Lawmakers Unite to Fight Miramar Airport Measure

San Diego's congressional delegation lined up to oppose a ballot measure for a civilian airport at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station yesterday, hoping their bipartisan show of strength will bury it at the polls.

In a news conference across from San Diego International Airport, the three Republicans and two Democrats denounced Proposition A as an affront to the Marine Corps and a serious misstep by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

"Now is the time for the Airport Authority to become creative," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, "to quit having a set of blinders on that always points toward Miramar and to come up with some better options."

Hunter pointed to a defense authorization bill signed by President Bush on Tuesday that includes provisions prohibiting the secretary of the Navy from allowing civilian operations at Miramar, Camp Pendleton or North Island Naval Air Station.

The language, which expands on 1996 legislation that put Miramar off-limits, means another act of Congress would be required to carry out the Airport Authority's proposal.

"The ballgame is over," Hunter said during the news conference.

His opposition to Miramar was echoed by Democratic Reps. Bob Filner and Susan Davis of San Diego, and by Republican Reps. Darrell Issa of Vista and Brian Bilbray of Carlsbad.

There was far less consensus on an alternative to a Miramar civilian airport, but to some extent all five spoke to using Lindbergh Field and its single runway indefinitely.

The event, organized by the No on Proposition A campaign committee, highlighted the nearly nonexistent political backing for a measure that needs support from elected officials to be carried out.

Proposition A supporters said they were disappointed that the congressional representatives aren't waiting for the outcome of the Nov. 7 vote.

John Chalker, one of the leaders of the Coalition to Preserve the Economy, which favors Proposition A, said the officials were taking a politically safe route.

"Dealing with airport siting issues is a no-win proposition for any elected official," Chalker said. "You aren't going to make friends doing it either way."

Even before yesterday's bipartisan show of opposition, political support for the Airport Authority's recommendation had been slender. The Pentagon and local military officials have steadfastly opposed using Miramar for a civilian airport.

Only three elected officials have come out in favor of the ballot measure: San Diego Councilman Tony Young and Vista Mayor Morris Vance, who serve on the Airport Authority board, and Sheriff Bill Kolender, who appointed one board member.

Others, notably San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, have declined to take a position or have opposed the measure.

Voters are being asked whether government officials should seek to obtain a portion of Miramar for a civilian airport, provided it would not harm military readiness. Much of the campaign since then has revolved around a dispute about whether that can be done, and whether it is necessary to move from the 661-acre, single-runway airfield that has served San Diego since 1928.

Local congressional opposition surfaced in the Pentagon's latest base realignment and closure process, completed last year, which spared the San Diego region from major cutbacks. At the time, state and federal elected officials demanded that the airport agency refrain from considering military installations lest they appear vulnerable to being decommissioned.

The Airport Authority selected Miramar after looking at civilian sites as far away as Boulevard and the Imperial County desert. A board majority concluded the Marine Corps base was the best option to replace Lindbergh Field because of its central location.

The congressional representatives made several references yesterday to Miramar's contribution to national defense, a point not in dispute with the yes-on-A contingent.

"You don't tell our Marines, you don't tell our brave soldiers that we're taking your base," said Filner, who pushed unsuccessfully for an airport in Imperial County linked by a high-speed magnetic levitation train. "Readiness, training, preparation, support for our troops revolves around keeping Miramar as a Marine air station."

Hunter said the language he inserted into the defense spending bill ought to be enough to settle the matter.

Issa and Bilbray mentioned keeping Lindbergh as the main airport but shifting smaller aircraft elsewhere.

"We could have a 50-seat minimum at this airport" for aircraft, said Issa, who pilots his own small plane, "and with proper funding move the aircraft to other places. That is doable."

Issa also criticized the Airport Authority for giving short shrift to the concept of a link between Lindbergh Field and a proposed civilian runway at North Island. The authority ruled out a second runway at North Island primarily because of complications posed by crosswinds.

Bilbray said he supports a high-speed transportation link to the Los Angeles basin as a way of eliminating commuter flights between the two metropolitan areas.

And Davis, whose district includes Point Loma neighborhoods where residents long for an end to ever-increasing aircraft noise, said, "I think San Diegans want closure on this issue. ... I think they'd like to see Lindbergh improved."

The Airport Authority is already working on a plan to add 10 gates to Terminal 2, but says it expects operations will have reached capacity by 2022. Officials say proposals to move cargo and general aviation to other airfields won't relieve enough pressure to avert a crunch.

"The easy position to take is, `Hey it's not a problem today and we don't need to think about moving,' " Chalker said. "That's great, except this is not about today. This is about tomorrow."

Mark Ballassare, director of research at Public Policy Institute of California and a specialist on state and local government relations, said the tiff looks like "a real interesting federal-versus-local fight." He noted the pressure on Southern California to expand its airports.

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