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Questions lead to worries over airport bill, votes to oppose

CARLSBAD — A new bill from Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (CA-80) has many entities in the county on edge, including the city of Carlsbad.

The bill, AB 3119, would consolidate the San Diego County Airport Authority back into the San Diego Unified Port District, leaving land use decisions to just five cities — San Diego, Chula Vista, Coronado, National City and Imperial Beach, according to Jason Haber, assistant to the city manager.

What it means for local control over decisions concerning the county’s 16 regional airports, including McClellan-Palomar Airport, is up in the air.

But on April 17, the Carlsbad City Council voted 4-1, with Councilwoman Cori Schumacher against, to draft and send a letter opposing the bill. The other four council members, though, said it doesn’t mean they won’t support any amendments to the bill ensuring the city retains its control over the airport.

Councilman Michael Schumacher (no relation) said after reviewing the proposed legislation, Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill crosses out all North and East county cities. Additionally, he said, the legislation was brought forward without any engagement from the cities affected.

“You look through the legislation … it crosses out Carlsbad’s name,” Schumacher said. “This is something … it should be vetted and talked about with the communities, but it hasn’t. The state legislators brought this forward without engaging our community and how impactful it is. This is clearly a take of local control. There is no other way to look at it.”

Schumacher also noted major airline carriers such as Southwest, United and Alaska plus the San Diego Tourism Authority, San Diego Regional and Carlsbad chambers of commerce and the city of San Marcos, plus others, have come out against the bill.

“They were quite clear this is a step backwards,” he added. “This is not good for business, residents and the region.”

Cori Schumacher said she does not publicly support the bill, but does support an amendment to the legislation. She cautioned against making a rash decision, but said if Carlsbad’s need were not met through an amendment, then the city should oppose the bill.

She also said a JPA was signed by the city decades ago and that it appears to still be in place, although it lacks any power since not every entity needed has agreed to the terms.

Schumacher also quoted a March 7 story in the Voice of San Diego where the publication said Gonzalez Fletcher is “open to discussing with the cities in which they’re located how to best handle them in the future.”

“That’s an invitation,” Schumacher added. “The main part is consolidating a portion of the airport authority back under the port. In that respect, I agree the strikethrough with Carlsbad is concerning. The second, contemplated by this bill, is to allow the airport authority to continue to exist minus the specific authority around the international airport.”

Hope Nelson, of Citizens for a Friendly Airport, also said there is much left to be learned about the bill and its implications. She said it, “for the most part,” concerns San Diego International Airport and urged a joint powers agreement with other North County cities.

“The county in the airport issue has been nothing but disrespectful,” Nelson added. “Pretending the bully county is going to continue to work with us on the airport is questionable. I just don’t understand the response to AB 3119 without the appropriate research being done.”

Mayor Matt Hall said a signed JPA has little effect if other entities do not agree to the terms, and he does not see the county coming on board.

He also cautioned about lessons from AB 805 (also authored by Gonzalez Fletcher), which stripped tally voting rights from North County cities concerning transportation issues through the North County Transit District (and others). Hall said AB 3119 is another attempt to transfer most of the power and voting rights to San Diego and the four other cities.

“It was a power grab,” he said of AB 805. “There were things that were told to us in AB 805 that were in place that never happened. It is like a huge red flag going up again … and Carlsbad loses all its voting rights. It doesn’t show collaboration … we should all be working together. Saying no to it is our starting point and going through the process to amend it.”

As for the county, Jessica Northrup, communication officer for the Land Use and Environment Group, said the county is reviewing the bill and potential impacts to county airports.

“Regarding the relationship between the county and the Airport Authority, the Airport Authority is responsible for developing Airport Land Use Compatibility Plans for all airports in the region, including county airports,” she said. “ALUCPs are used to plan the land use within the vicinity of the airports and determine if a proposed development project outside of an airport is in compliance with the ALUCP.

With the exception of Lindbergh Field, airport operators such as the county, and the cities of San Diego and Oceanside operate their airports independently of the Airport Authority.

A spokesperson for the Port of San Diego said it is also reviewing the bill, but has not taken an official position.

Questions emailed to the airport authority and Fletcher Gonzalez were not answered before deadline.