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— The election isn't until 2006, but the campaigning, at public expense, seems to have already begun. Late last week, a slick, full-color brochure, headlined "Fly into the Future," showed up as an insert in the La Jolla Village News. It was sent out by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, the outfit set up three years ago by the state legislature at the behest of then-Democratic senator Steve Peace to take over Lindbergh Field and push for a new airport at a yet-to-be-determined location. Under the Peace bill, the matter of a new airport will be put before county voters in two years hence, and some polls show public resistance to the idea, motivating airport boosters to go into high gear. "If we expect our sons and daughters, our grandchildren, and their children to experience the quality of life that makes San Diego so special to all of us, we must demonstrate a determined vision and a firm dedication to getting important things done," says Joe Panetta, a local biotech-industry lobbyist pictured in the piece.

"There is as much as a $93 billion -- yes, that's billion -- economic opportunity cost to our region if we don't resolve our airport capacity when Lindbergh is maxed out, and that translates to tens of thousands of good jobs in a growing region," says another testimonial, this one by Julie Meier Wright, who makes about $250,000 a year in her own job as executive director of the taxpayer-bankrolled San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation. Another photo features a beaming Joe Craver, a defense-industry consultant and campaign donor to Mayor Dick Murphy who chairs the airport authority board, a gig that pays him $139,500 a year.

Yet another flattering mug shot is that of airport authority executive director Thella Bowens, who recently got a 3.7 percent raise to bring her salary to $217,770, in addition to a $14,000 "performance" bonus the board gave her in closed session. The mail piece insists that "NO local tax dollars would be used to build a new airport." Authority spokeswoman Diane Lucero says that the mailer, more than a million copies of which are being inserted in 26 local newspapers at a total distribution cost of $48,451 between now and the end of the year, is consistent with her agency's mission to "educate and inform the public" about the airport and its capacity issues and is not intended to influence voters' choices in the upcoming 2006 airport election. The piece, the first of a series, was put together by a firm run by ex-Evening Tribune reporter Tom Gable called GCS Public Relations, which recently began work on a "not to exceed" $2.5 million, three-year contract with the authority. Printing, done by Diego & Sons, a GCS subcontractor, cost $67,500, according to Lucero. In addition to the inserts, another half million copies of the brochure will be available for the edification of passengers at Lindbergh.

Falling bodies National City has experienced the biggest population drop of all cities in the entire state of California, falling a full 5 percent -- from 60,000 to 57,000 -- over the calendar year of 2003, according to state census estimates. Gary Bonelli, spokesman for the San Diego Association of Governments, says that his agency's demographers attribute the fall-off largely to Navy and Marine personnel being sent abroad during the Iraq War and their families leaving National City to return to their hometowns. San Diego County as a whole grew an estimated 1.5 percent in the same period, from 2,976,100 to 3,017,200. The city of Elk Grove, a suburb of Sacramento, grew the most, 27 percent, to 191,100 ... Scripps Institution of Oceanography has just inked a lucrative new deal with BP America, the big oil company, to provide research into ocean-floor changes. "This research will enable BP to understand better the magnitude of these changes, leading to the improved design of offshore facilities," according to a Scripps news release.

Familiar arena That "ad hoc" committee about what to do with the old Sports Arena in the Midway area, formed by San Diego city councilman Michael Zucchet, indicted in the Cheetahs strip-club scandal, has finally come up with its draft conclusions: move the arena, keep Kobey's Swap Meet, get rid of strip clubs, build new condos and stores, and raise the present height limit from 30 feet to as much as 85 feet in some cases. Committee members include Ernie Hahn , whose father Ron has the city lease on the arena and could be in line for a piece of any new city-sponsored downtown arena, as well as others with a financial interest in building out the Midway district. "The desire for a National Basketball Association and National Hockey League team, coupled with the need for an arena to support the San Diego Convention Center or other facility, will likely mandate that a new arena be built downtown or in Mission Valley," the draft says. Committee member Vance Spurrier, a carpenter from Ocean Beach who found himself on the losing end of several pro-development votes, says many of those with possible conflicts of interest should have abstained from key decisions. "My problem is the makeup of the board," says Spurrier. "It was packed with all kinds of special interests." He adds that he suspects the recommendation of lifting the height limit to permit high-rise density is designed to create "financial pressure" from area developers to ultimately move nearby Lindbergh Field.

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