May 5, 2004 - From the February, 2003 issue

San Diego's Twenty-Year Quest For A New Airport Enters A New Phase – Joe Craver Explains

In last year's state legislative session, Sen. Steve Peace sponsored SB1896 which passed and established the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, assuming San Diego's aviation oversight duties from the Port of San Diego. The key responsibility of the new authority will be to site a new airport for San Diego. MIR is pleased to present this interview with Joe Craver, chairman of the board of the new San Diego Regional Airport Authority, in which he discusses the challenges ahead for the brand new governing body.

Can you give us a sense of why this new San Diego Regional Airport Authority was created? Why was it necessary?

We need to find a site for a new airport. A few of our city leaders were of the opinion that addressing the siting of a new airport would require the buy-in of the entire region. The best way to accomplish that and to be successful was to set up this authority. As you know, the airport was under the Port of San Diego. And, although attempts have been made in the past to select a site for a future airport, the Port of San Diego did not have a regional voice in that regard. So, an airport authority was formed with representatives from the entire San Diego region. That's the reason the airport authority now has the advisory responsibility for San Diego International Airport and we also have the awesome task of evaluating and coming up with a site recommendation that will serve our community for the next hundred years.

It's not very often that a new regional organization is set up in California. What are the obstacles one must overcome to create San Diego's regional airport authority? What are the benefits citizens should reasonably expect?

The primary obstacle was that someone needed to have the courage and demonstrate the leadership to initiate the airport authority and pass the enabling legislation. Senator Steve Peace and Representative Wayne Howard were the ones who put themselves out there and made this happen. They could see the benefits to our region and they're the ones who went ahead and made this into law. This is going to be the best chance, if maybe our only chance, to come to an agreement on the siting of a new airport. The airport authority will generate the proposal, but approval from the voters will be necessary to make it happen. But, many believe, myself included, that this is the best chance we have to get a new airport built.

San Diego has a regional government organization, SANDAG, that for years reviewed and considered alternatives for airport siting and growth? What was deficient about the existing institutions that led to Senator Peace's legislation and this new entity?

SANDAG also was strengthened, especially in the area of transportation planning. This is critical for our success because we are going to be working together with SANDAG on our site evaluation-it would be inappropriate to site an airport if there is an inability to have a transportation system to serve the airport. So that reorganization and strengthening of SANDAG will provide that function.

The board of the airport authority recently was appointed. Could you elaborate for our readers who are the appointing authorities and who now sits on the board?

Some were appointed by mayors, some were appointed by a group of mayors, one was appointed by the governor, and another was appointed by the sheriff. Xema Jacobson and William Lynch serve on the executive committee with me. The other members are Councilman Ralph Inzunza, Mayor Terry Johnson, Paul Nieto, Paul Peterson, Mayor Mary Sessom, and Charlene Zettel.

I should also note that the Airport Authority is an advisory group to the airport. The airport executive director, Thella Bowens has a very dedicated staff that does an outstanding job of running the airport.

What's the first order of business likely to be for the new airport authority?

The first order of business is to successfully separate the airport from the Port of San Diego and continue to provide a safe and secure facility with professional customer service. When the airport was a part of the Port, many Port employees had dual roles: some of their time was spent in support of the airport, and some was in support of real estate and maritime. So, we've brought aviation staff from the Port of San Diego over to the airport. At the same time, we have vacancies that we need to fill. Ensuring that we are adequately staffed is the first task we need to address. We also need to find places for our people to work. Many of our people are in a temporary modular building.

As soon as we get a bit more settled, we will begin to evaluate the list of potential sites for a new airport.


What do you envision as the outcome of a review of a master plan for Lindbergh? Is it to be a feeder airport to LAX? In your opinion, should it have a broader vision?

We need to evaluate and come up with a recommendation on how San Diego International Airport will best be able to serve our region until a new airport can be built. Of course, that could be as long as 15 or 20 years out. But, there will be a point in time when we will max-out the capability of the airport. Now, there are a number of options that are available to us for evaluation-one is to continue to go ahead and add more gates to Terminal 2. We have an option to go over to the north side of the runway, on Pacific Highway, to build a terminal. To be able to do that we'll need to extend the north taxiway.

Our challenge always involves the availability of money, and, in the case of the extension of the north taxiway, working out an agreement with the United States Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. So, those are the initial challenges that face the Airport Authority as we look at the options available to us to extend the existing capacity at the airport.

At the same time, we need to evaluate the regional picture and make a determination on whether the current airport is to exist in concert with a new airport at a new site or be replaced entirely by a new airport. This decision on the regional strategy will dictate what actions we take with Lindbergh going forward.

Our readers here in the Los Angeles basin are familiar with the difficulty of managing modernization efforts for the airports in Los Angeles. Have you signed on for the rest of your life to handle this responsibility, Joe?

I am very proud to have been selected to serve on the Airport Authority and to be able to get it started. There will be others who will follow me and some of the other board members. Yet, they will continue to build on the planning process and the implementation program that we establish in order to make a new facility a reality. But it needs to be started, and it needs to be started now. The Airport Authority and the people we have now are the ones who have stepped up to the challenge, who are contributing their valuable time and knowledge, and who are providing the courage and leadership necessary to get the ball rolling.

One more question, Joe. One potential site idea for a new San Diego airport that comes up occasionally is a cross-border, bi-national airport related to Tijuana. How does a regional airport authority that includes no membership from across the border even consider such an option?

Well, it would be inappropriate for me, at this time, to go ahead and single out any one particular site. It will be the responsibility of all of us to consider all possible sites. It is my opinion that we need to look at everything, because we do not want to wait until the end of the process when we come up with a recommended site and for whatever critics that we have to say, "Well, why didn't you consider this," or "Why didn't you consider that?"

Let's probe a little more: is there any way for the Commission board to have ad-hoc or ex-official members from across the border?

That's an interesting question and that's something that has not been suggested. However, that's something that is certainly for us to go ahead and look at and evaluate.

To learn more about the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, visit their web site at or visit the San Diego Association of Governments at


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.