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Airport Parking’s Free and Easy for Some Politicians

Times Staff Writers

Between the busy East and West terminals at Lindbergh Field there’s a spot with about a dozen parking spaces. It’s closed to the public. But it’s open and reserved for local elected officials, who park there free while they travel on official business.

The VIP lot was created by the San Diego Unified Port District in 1979 and is reserved for a list of about 50 elected officials, ranging from San Diego City Council members and state legislators to the sheriff and local congressmen.

Port District spokesman Dan Wilkens says the idea behind the lot is to make it easier for elected officials to do their work by “facilitating and assisting” them as they dash to their planes for flights to political capitals such as Sacramento and Washington.

Issued Parking Cards

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If the lot is full, the politicians still get to park free in the big public parking lots across from the terminals. That’s because the Port District issues these elected officials a small plastic card that gets them in and out of the lots without paying. Rates at those lots range from $8 to $10 a day.

The Port District keeps no records about which officials use it or how often, and assumes elected officials are on official business when they park in the lot, which is also available to Port District maintenance trucks and is designated as a fire lane in emergencies.

“If a U. S. Congressman says he is going on official business . . . I think you have to take him at his word,” Wilkens said.

Periodically, airport police make a spot check of the cars in the lot and check a car’s registration with the state Department of Motor Vehicles to make sure unauthorized vehicles aren’t parking there illegally.

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The cost of parking at the lot is left for the politicians to estimate, since they know how long they parked there, Wilkens said. But the value of having such reserved space at a busy airport such at Lindbergh is known by anyone who has had to fight traffic and compete with other passengers searching for a parking space.

Among the most frequent users are members of the local legislative delegation to Sacramento, seven of whom reported using the special lot on their economic-interest statements filed last week at the state Capitol. Lawmakers are required to report their free use of the lot as a gift from the Port District.

“We don’t advertise it,” said Assemblyman Bill Bradley (R-San Marcos), the biggest user among those filing reports, noting that the parking privilege was worth $600 last year. “The average citizen would probably be upset knowing we get a free parking pass.”

Without the parking lot, Bradley said, he would have his staff drive him to the airport in a state car, which would also cost the taxpayers money.

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Said San Diego Democratic Assemblywoman Lucy Killea: “I live 6 or 7 minutes away. At 6 in the morning, it’s a godsend, because we can pop right in and get on the plane. For those who live far away and have to travel 40 minutes before they get there, it’s even more important.” Killea reported the worth of parking there last year at $320.

State Sen. Wadie Deddeh, the Bonita Democrat, put the worth of parking at the special airport last year at $310. “You park and enter the terminal. It’s very convenient. I appreciate it,” Deddeh said. “I have a definite reason why I must be in Sacramento. I cannot miss a plane. Sometimes when you drive 25 to 30 minutes to get there, you want to find an easy place to park. That’s why they’ve afforded it.”

“The day they say you cannot park there,” he said, “we will not park there.”

Offering a similar explanation was Assemblyman Steve Peace (D-La Mesa), who reported the free cost of parking at $310. “Getting back and forth to Sacramento is very much a product of the job,” he said. “That’s where we’re parking while we’re doing our jobs. If the port didn’t pick it up, the state would have to pay for it. That’s the only difference.”

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Other legislators who reported using the lot last year were Assemblyman Robert Frazee (R-Carlsbad), $310, and Sen. Larry Stirling (R-San Diego), $351.74, which included a breakfast provided by the Port District.


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