High cost of high-speed rail to potential Imperial airport for San Diego

Among the many proposals for a major modern airpoprt to replace San Diego Lindbergh is a plan to build an airport in the desert of Imperial County, where land is cheap and flat and, unlike San Diego’s limited available flat land, not under military occupation. A key problem, however, is how far away the Imperial desert is from the metro area, and that the land between the city and the desert is anything but flat.

As a result of the distance and rugged terrain, the only way to make such a plan viable is with a high-speed rail link. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has been looking at costs of a possible magnetic levitation train system that would take people from a check-in terminal that was centrally located out to the airport at speeds of around 175 MPH.

The costs are prohibitive, and the technology still mostly unproven in commercial operation. Anyone who has ever driven between San Diego and southeastern California or Arizona knows how rugged the mountains east of the metro area are. Interstate 8 is perhaps the most winding of all interstate highways, and has stretches that are among the steepest. The eastbound and westbound roadways pass through separate narrow canyons and cuts. It is hard to imagine a train line being pushed through there. Alternatives include a tunnel, which adds significantly to the cost projections, or following the slightly less steep route of the existing (but not operational) San Diego and Arizona Eastern. The SD&AE dips below the border into Mexico and then crosses back into the USA to go over the amazing Carrizo Gorge trestle.

As much as I would enjoy being magnetically levitated through the Carrizo Gorge on my way to London or Prague, I find it terribly ironic that the proposed city terminal could be at Miramar MCAS, otherwise known as San Diego’s prime location for an international airport.

For more, see the previous post (which drew several interesting comments) on San Diego’s search for a real airport.

18 to vie for 50th district

It’s official. There will be eighteen candidates for the special election to fill the Crooked Duke’s 50th district House seat for the remainder of the current term. The candidates include fourteen Republicans–several of whom are current holders of various offices and some who are rich “outsiders”–in what should be a safe seat for the party, despite the best efforts of some national Democrats to turn this race into a featured preview of their “culture of corruption” message for the fall. Francine Busby gives the Democrats a good candidate, but it is a bad district.

If no candidate gets a majority of all votes cast in April, a runoff among each party’s top vote-earner will take place in June, the same day as the regular party primaries for the November general election. The filing period for the June primary is about to close, too.

Previous posts on this race may be found by clicking on either “2006 elections” or “SD & OC politics,” above.

Will San Diego ever get a real airport?

If you have ever flown in or out of Lindbergh Field (SAN) in San Diego, or tried to book a transcontinental or international flight when you did not have a lot of flexibility as to dates or times, you know how rinky-dink this area’s only major commercial airport is. San Diego is one of the ten largest metro areas in the USA, and one of the fastest growing, yet it has an airport suitable for a medium-sized city, at best. And don’t even think about flying in or out at night. That might wake the city out of its decades-long slumber.

The County of San Diego currently has a commission in the final stages of making proposals for solving this problem and building a first-class international airport, to open 15-20 years from now. The commission faces serious problems, and one in particular: Almost all the useable land in the county, on which an airport could be built, is in the hands of the military. Other, non-military, sites that were considered, but have already been rejected, would have placed an airport in the mountains or rugged foothills that surround the metro area on all sides other than the west. Yet other ridiculous proposals have included remote desert sites with high-speed rail to ferry people from the city to the faraway airport.

It is plain (or plane) to all that the only feasible solutions are to take over or share one of the three major military bases in the county: North Island (near downtown and across the bay from the current airport), Miramar (in the heart of the county’s developed area but containing vast open and relatively level land), or Camp Pendleton (in the last mostly undeveloped stretch between the northern suburbs of San Diego and the southern Orange County suburbs of Los Angeles).

The military is asserting a right to call the shots. Secretary of the Navy, Donald C. Winter says:

While I recognize the San Diego region faces difficult planning and economic decisions regarding future aviation growth, I must tell you that national defense requirements preclude making any portion of any of these installations available for a new or dual-use commercial airport.

The commanding officer at Camp Pendleton, Col. Gregory Goodman, was even more blunt about the county’s search for an airport site:

It won’t be at Naval Air Station North Island, it won’t be at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and it won’t be at Camp Pendleton.

That’s good enough for one member of the commission, Mary Sessom of the eastern suburb of Lemon Grove, who asked, “What part of no don’t we understand?”

However, other members refused to endorse Sessom’s proposal to give up on the military bases.

[Commission Member Anthony] Young flatly refused to bow to a high-ranking official, saying the airport agency does not answer to the military.

“I’m not going to be told what to do or what to think by the Secretary of the Navy or anybody else.”

Indeed, the military does not have a veto here, unless civilian politicians give it one.

