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Sandag Backs Brown Field as Airport Site

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After two years of study, the San Diego Assn. of Governments’ staff recommended Friday that local officials pursue international approval of a regional airport at Brown Field on Otay Mesa.

The report seemed to make Otay Mesa the first choice for San Diego, which is running out of room at Lindbergh Field. According to Sandag, the military is unlikely to give up Miramar Naval Air Station, the premier choice for a civilian airport.

The $385,000 study urged the creation of a new fact-finding commission “because almost nothing is known” about Mexico’s or the United States’ position on the proposed airport. The commission would once and for all “determine whether or not Otay Mesa is an institutionally workable alternative,” according to the report.

“I can’t believe that (Sandag) spent a half million dollars to come up with a report that calls for creation of another study,” said San Diego City Councilman Bob Filner, whose district encompasses Otay Mesa. “It’s a total waste of the taxpayers’ money.”

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In 1976, local planners adopted an airport planning report that called for Lindbergh Field to serve as the city’s main airport until at least 1995. In 1981, work began on locating a new airport that would carry passengers in and out of San Diego in the 21st Century. Subsequent studies have looked at several options, but most proposals have focused on Miramar and Brown Field.

According to a Sandag, the proposed airport could be built on U.S. land, but would require an international agreement with Mexico to use that country’s air space. If San Diego were to share the airport with Mexico, the agreement would have to cover access roads and the binational management of the facility.

The proposed commission would determine if there were international support for the proposed airport and which bilateral organizations would handle airport planning. The commission would be appointed by the mayor of San Diego, the chairman of the County Board of Supervisors and the chairman of the San Diego Unified Port District board of commissioners.

Not surprisingly, Councilman Ron Roberts, who supports construction of a commercial airport on Otay Mesa, and Councilman Bob Filner, who opposes the move, disagreed on the long-awaited report’s value.

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Filner has recommended that planners abandon Miramar and Otay Mesa, which would be difficult to develop, and consider a massive airport in the desert that would be linked by a high-speed train, or an airport that would be built upon a platform in the ocean off San Diego. Sandag used “20th Century answers . . . (in a search for) a 21st Century solution,” Filner said.

Roberts, who was out of town on Friday, said during a telephone interview that Sandag did “a reasonable job of sorting out the issues and advancing an action plan. . . . They said (an Otay Mesa) airport can be done physically. Now let’s find out if the Mexican government is interested.”

Although the report did call for the formation of another committee, its authors urged fast action because “there is a real sense of urgency regarding the development potential and the status of development on Otay Mesa.”

Filner on Friday complained that further study amounts to “another moratorium on Otay Mesa . . . which has already gone through 1 1/2 years of a moratorium. You can’t keep this up indefinitely.”

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Developers already have submitted plans for almost half of the industrially zoned land near Brown Field, as well as 10,000 new dwelling units on 1,800 acres near the former Navy airport. State and city planning officials have halted those developments until the future of Brown Field is decided.

Filner complained that Sandag ignored the short-term question of what can be done to expand Lindbergh’s capacity to handle more flights and passengers.

But Roberts described the report as a far-sighted attempt to solve the longstanding problem of where to build an airport that would be able to handle 40 million passengers by the middle of the next century.

“We’ve talked about this for years,” Roberts said. “But what’s been needed is for somebody in authority to make a formal request of the Mexican government.” The report, if adopted by Sandag’s board, would “resolve that issue,” Roberts said.

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Sandag’s full board will vote on the recommendation at its board meeting next Friday.


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