"But I left office before the report ever came out. Did the language even stay in the bill? I know Hunter would have liked to get it out. Maybe it did and [the military] just let it go and never said anything. They do that a lot. I don't know if you noticed in my papers, but earlier I did work on waste, fraud, and abuse of the military, particularly at Miramar. So I dealt with them a great deal on reports and other stuff, and they'd never answer anything straight."
By 1990, another proposal to move San Diego's airport was on the table. City councilmen Ron Roberts and Bob Filner, the previous year, had encouraged the city to study a "binational" airport on Otay Mesa. It was to involve Brown Field and Tijuana's Rodríguez Field. San Diego County congressmen Bill Lowery and Ron Packard supported the idea.
In late summer 1989, Bates held hearings in the South Bay to get community input on an Otay binational airport. A year later he was speaking against it. On August 17, 1990, he flew to Mexico City to meet with the Mexican secretary of communication and transportation. Upon his return, his office in Washington put out a press release announcing that the Mexican government had no interest in cooperating with the United States on a binational airport.
"You went to Mexico City," I say, "to see if there was any support in the Mexican government for the binational airport."
"To make sure there was no support," Bates replies with a laugh. "Sometimes whoever gets to someone first [prevails]."
"Did you think there might have been some support for it?"
"No, they didn't want it. There was some cheap talk, like, 'Well, let's discuss it.' But there was no serious effort, nor would there be, because it doesn't make sense. I think Rodríguez Field will grow, though.
"The binational airport would have been much more difficult than Miramar dual use. For one thing, you've got the Otay Mountain. For another, you have an international border. Something else that is often overlooked is the location. In real estate, they say 'location, location, location.' Well, the south doesn't serve [the rest of the county].
"It's almost as bad as Filner's folly -- I call it Filner's folly -- and that's the $800,000 that he earmarked in the dead of night. I think it's disgraceful to study a bullet train and an airport at Imperial County; it's just absurd. But that was part of his campaign strategy to win the vote in Imperial County against Vargas [in this spring's primaries]. And Vargas, to his discredit, supported it too, because the people over there wanted it. Of course, I don't subscribe to voting what people want. I think you're elected to use your judgment, and you vote your conscience. If everybody in the country is for slavery, that's too bad; it's wrong, and I'm going against it. And I think the same thing is true with the airport plan. Imperial County is a terrible location for San Diego's airport. You want to be in the center of where you're drawing from."
Along the same lines, Bates believes that if the airport is built too far south, many people in North County would fly out of Orange County's John Wayne Airport. And if it turns up much farther north than Miramar, people in South Bay would use Rodríguez Field.
"So I don't think the airport study, the consultants, did a particularly good job; they did an adequate job. But to study those far-removed locations is absurd.
"And here's a point I want to make. I requested that the Navy do a study. What's happened since then? The Navy isn't there. But the Navy said they could never give up Miramar. That's what they said, over and over and over. It would threaten national security. And that's the same mantra the Marines are reciting now. I was a Marine, and they're part of the Navy, but I think quite distinct from the Navy.
"But the [contention] is going to be [made] now by the Marines, of course, that Miramar is vital to national defense and the war on terror. And it's not. When you get these facts out -- that the Navy said they'd never give Miramar up, but they did -- that bursts that bubble a little."
I ask about the noise factor at Miramar.
"If the runways are aligned right -- we may tweak them a little from what they are now -- then there's not much noise impact," says Bates. "See, part of the noise impact by the Marines now is because they don't use the flight patterns and stick to the corridor. They go over the homes to save gas. But that creates noise and bad relations."
"Could they be making excessive noise now on purpose, to make a point?"
"I think they do. I contend -- can't prove it; they can't prove otherwise -- that they deliberately create noise in order to keep the residents riled that joint [civilian/military] use would be even worse.
"Everyone used to run scared of North Park because that was a big block of votes in the city, when the city was smaller. And now everyone runs scared of Scripps Ranch, because that's a block of wealthy contributors and influential people in the city.
"And here's the other thing. The airport could have been put at East Elliott, Camp Elliott. There's no noise impact. But [San Diego County Regional Airport Authority's] Thella Bowens had the consultants turn the runway so there would be noise. So that knocked it out. But all that stuff is so manipulated. Pardee [Homes, out of Los Angeles] wants to build homes at East Elliott. They've been buying up the land. And nobody ever brings that out. No reporters ever bring it out. I don't know why."
Bates thinks it is the Marines who should be removed from central San Diego, not the civilian airport. "In fact," he says, "Imperial County would be ideal for the Marines and the helicopters and the jet fighters, because they'd be close enough to the coast but far enough away that they wouldn't be impacting the urban area. Because the danger of a fighter flight-training crash is greater than a crash from a commercial airline. That's just statistically the case. But nobody ever brings those facts out. Now, if Filner had any savvy, he would work to move Miramar to Imperial County."