Various proposals include a joint-use field on one of the few relatively level parts of Camp Pendleton, near the junction of Interstate 5 and state highway 76; building a new field on open land at Miramar south of the existing navy field; converting part of the existing Miramar fields and building the Marines a new field at Pendleton; or converting North Island.

The North Island plan would entail using the existing Lindbergh terminals and having a rail people-mover in a tube under the bay to gates at North Island. This seems like the best proposal, except that the nighttime restrictions presumably would still apply. The Miramar plan has the advantage of central location, close to freeways and proposed rail-line extensions. The Pendleton plan is rather far from the core metro area, but has the advantage of also serving Orange County (which has a similarly overburdened airport–John Wayne [SNA]). See a Power Point display of the options.

One of these ideas has to fly, or the city won’t. The military simply will have to be reminded that it does not call the shots. Even in sleepy San Diego.

San Diego city special elections

Democrats will have, at worst, a 5-4 majority on the San Diego City Council. The Democratic candidate won one runoff race by a wide margin, and the Democrat appears to have lost the other by a very narrow margin.

And campaign season continues. On February 9, candidates can take out their nominating papers for the next city elections–including races for the same seats filled in yesterday’s special elections.

San Diego City Council runoffs today

In the city to the south, where it seems it is always election season, today there are runoffs to fill two vacancies on the San Diego City Council. The vacancies resulted from the resignations, more than six months ago, of two members in the city’s strip-club scandal (just one of many scandals among the county’s newsworthy political events in 2005).

As a Union-Tribune story excerpted in San Diego Politics notes, the Republicans need to win both of these (officially “non-partisan”) races today just to have an even partisan split on the council.

Despite the city’s conservative reputation and Donna Frye’s defeat in the special mayoral election, the city’s politics have been trending to the left for a while.

Duke Wired

Time reports that the Crooked Duke:

wore a wire at some point during the short interval between the moment he began cooperating with the feds and the announcement of his guilty plea on Nov. 28.

The identity of those with whom the San Diego congressman met while wearing the wire remains unclear, and is the source of furious — and nervous — speculation by congressional Republicans.

h/t The Moderate Voice

Orange and San Diego County races in 2006

[NOTE: An error below, regarding which state senate district Tom Morrow represents, has been corrected. Thanks to the anonymous commenter at San Diego Politics for noting the error. See also the epilogue below.]

The various election races in Orange and San Diego Counties will command the attention of both major national parties. I have created a new block to organize postings about these counties’ elections (SD & OC politics). I have also created one for US elections 2006.

Yesterday I posted on the national Democrats’ interest in CA-50 and the bind the special-election race puts them in. Today the LA Times notes:

“Both national parties are going to be reading the tea leaves over what happens here” in California [said Republican political consultant Jeff Flint of Anaheim], particularly with the looming 2008 presidential election. Among the things that will be watched, he said, is the extent to which illegal immigration becomes an effective campaign issue.

The potential impact of immigration as an issue was highlighted by the special congressional election race in late 2005 in which Jum Gilchrist of the Minuteman border vigilante organization won 25% of the vote, almost certainly cutting deeply into the district’s Republican electorate.

Orange County will have a special election in April (with a likely runoff coinciding with the June statewide primary) to fill the state senate seat vacated by John Campbell, the winner of the congressional special election. And, of course, San Diego County will have the special election, also in April, for the 50th US House district.

The combination of special elections and many incumbents being termed out of their current jobs is creating quite a scramble. For instance, a termed-out Assemblyman is among those running in the state Senate special election. The State Senator for Ladera Frutal* is another example. Tom Morrow is termed out, and is already running in the April special election for CA-50. If one compares the maps of his current senate district (38th) and the 50th House district, one can see that they overlap significantly. The other two (former) officeholders who are running, also have represented only portions of the current CA-50.

Just in case, Morrow is hedging. If The Viper runs for the US Senate seat currently held by Dianne Feinstein, Morrow will run for that (assuming, of course, that he has not won the most votes among the 5+ Republican candidates in CA-50 in April’s first round). That district is House seat no. 49, of which Ladera Frutal is a part. Morrow already tried for that seat once before, having lost to The Viper in the March, 2000, primary. (He lost 33.3-23.6 in what was at that time a blanket primary**, but 53.1-35.5 among votes cast for Republicans.)

I am unsure why The Viper would want to take on Feinstein, but here is one district resident who hopes he does–just to get him out of the House.

*Barely; Moosa Creek, which forms the bottom of the canyon from which Ladera Frutal rises, is the district boundary line. So much for single-seat districts forming communities of interest. Both sides of the canyon are part of the same (and very small) “community” in any sense of the term.

