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Mayor OKs 2nd Look at Grounded Air Show

Times Staff Writer

Mayor Maureen O’Connor has agreed to schedule a reconsideration of the San Diego City Council’s decision to cancel the 1990 Air/Space America show, setting the stage for a showdown between two rival groups that want to stage the Brown Field aerial extravaganza.

Paul Downey, the mayor’s press secretary, said Wednesday that the San Diego City Council will take up Air/Space America’s request to reverse the cancellation in a closed session scheduled for April 4.

O’Connor’s decision is apparently the result of a Feb. 23 meeting at which former Congressmen Bob Wilson and Lionel Van Deerlin appealed to O’Connor to hear Air/Space America’s response to the council’s Feb. 7 closed session vote on the air show. Wilson is one of the founders of Air/Space America.

Massive Debt

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Citing an auditor’s report that Air/Space America would owe creditors $4.8 million even if the 1990 show is successful, the council at that meeting decided to revoke the organization’s permit to use city airstrips and withdraw $300,000 in hotel tax funds it was prepared to spend on the show.

About 200,000 people attended the event, which featured trade booths, paratroop jumps, aerial acrobatics, rides on the supersonic jet Concorde and tours of the Soviet AH-124 transport, the world’s largest aircraft.

Air/Space America “didn’t feel they had gotten a fair shake in the audit, and they want to present their case,” Downey said of the mayor’s decision to schedule a reconsideration of the decision.

Council dissatisfaction with the operation has centered on alleged poor business practices that resulted in a mountain of debt after the 1988 show, damage to Brown Field, and the organizers’ threats to take the show to Palmdale, Calif., or Ft. Worth, Tex., if the council did not agree to allow them to stage the 1990 show at Brown Field.

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According to Downey, O’Connor told Wilson that the financial management of the show would have to be improved and organizers would have to make a commitment to keep the show in San Diego.

“She is a supporter of the air show,” Downey said. “She would love to see them back here in ’90 if they can take care of the financial problems and they stay in San Diego.”

But other council members appear ready to push Air/Space America harder, including the possibility of taking responsibility for financial management away from its president, retired Rear Adm. Bill Walsh.

“It is difficult to me to feel comfortable (parting) with the taxpayers’ money in the form of a subsidy with Bill Walsh in charge,” said Councilman Ed Struiksma, one of several council members lobbied by Wilson in recent weeks.

Meeting With Rivals

Councilman Bob Filner, whose district includes Brown Field, said that “I haven’t seen any information to lead me to reconsider. In fact, all the information I have seen confirms my original decision.”

Filner has scheduled a meeting with organizers of a rival group bidding to put on the air show. The untitled group, headed by three consultants who pulled together much of the show for Air/Space America last year but are now disenchanted with Walsh and that organization, approached city officials Tuesday with preliminary plans to stage the show.

William Weber, a Tustin-based organizer of electronics trade shows who is a leader of the rival group, said Wednesday that his group will distribute a fuller plan to council members before the April 4 meeting and feels certain that it will receive some consideration during that meeting.

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Walsh, meanwhile, expressed delight that a five-week campaign to win reconsideration of the cancellation had paid off and promised to relinquish control of the operation if council members insist that is the only way for the show to succeed.

“I want it to succeed. If my presence here is not making it succeed, I’ll step aside. But he added that “I’m not going to step down until there’s a replacement here who’s going to come in.”

Reconsideration of the council’s closed-session vote would require a motion by one of the council members who participated in the unanimous decision to cancel the 1990 show and withdraw the $300,000. The council members could then take a separate vote on the issue.

Asked why the issue was being discussed in closed session, which is reserved for personnel and litigation matters, Assistant City Atty. Ronald Johnson said he had not seen a formal request from the mayor’s office to schedule the item in closed session and could not respond.

Johnson suggested that lawsuits filed against the city by creditors seeking payment of debts from the 1988 Air/Space America show could be the reason.


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