The Board of Port Commissioners faced a hostile audience at a special public hearing Tuesday when it encountered strong opposition to expanding Lindbergh Field.
Most of those who packed a banquet room at the Holiday Inn on North Harbor Drive live or work near the airport or under the flight path of the passenger jets that use Lindbergh Field. Many who spoke against the expansion plans listed noise pollution and safety as their main concerns.
One Loma Portal resident said she is worried about harmful effects from jet fuel residue emitted by passenger planes taking off. Barbara Thompson said she was concerned for her children who play outdoors and blamed the premature corrosion of a recently purchased patio set on the fuel residue.
The hearing was scheduled so commissioners could hear the public's comments on two plans to expand the airport that everybody acknowledges won't provide a long-term solution to airport crowding. The commissioners are expected to eventually choose one proposal but have not set a timetable for construction. The expansion is expected to help Lindbergh Field meet increased passenger and airline demands through 2010.
The plans could cost up to $385 million and include suggestions to acquire property from the adjacent Marine Corps Recruit Depot, build an access road from Interstate 5 and construct up to 27 new gates.
About 2 dozen speakers addressed the commissioners during the three-hour hearing. San Diego City Councilman Bob Filner was greeted with a loud chorus of boos when he spoke in favor of the expansion plans on behalf of the council. Filner was one of only three people who expressed support for the plans.
The hearing was highlighted by the testimony of A.J. Frank, who said he has lived in Loma Portal and Point Loma most of his life. Frank used a boom box and recorded jet noise to drive his point across.
The young man's brief testimony was interrupted three times by the sounds of passenger jets taking off, as the engine noise reverberated through the cavernous auditorium, much to the delight of the audience.
While Frank was blasting the expansion plans as a "pursuit of profits by insensitive politicians," his testimony was suddenly drowned out by the noise of a departing jet.
"That's what I hear every day," he shouted at a clapping audience.
Several representatives of community groups who oppose expanding Lindbergh Field presented detailed arguments against the board's proposals.
Norman Magneson, chairman of the Peninsula Community Planning Board, argued that Lindbergh Field is riddled with safety problems and asked the board to do a safety review before spending any money on the plans. He said the Port District has failed to implement any of the safety measures recommended by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1988.
Magneson's main concern was with the absence of 1,000-foot object-free areas at either end of the runway, as recommended by the FAA. He pointed out that there is a gas station 300 feet from the main runway, and that the Laurel Travel Center--a six-story commercial and parking structure--is about 700 feet from the east end of the same runway.
In addition, Magneson warned that the usable portion of Lindbergh's main runway is dangerously short for a jumbo jet to use when it rains.
"The safety problems are significant," he said.
Col. Regan Wright reiterated the Marine Corps' opposition to the expansion plan that calls for it to give up 48 acres from the 388-acre Recruit Depot. Wright told the commissioners that the Marine Corps has already given up more than 400 acres of MCRD land to San Diego and the port since 1923.
The colonel, noting the frequent calls by Lindbergh critics for a bigger airport to be built at a different location, suggested that expansion is not the answer.
"If there was some way we could give you our MCRD . . . . We really don't think it will solve your problem of capacity and noise," Wright said.
Several speakers called the expansion plans a waste of money.
"This is a waste of millions of dollars," said one local resident. " . . . It will not eliminate the need for a new airport."
Hedy St. John, chairwoman of the San Diego Assn. of Governments technical advisory committee for airport relocation, suggested that Lindbergh's capacity to handle passengers and jets has just about been met. She offered mild criticism of the two expansion plans submitted by P & D Technologies, an Orange County consulting firm that did the study for the Port District.
"Consultants are more than a little reluctant when it comes to determining the bottom line. The reason for this seems to be that you can always squeeze in just a little bit more," St. John said.
She argued that most studies are predicting operational figures that "are all in excess of what our single-runway field can tolerate."
St. John said the average delay for departure at Lindbergh is 6.5 minutes. In 12 years, she said, the average delay is projected to be 47 minutes--and 75 minutes for flights leaving between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Lindbergh's single jet runway is the main cause for delayed departures, St. John said, adding, "Unfortunately, this situation will never change, as our 475-acre (airport) has geographical and physical constraints which can never be overome."
Although he expressed the San Diego City Council's support for expansion, Filner also said the P & D study "brings us no closer to a solution for San Diego's operational needs." The various agencies grappling with the airport issue need to find a "realistic solution," he added.
Filner dismissed calls by Councilman Ron Roberts and others for a binational airport on Otay Mesa as "unfeasible" for political and practical reasons. He urged continuing talks with the Navy and Marine Corps to see if an airport can be built on land owned by the two military services.
"In the meantime, Lindbergh Field will continue to serve as the region's major airport," Filner said.
He urged the board to go ahead with its expansion plans until an alternative airport site can be found.