**In the blanket primary, all candidates ran on one ballot, allowing voters to cross freely from party to party across different offices. With all the candidates from different parties running in a common election, it is just like the rules for special elections, except that in the blanket primary, the top vote-getter in each party advanced to a general election even if one candidate had a majority of all votes in the primary, whereas in the special election, a majority ends it right there. The blanket primary system was declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court, which leads me to wonder why the similar system for special elections remains acceptable.

[UPDATE: San Diego Politics reports on the money factor in the 50th district, noting that Morrow may be cut off from DC money for not being far enough to the right. Not surprising, as I recall from the 2000 primary in the 48th district–now The Viper’s 49th–that some local Democrats were quietly backing Morrow as the more moderate alternative.]

EPILOGUE (1/09): As to the error–whether Morrow is in the 36th or 38th, the odd thing is that I made the error because I went to the State Senate’s “your senator” page to confirm that Morrow really was my senator. It says he is, but it does not tell you the district number. (I did not go to Morrow’s own site.) So then I went to the district maps, also at the senate website. The map clearly shows the border between the 36th and 38th in Bonsall being Moosa Creek. I am north of the creek. So, according to the map, I am not in Morrow’s district, even though the “your senator” function says I am.

Former Charger to run for CA-50

Scott Turner, former NFL defensive back and punter, who played for the San Diego Chargers, has thrown his helmet into the race for the House seat vacated by the Crooked Duke. He has no political experience, unless one counts an unpaid internship in the summer of 2004 for Representative Duncan Hunter. He joins a very crowded field of fellow Republicans that already includes one incumbent (and termed-out) state Senator, a former state Assemblyman, a former Congressman (from a different district that included part of the current CA-50 before it was redistricted to make it safer for the Democrat who defeated him), and two wealthy businessmen with no political experience.

CA-50 House update

In the special-election race for the US House district in northern San Diego County, California, vacated by the Crooked Duke, national Democrats are planning to assist leading Democratic candidate Francine Busby. The theory is that the district, which will vote in a first round on April 11, could be a bellweather of Democrats’ national ambitions to make gains on a “culture of corruption” theme later in 2006. But the strategy is hardly without risk: The district is so safe that it is hard to imagine an upset. In fact, that is exactly what it would be: an upset of major proportions, if the Democrats were to win this seat.

National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee communications director Carl Forti notes, “You are not going to defeat someone by saying they are from the same party as Tom DeLay and Cunningham —- that is not a reason to vote against someone.” That is probably right. The district’s majority will be happy with any of several Republicans in the running for the seat.

Meanwhile, local Democratic leaders are not happy that a second Democrat has entered the race in addition to Busby. A local activist, Matt O’Connor, said,

“It’s already too late for Republicans, but Democrats (had) a chance to have a single candidate on the ballot,” […] adding that the prospect of a split Democratic vote is a “real concern.”

Really, it shouldn’t be much of a concern. It would actually be easier for Busby (or any Democrat) to win this race in a runoff than in the first round. In fact, the “runoff primary” system that California uses for special legislative elections has the unusual feature of providing a higher threshold for victory in the first round than in the runoff–the reverse of every other type of runoff system in use. A candidate must win a majority of all votes cast for the race to end in one round. Failing a majority, the top vote-getter from each registered party advances to a runoff, in which a plurality suffices. In the CA-50, this runoff will be the same day (in June) as the closed-party primary for the regular general election in November.

The (very faint) hopes that Democrats have in this race have always been that either:

    (1) the Republican nominee is too far to the right for even this district, such that moderate Republicans and independents defect to Busby in June, or

    (2) there is a third-party candidate in the runoff who splits the Republican vote and lets Busby win with less than 50%.

In other words, Democratic voters, in the first round, ought to rally behind the most far-right Republican candidate–given that the leading vote-getter within the party could have 15% or so of the total votes cast–or find a Gilchrist-like candidate to back tactically, rather than worry about another of their own jumping into the race.

Even if one of the above scenarios were to turn out, Republicans could correct it in the June primary by nominating someone else (in an election in which only their own registered voters may participate) and thus have a stronger candidate against short-termer Busby in November.

The idea that Busby could get a majority in the first round was always fantasy, whether she is the lone Democrat or one of several running.

The national Democratic party is in a real bind on this. The special election means it will look like forfeiture if they don’t get involved, yet it will be spun as a major defeat for their fall theme of a “culture of corruption” when they lose.

Previously on CA-50:

LATE GROWTH FLUSH: Thanks to Technorati, I just discovered a local blog covering this race and other aspects of San Diego Politics.

Duke and national security

Yesterday’s North County Times had an article about the House intelligence committee’s investigation into whether Duke Cunningham’s corruption revealed any secrets. The subheading in the print edition states: “Intelligence board examining how Cunningham handled national security.”

We know the answer to that: As a means to fabulous personal wealth.

