Politics allows Brown field to languish in San Diego

 - October 18, 2006, 12:51 PM

The city of San Diego took over Brown Field, a former naval air station, in 1962. Since then, according to local news reports, the general aviation reliever for busy Lindbergh Field has suffered from neglect and indecisive management on the part of the city. Unchecked deteriorating conditions at Brown Field (including balky runway lighting) spurred the FAA in August to rescind the airport’s eligibility for federal funding, and the airport was placed on the agency’s national list of negligent airports. If the condition is not reversed, the city could be forced to repay millions in federal funding that has gone into the airport over the years. The city already faces more than $6.5 million in lawsuits–past and ongoing–from airport tenants and developers.

At the core of the controversy is the city’s unwillingness to evict non-aviation businesses at the airport–one of the FAA’s conditions. Some 85 percent of the rent at the airport comes from such businesses. Replacing them with aviation-related firms scares local officials who worry about increased noise. The city council voted down a move to establish the airport as an air-cargo hub by an eight-to-one margin in late 2001. The project was expected to bring in $750 million per year and create 11,500 jobs. That year, the airport generated $2.1 million at an operating cost of $2 million.

Some are convinced the city lets the airport languish because deep-pocketed developers covet the land for residential or commercial use. Aircraft owner and airport tenant Ken Smith, 88, known as the “mayor of Brown Field” told the local paper, “Even if you had half your brain sucked out, you’d know you’re not going to get another airport like this in San Diego County. There’s a power somewhere that wants this land.”