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Lessons of Bowl 'Crisis' Can Help City All Year

January 24, 1988

Someone wrote that "anyone can survive a crisis; it is the everyday living that gets us down."

The hectic fun of the Super Bowl is just about to begin--a crisis of sorts, at least a crisis of celebration. San Diego will roll out the red carpet for football fans and corporate visitors, and for a few days the city will play host to a national party.

Relatively few San Diegans are invited to the party, but local merchants and the city are expected to reap as much as $140 million in benefits from the National Football League championship.

With stakes that high, naturally there is much last-minute scurrying as the city tries to put on its best face in the hopes that this will not be San Diego's only date with the NFL. The city's success will depend not just on how well it handles game-related problems such as scalping, scoreboards and stadium seating but also on the graciousness of all San Diegans and a conscious effort by merchants to avoid the temptation of price gouging.

The scrutiny that accompanies such an event--by the NFL, the Super Bowl Task Force, corporate executives and millions of TV viewers--also has brought some of the city's everyday problems into sharper perspective.

What stands out most is Lindbergh Field. Few would argue that the airport is adequate for a fast-growing county likely to experience a tourism boom when the convention center opens next year. The airport is hard to get in and out of, needs more parking and is annoyingly, and perhaps dangerously, close to residences and downtown. The problems have been debated for years, but no long-term solution is in sight even though the number of passengers using Lindbergh Field is expected to almost double in the next 10 years.

We were reminded of how little progress has been made when the Super Bowl Task Force asked for the 11:30 p.m. curfew to be lifted to reduce delays for departing football fans. The Board of Port Commissioners decided to allow planes to take off all night Sunday over the loud objections of nearby residents, including the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, who fear this is just the first of many requests as the city vies for more mega events.

The concern seems warranted since air traffic is expected to double and the convention center will encourage large-scale events.

Not surprisingly, city officials also cracked down on prostitution. Street walkers along El Cajon Boulevard and women working the hotels no doubt were looking forward to their own Super Bowl bonanza. But a jail overcrowding crisis notwithstanding, law enforcement officials decided to make it tougher and more expensive for hookers by jailing them for the full 48 hours allowed rather than releasing them on their own recognizance and by making them post $2,000 for each outstanding warrant.

Taxi drivers were another sore point for Super Bowl planners, who don't want visitors greeted by unkempt drivers who don't know their way around the city. So last week they publicly urged drivers to bathe and change their clothes. The public scolding was probably uncalled for. But it's not too much to ask that drivers know their way around the city this week and all year.

Other everyday problems that will be highlighted by the crush of visitors include traffic and the congested San Ysidro border crossing. Extra lanes are promised at the border, but as San Diegans know, long delays are inevitable on heavy holiday weekends. And few people trying to negotiate the roads in Mission Valley next Sunday will be able to forget the region's growing traffic problems.

Being confronted with these problems should not ruin San Diego's party. But when the party is over, the agenda is still going to be there. We will return to everyday living happier, and richer, for having had the Super Bowl "crisis" and better prepared for a shot at a return engagement.

But the richest reward will be if we can use it as a magnifying glass to focus more sharply on solutions for the ongoing problems.

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