The continuing flap about the pay and benefits of Airport Authority CEO Thella Bowens is entertaining, particularly the latest development about hiring a consultant to justify her perks. But let’s address the real question, why do we still have an Airport Authority separate from the Unified Port of San Diego Diego?
Look, I have no way to evaluate Bowens’ performance; as far as I can see she is doing a fine job promoting more traffic at our airport from distant, exotic lands that are fun to visit, and I have to assume the Airport Authority Board wants her to do just that. My question is this: Given its total failure at the mission which originally justified setting up the Airport Authority separate from the port commission, why hasn’t it been eliminated?
My recollection of the details may be somewhat fuzzy, but I’m confident the following is pretty
1. The port district ran the airport for decades, and successfully. The constant talk of impending under-capacity and frequent “searches” for alternative sites notwithstanding, somehow they muddled through and ran the most convenient airport in the country.
2. The creation of a separate bureaucracy dedicated to the airport was justified on two grounds: (a), it was imperative to find a new site for Lindbergh Field because the capacity crisis was just around the corner, and (b), any new facility would be located on land not under control of the port commission, so a separate body was appropriate.
3. Following separation and the rapid growth or the new bureaucracy, now reported to be more than 350 reporting to Ms. Bowens, an extensive “search” was conducted involving consideration of several sites various distances from San Diego, one in the desert across the mountains. The discovery was made that the only suitable alternative to the current location was (drum roll please) Miramar MCAS!
4. Despite loud protestations from the military about the impracticality of joint use of Miramar, the Airport Authority pursued a public “advisory” vote on the location, to be used if and when Miramar became available at some unspecified future date.
5. The inept campaign to sell the public on the obvious only alternative to the current location resulted in the vote failing to even get a simple majority, even though no future projected costs for the relocation were ever revealed to the voters. How this campaign, which almost promised a “free lunch,” failed is still a mystery to me but they pulled it off.
After the failure, the new bureaucracy has focused on improving Lindbergh, while still warning about reaching capacity. It has spent a lot money and is currently spending a lot more on upgrades, some of which I sincerely welcome. What I don’t understand is this: If we still have this capacity problem, why the push to get more and more flights from all over the world, a prime justification for Bowens’ lofty situation?
I realize that there are several Airport Authority board positions that are very attractive to local politicians, one of whom has just used his tenure to help elect him to Congress. Still, isn’t it time the public demand that we fold the Airport Authority back into the port district and save ourselves some serious money?
Bill Bradshaw lives in Mission Beach.
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