Brother: Can you spare a name?
I worked for the government for 30 years. I’ve read thousands of staff reports. They are strange creatures. All about Mary Poppins and cheeriness; seldom about doom and gloom. Darth Vader is a galaxy away. Why is that? How does the government make an informed decision without a balanced report in front of it?
And, what happens when you ask to see an independent analysis – not just the rosy predictions of handsomely paid consultants hired to do the bidding of politicians enlightened by lobbyists desiring predetermined results, possibly shuffling campaign cash among the politicians?
In April 2018, I contacted several county offices including the County Administrative Office with a simple request: What individual in the county would provide the independent analysis for the County 2018 – 2038 McClellan-Palomar Master Plan when it went to the Board of Supervisors?
I was shuffled between several offices. You could hear the county minds spinning. My God. What an unusual request: Who would independently assess whether the county’s desire to spend $100 million to expand Palomar Airport to handle 30 percent fewer aircraft than in the past made sense?
Then the intrigue increased. A Star Wars light saber appeared, wielded by the County Counsel’s Office. I received an email from County Counsel’s Office. Seemingly helpful. What did I need?
Simple answer: I’d like the contact info for the persons in the county who provide an independent analysis for projects that county staff recommends to the Board of Supervisors (BOS). In particular, the name of the individual who would tell the BOS whether the Palomar expansion was a good or bad idea and why?
What intrigue, you ask? Think about it. Why does the County Counsel contact a member of the public to answer a question that the County Administrative Office could answer in 30 seconds? Does the County Administrative Office want to act in the dark behind the scenes unquestioned?
So, what was the County Counsel answer after receiving several reminder-emails asking about the status of my request? Oh, I thought county staff got in touch with you.
Latest new reminder email: No, I still haven’t received the name and contact information for the person I would like to speak to and provide information to.
Latest County Counsel reply a week later? None.
Is there a problem Houston?
You would think the County of San Diego – after spending about $2 million in consultant and county staff time since 2011 to prepare a runway study and its 2018-2038 Palomar Airport Master Plan (PMP) and related EIR would be proud. Ready, able, willing — enthusiastic even — to defend the report. It seems not.
Residents from communities around Palomar filed about 500 pages of comments on the PMP EIR. The city of Carlsbad retained a nationally recognized law firm based in Denver, Colorado to comment. In 41 pages, Carlsbad noted repeated errors in the PMP EIR.
As a result, the county announced in June that it was taking the rare step of recirculating at least parts of the EIR for public comment. Time and schedule to be announced.
Carlsbad residents in North County have formed the group Citizens for a Friendly Airport (C4fa.org). Like residents of Encinitas, Oceanside, San Marcos, and Vista, C4fa members want more than the 3-minutes the BOS gives community members to speak at BOS meetings. They want two things.
First, an independent analysis of the $2 million “bought and paid for” staff report recommending a Palomar Airport expansion. Second, the chance to provide information and raise questions with the person preparing the independent analysis.
Why an Independent Analysis?
Rev up your time machine. Return to 1964. Pretend you are at the 1964 BOS meeting when the Board was asked to allow the County Department of Public Works to dump about 1 million cubic yards of trash in airport canyons about 500 feet from the end of the McClellan-Palomar runway.
What would you hear at the meeting? Likely the following: The County needs more space to dump trash. Palomar Airport has canyons to fill up. Let’s dump.
What might you also hear if the BOS recessed behind closed doors to consider legal issues related to filling up the Palomar canyons? Perhaps the following: Filling the canyons is a great idea. After we dump the trash, the airport will have more level land. We can extend the runway in the future. But we can’t say that in public session. Nearby residents do not want a longer, noisier runway.
What you likely would NOT have heard at the 1964 BOS meeting are the points below.
- Safety. Active landfills attract birds looking for food. Birds ingested into aircraft engines can bring aircraft down. Landfills 500 feet from a runway are incompatible with airport use. [In 2017, bird strikes caused $1.2 billion dollars of damage to aircraft. See “Terror in the Skies,” on the Smithsonian Channel, original Air Date 10/29/13 under the caption “Nature Strikes Back: Flights Endangered by Forces of Nature.”] We, the county, can sacrifice safety for the mere 14 years the landfills will remain open.
- Trashing of Carlsbad Scenic Corridor. Today Carlsbad has about 2,000 feet of ugly weeds on slopes about 20 to 40 feet high along the Palomar Airport Road and El Camino Road Palomar Airport slopes. Why? County says it cannot plant permanent landscaping on the slopes due to the constantly subsiding landfill slopes.
- Groundwater. County would not have told you that it was placing constantly deteriorating trash – including hundreds of thousands of household batteries, light bulbs, and remodeling materials – that could endanger ground waters, especially since county built the landfills without the today standard 3-foot-thick landfill bottom liners.
- Structural instability. County would have failed to tell you that building over landfills requires expensive construction methods, namely sinking hundreds of pilings 30 to 50 feet deep. The result, even if community residents approved of an extended runway, the cost would be at least ten times the cost of extending the runway on structurally sound ground.
Now, do you see why all major items going to the Board of Supervisors should contain an independent analysis?
Brother: Can you spare a name for the county staff person independently analyzing the County 2018-2038 PMP? We’d like to chat.