Miramar Airport Backers Pick up Key Endorsement

North County, CA's largest business group decided recently to back the Miramar airport ballot measure.

A win is a win. That's the way Joe Craver, chairman of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, views the razor-edge vote by which the county's largest business group decided recently to back the Miramar airport ballot measure.

On July 27, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce's board of directors voted 19-18 to endorse the advisory measure that seeks public backing for a commercial airport on Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

"I consider it a significant win," Craver said, in an interview last week. "Yes, it was a narrow margin. But there are a lot of winners who win by small margins. People remember who wins. They do not remember losers."

New-airport opponents, however, downplayed the significance of the endorsement.

It remains to be seen whether the backing of business leaders will translate into a win at the ballot box Nov. 7. On that day, San Diego County residents will get the chance to tell the airport authority whether or not it should try to negotiate a lease or purchase of 3,000 of Miramar's 23,000 acres for an airport ---- provided the Marines' mission wouldn't be compromised.

The Marines, who strongly oppose the ballot measure, have said repeatedly that any civilian or shared airport would compromise their mission.

Following a 3 1/2-year search for an airport site, the authority's board concluded in June that Miramar was the best location for a Lindbergh Field replacement.

The agency contends that Lindbergh, the nation's busiest one-runway airport and 20th-busiest overall, will run out of room to handle the county's air travel demand when the number of airline passengers approaches 25 million. More than 17 million passed through Lindbergh's gates last year and passenger demand is forecasted to reach 32 million by 2030.

But there are skeptics, among them a prominent economics professor at UC San Diego, who say the regional agency is overstating the urgency of the matter and that Lindbergh can continue serving San Diego County effectively for decades to come.

Some openly scoff at the need for a new airport as they consider the relative ease of boarding a plane at Lindbergh against the backdrop of long lines at airports such as Los Angeles International. Others have said businesses and developers support a new airport location so the Lindbergh site, which is on prime downtown property, can be developed.

It doesn't help the cause of Miramar-airport advocates that the military is by far the largest employer in the county and has close ties to the area's large defense-contracting industry, and there is widespread concern about harming that golden economic egg.

Add to that the natural aversion to airports among the hundreds of thousands who live in influential communities wrapped around Miramar, and it is hardly surprising, airport advocates say, that the proposal is encountering stiff opposition. There is also a dearth of support from big-name politicians.

Instead, the pro-Miramar airport folks seem to be gaining more enemies by the week. On July 26, three San Diego County supervisors publicly announced their opposition to the ballot measure.

Craver said he is "absolutely" concerned about the lack of endorsements by public officials.

"But I also know ---- I'm a realist ---- that airports and politicians do not mix," he said, saying that backing airports is a risky proposition for officials elected by people who don't want to live near the huge, noisy transportation facilities.

And, so, Craver said, winning an endorsement from the business group was huge.

The endorsement came as a surprise and disappointment to retired Rear Adm. Jack Batzler of Del Mar, board member and designated spokesman for the group Taxpayers for Responsible Planning, which opposes putting an airport at Miramar. But he said he wasn't worried that the endorsement might give momentum to the pro-Miramar airport campaign.

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