port district sent the building heights to the FAA itself and received a response concluding that the planned hotels would pose "hazards to air navigation."

Port officials said they would not approve a project deemed hazardous by the FAA. City officials, however, allowed construction of Sunroad's office tower in Kearny Mesa to continue after the city accepted a Sunroad promise not to exceed 160 feet. Ultimately, Sunroad went ahead with its original plan for a 180-foot building.

Sunroad officials denied they were told to consult the FAA on their Harbor Island construction plans, even though the requests are documented in letters and records on file with the port.

Sanders commended the port district and the airport authority for catching Sunroad's failure to consult with the FAA, saying the city should adopt a system for doing the same.

Meanwhile, City Attorney Michael Aguirre held a separate news conference yesterday where he, too, criticized Sunroad -- in addition to the mayor and his top administrators.

Aguirre called on Sanders to break off talks with Sunroad regarding a settlement of the height issue on the Kearny Mesa office building, calling those discussions "closed-door wheeling and dealing."

He said meetings between the mayor's office and Sunroad executives undermine the checks and balances of city government. He said his office and the City Council should have a say in how the matter is resolved.

Sanders' spokesman, Fred Sainz, said there has been no discussion with Sunroad about a settlement. The talks have been with the FAA and focus on modifying the approach used by airplanes landing at Montgomery Field.

Aguirre vowed there will be no settlement unless his office and the council approves one.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said no settlement is imminent. He said the agency would study any proposal that the city presents, though no formal proposals have been submitted.



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