Hoping to preserve Brown Field as the future home of a commercial airport, a San Diego City Council committee Wednesday agreed to impose a 120-day moratorium on construction at both ends of the general-aviation airstrip on Otay Mesa.
The 3,400 acres covered by the building freeze is land the city would need if it were to construct two parallel, southwest-to-northeast runways that a private consultant hired by two development companies believes could accommodate major air carriers. The expansion is envisioned as part of a "multiple airport" solution that relies on dividing airline traffic between Lindbergh and Brown fields.
In a related matter, officials said Wednesday that the long-awaited, $350,000 airport relocation study due to be released next week by the San Diego Assn. of Governments will not recommend one potential commercial airport site over another, a fact that took some officials at San Diego City Hall and the County Administration Center by surprise.
Instead, the report will say construction of a new airport at any of the three main locations under consideration--Otay Mesa, Miramar Naval Air Station and property east of Miramar--is technically feasible. Sandag will make its recommendation later, according to a Sandag official.
"We expected a recommendation . . . it's a surprise to me" that there isn't one, said Councilman Bob Filner, who has pushed for a "multiple airport" solution to crowding at Lindbergh Field or relocation of the airport to Miramar. "I thought the report would include a recommendation narrowing it to a single site to pursue."
Supervisor Brian Bilbray, who wants a commercial airport moved to Miramar, said he too had expected the report to suggest one location over the others. But Bilbray said that, as a practical matter, unless the City Council is committed to stopping development from encroaching on Brown Field in Otay Mesa, the report's conclusion leaves only Miramar as a viable alternative.
"We have to eliminate the excuse of us continuing to dance around this issue," Bilbray said. "By the lack of action the decision is being made."
Councilman Ron Roberts, who says the remedy to San Diego's airport problems lies in a multiple-airport solution, said he \o7 wasn't \f7 surprised that the Sandag report won't recommend one specific site.
"That's what the elected officials have to do," he said. What the report means, Roberts said, is that the differences among the three main locations "are not so great to pick one over the other."
"It's a political question that only elected officials are in a position" to decide, he said.
Under pressure from builders, the council last month lifted a year-old moratorium on construction around Brown Field, allowing residential, commercial and industrial projects on all of Otay Mesa to proceed. Many city officials believe that canceling the moratorium virtually killed any possibility of a huge binational airport along the Mexican border.
Roberts, contending that expansion of Brown--and the multiple-airport solution--would be impossible if land to the northeast and southwest is developed, Wednesday proposed the moratorium until Sandag can complete a 60-day review of consultant P&D Technologies' conclusions about the city-owned airstrip.
"It is to preserve the opportunity to put an airport there, a greatly expanded airport, should the city decide that is a site," Roberts said.
Roberts and Filner, who represent districts encompassing Lindbergh and Brown, respectively, formed an uneasy alliance this summer by proposing the multiple-airport solution, which they believe could also include the use of Montgomery Field and Palomar Airport in Carlsbad for commuter traffic.
Left unspecified by the agreement is whether Lindbergh or Brown would become the city's dominant airport. Each councilman believes that the primary facility should be located in the other's district.
The moratorium proposed Wednesday, which includes Brown Field itself, covers a roughly diagonal swath that would be needed for parallel 12,000-foot and 8,000-foot runways under the P&D Technologies plan. It covers areas that would be affected by airport noise of 65 decibels or more, Roberts said.
A large parcel to the southwest of Brown is slated for about 7,000 homes in Otay Mesa planning documents, but rugged terrain, the city's environmental protection ordinance and landslides probably would make it difficult to build anywhere near that many residences, according to Alan Jones, a former planner who is now Filner's top aide, and Gail Goldberg, the city's long-range planner for Otay Mesa.
A large parcel owned by the Baldwin Co. northeast of Brown is slated for commercial and industrial development.
Roberts' proposal drew no opposition from Filner or Brown Field area property owners. It requires approval of the full City Council, but with six of the council's nine members sitting on the Rules Committee, Wednesday's unanimous vote virtually guarantees its passage.