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Airport authority reform bill headed to governor

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected by the end of the month to sign a bill that will revise the airport authority’s structure and responsibilities. (View Staff Talk with George Chamberlin on this topic.)

The measure, introduced by state Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), passed the California Assembly by a 78-0 vote Monday. The Senate, which earlier approved the bill, voted late Tuesday to accept recent amendments, and the measure is now headed to the governor for his signature. He has until the end of the month to accept or veto the bill.

“We’ve worked closely with the governor’s office over the last three months, so we’re confident that the governor’s office is satisfied with the shape of the bill and he’ll sign it,” Kehoe said.

One of the biggest provisions of the legislation, Senate Bill 10, is the elimination of the $172,000 salary paid to each of the airport authority’s three executive committee members. The airport authority’s nine board members would instead receive $200 for each meeting attended with a maximum of eight per month.

The bill also establishes ex-officio positions for the Caltrans district director and the department of finance member of the state lands commission. It also adds three public members to the airport authority’s four-member audit committee with “specific expertise in certain areas.”

“By eliminating the two-tiered structure, I think that’s a big step forward as far as organizational effectiveness,” said Alan Bersin, airport authority chairman and a member of the executive committee. “I think there was a good spirit of discussion and compromise on all sides, which is hallmark of good legislation.”

When Kehoe began to discuss restructuring the board, there was talk of cutting board membership to seven and requiring all positions be filled by elected officials. Currently only two of the nine –- San Diego City Councilman Tony Young and San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond -– are elected officials.

While those revisions were scuttled, the final language calls for either the mayor or a city council member to be among the city of San Diego’s three appointments and a county supervisor to be one of the two appointments made by San Diego County.

The measure is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. The current board will serve until Jan. 31, 2009, at which point members will rotate off three at a time during the next three years to provide continuity and a smooth transition.

Bersin, who receives the executive salary along with fellow committee members Bob Watkins and Charlene Zettel, favors the salary cut and plans to serve until the current airport master plan is finished.

“There’s a job to be done, and I believe it has to be done over the next two years,” he said.

Board member Bruce Boland supports the bill but also wants to focus on finishing the master plan.

“I’d like to see it get behind us so we can get to the real work of the master plan and improving Lindbergh Field,” he said.

Boland, a retired Navy Rear Admiral, likes the provision in the bill that allows the board to provide ex-officio positions to officials of the Navy and Marines.

“They’re good partners and our master planning will be done right alongside MCRD (Marines Corps Recruit Depot), so clearly we have to keep our neighbors informed,” he said. “I’m glad to have them at the table so we can discuss the issues at opening meetings.”

SB 10 also requires collaboration between Caltrans, SANDAG, California High Speed Rail Authority and other local agencies to improve the region’s airport system.

“I think it will put the airport authority in closer alignment with local governments around the county,” Kehoe said. “And I don’t think we’re going to have significant airport improvements unless the local governments are tied into the process.”

According to Kehoe, SB 10 will save taxpayers an estimated $450,000. She is happy with the final version of the bill.

“Taxpayers expect public boards such as the airport authority to be accountable and this legislation delivers on that expectation,” she said. “I’m certain that a more accountable airport authority will benefit all San Diego residents.”

Send your comments to Doug.Sherwin@sddt.com

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