For months the military has said Marine Corps Air Station Miramar isn’t available, and on Tuesday the voters of San Diego County agreed.
In early election returns, the controversial ballot measure identifying Miramar as the best site for the region’s new airport, was failing by a nearly 2 to 1 margin.
"It’s looking great,” Bruce Boland, chairman of the No on Prop. A campaign committee, said Tuesday night. "The voters of San Diego County have validated what the Marines mean to our national security and realize their importance to the county. It’s very, very clear that we need Miramar for a training base for our Marines.
“We look forward to seeing what we really can do for the future.”
San Diego County Regional Airport Authority chairman Joe Craver, whose board placed the advisory measure on the ballot, said the results were “way, way too early” to indicate an outcome.
He said the airport authority, however, will respect whatever outcome is decided by the voters.
“If the voters speak out (against the measure) then we’ll have to go back and revisit the issue,” he said.
John Chalker, chairman of the pro-Prop. A committee – the Coalition for the Preservation of the Economy – admitted the gap would be tough to overcome.
“Looking at the turnout, the community was very engaged on this issue,” he said. “The airport authority, ASAP-21 (the Alliance in Support of Airport Progress for the 21st century), and the supporters of Prop. A have got to listen to and respect the voters on this. I can’t say we’re discouraged … we’re not.
“What ASAP-21 will do is we’ll continue to move forward until changes in the environment bring the issue to the forefront again. It will return until we resolve our airport problem.”
By Wednesday morning, the decision was clear: approximately 62 percent of voters opposed the measure, with 100 percent of the precincts counted.
State legislation created the airport authority four years ago and tasked the agency with finding a solution to San Diego’s future air transportation needs. Some studies indicate Lindbergh Field will reach capacity by 2015.
After a lengthy – and some would say costly – search, the nine-member board decided in July that Miramar was the best place for an international airport.
While the board couldn’t agree on a specific site within the military base’s 23,000 acres, they composed a ballot question asking voters if government officials should work to obtain 3,000 acres at Miramar by 2020 for use as a commercial airport if certain requirements were met.
The Navy and Marines have continually said the base isn’t available, citing its importance to the country’s national defense network. It also said the base wasn’t compatible with civil operations for safety reasons.
Despite the military’s objections and objections by San Diego’s congressional delegation, the majority of the airport authority board felt Miramar was the only option. They felt if Prop. A passed, it would force the area’s elected officials to convince the military to leave Miramar.
The vote looks to be sending a different message.
“It’s a mandate to come up with a plan B,” said airport authority board member and Lemon Grove Mayor Mary Sessom. “We have a meeting next Monday and at the meeting we need to start looking at what we’re gong to do in the long term for the county of San Diego.
“We have options we’ve never seriously considered and now’s the time to start doing that.”
Sessom was one of the board members who voted against the ballot language when it was written this summer.
The majority of the board is turning over Dec. 4 and Sessom hopes they take a different approach.
“I’m hoping that the folks who come in will understand that even though this vote was advisory, this is a mandate from the people that if (the board) will start looking at seriously solving the potential problem that we’re gong to have in San Diego County, don’t solve it on the backs of the military.”
T.J. Zane, spokesman for Taxpayers for Responsible Planning – one of two groups that merged to form No on Prop. A – said the 75-word ballot measure didn’t connect with voters.
“The ballot language proposed was too convoluted,” he said. “There were too many conditions attached. It wasn’t a solution. It was a ‘what if’ scenario, and the people really want an answer. They want a solution.”
Rep. Bob Filner (D-Chula Vista) said the vote tells the business community that if they want support for a new airport, they’ll have to look outside the county. He has been a big proponent of building an airport in Imperial County and connecting it to San Diego with a high-speed rail.
Filner and No on Prop. A’s Boland both want the airport authority to conduct better studies.
”We need to start with some realistic economic assumptions,” Boland said. “The idea that without an airport we’re going to lose $130 billion in gross regional product just didn’t ring true to the people in the county.
“We need to go back and look at the real air traffic and air cargo needs. Clearly Miramar is not the solution.’’
Chalker said one thing the airport debate showed this time around was that there are only two viable locations – an expanded Lindbergh Field and Miramar.
“Even the opposition didn’t suggest an alternative to the two locations,” he said. “I don’t think there are any others out there.”
The strong early returns surprised officials of the No on Prop A campaign. Their polling earlier this summer had the measure being defeated, 53 percent to 42 percent.
“I was absolutely dumbfounded when I saw it was 62 to 38,” Boland said.
Craver said a loss would not invalidate the work of the airport authority.
“We do have other tasks,” he said, mentioning its management of Lindbergh Field and its land use responsibilities for the county’s 16 airports.