San Diego County seeks special election in Duke’s district in April

With the resignation of Randy “Duke” [“Crook”] Cunningham from his House seat, Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger must set a date for a special election. The announcement is expected Thursday. The Governator has within his discretion a range of dates between January and April. San Diego County officials prefer that the first round of the runoff primary be on April 11. Why so late? Because then the runoff between each party’s leading candidate could be on June 6, the date of the regular statewide primary election. (State law also mandates a specific window between rounds if no candidate obtains a majority in what is otherwise essentially a blanket primary in the first round.)

This would save the County money, by avoiding four elections in the district in 2006. But it would also set up a very confusing ballot in June. Voters would face a vote both in the runoff for the remainder of Duke’s term, and, on the same ballot sheet, in a regular closed party primary for candidates who will face off in November for the 2007-09 term.

Given that a runoff in June would mean that the elected candidate would have less than 6 months of the term left to serve (and in the interim, the district would have gone around 6 months with no representative*), it makes a lot more sense to hold the primary as early as possible. Doing so would also allow voters to know who their new incumbent is when they go to the primary in June for the more important race to determine a full-term successor to Cunningham.

However, I am sure an interesting paper could be written on the concurrent runoff-general and primary elections. I wonder if such a combined election has ever happened before?

The district’s party registration breakdown is as follows:

    Republican 159,875
    Democratic 107,026
    American Ind. 7,741
    Green 2,444
    Libertarian 2,287
    nonpartisan 77,377

That’s 44.8% R, 30.0% D. Yet I read (in another story in the North County Times) that Democrats think they can win this one. Sure thing. (The American Independent Party is the one under which Minuteman Gilchrist ran the recent special election up the coast; it’s that kind of district, one in which a far-far-right party has more than three times the registrants of Green or even Libertarian.)

If you follow the link above, you get to see the Crooked Duke’s smirk, below which (at least when I went there) is an ad for Help-U-Sell–ironic, in that part of his corruption involved help selling his house in Del Mar.

*actually much longer, given that it can hardly be said that the Crooked Duke was “representing” his district.

48th Congressional District: A Good Argument for IRV?

[REVISED AND EXTENDED (as they say on Capitol Hill): the revision is below; the extension is in a subsequent post]

The 48th district outcome, in which plurality rule meant that the winner, in a three-way race, had under 45%, provides an opportunity to discuss the merits of instant runoff voting (IRV) as an alternative to plurality rule.

In the previous version of this post, which I posted this morning, I suggested that the moderate Republican, Marilyn Brewer, could have won under IRV. It now seems clear to me that this probably would not have been the case. Continue reading

Gilchrist gets a quarter of the vote: Now what?

Unofficial results from the December 6 special general election in California’s 48th congressional district show Minuteman Jim Gilchrist having won 25% of the vote. That is quite an improvement on his primary showing on October 4, which was 15%. His votes increased from 13,423 to 23,237. Turnout was about 23% in each round.

State Senator John Campbell, as expected, won the seat, but his vote percentage declined from the first round, even though he was now the lone Republican, whereas he had faced another Republican candidate in the primary. He had won 41,420 votes in the first round (45.5%), in which the rule was majority suffices for victory, but absence of majority means a second round among the top vote-getters from each party. Campbell’s 41,450 votes on Tuesday represent just 30 more votes over round one, despite a turnout increase of 1,427. But because that second round is a plurality election, his 44.7% of the votes cast (a decline of 0.8 percentage points), is sufficient.

The result tells us that indeed, as I had surmised yesterday, the other Republican in the October primary, Marilyn Brewer, had obtained votes from many Democrats who wanted to prevent Campbell from winning outright and saw Brewer as the “lesser evil” among the two Republicans. The result from Tuesday suggests that Campbell obtained no net gain from the other Republican candidate, and he probably lost votes to Gilchrist from the first to the second round.

In the first round, Steve Young, the leading Democratic candidate, had only 8.7%, while two others trailed with 4.0% and 3.2%. On Tuesday, Young beat out Gilchrist for second place by taking 28.0%. The combined October votes of Brewer and the three Democrats adds up to 33%.

The conclusion one might draw from this aggregate result is that some of Campbell’s support bled to Gilchrist, compensating for any Brewer voters (perhaps including some Democratic voters) who opted for Campbell out of (misplaced) fear that Gilchrist could actually win the seat.

Although plurality rule ensures that Campbell wins the seat without having to appeal openly for either Democratic or Gilchrist support to obtain a majority mandate, the race roiled the Republican constituency in a very safe district and is sure to have some, as yet indeterminate, implications for 2006 and beyond.

Gilchrist said: “This is just a start. We’ve got a huge victory tonight because we’ve issued a wake-up call to America…. Our cause is not over, nor is my aspiration for my political career.”

Will he run for President? Whatever he does, we will hear from him again.