July 1, 2007
By Alton K. Marsh
It took two hard-hitting stories in The San Diego Union-Tribune for San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders to discover that a 180-foot building built by Sunroad Enterprises near Montgomery Field is a threat to air navigation. That has been the opinion of the FAA, of the state Division of Aeronautics, of local pilots, and of AOPA, which is party to a lawsuit against Sunroad. AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn recently traveled to San Diego to witness depositions in the case.
Only now the building is nearly complete — at 180 feet instead of 160 feet as recommended by the FAA to avoid being a hazard. Since it has been determined to be a hazard by the FAA, a state permit is required but one has not been issued. The building construction proceeded in the face of stop-work orders from the city attorney, which were criticized by Sanders. The two-part newspaper series by reporter David Hasemyer noted construction continued under a variety of excuses. The developer found a private consultant who said the FAA and the state were wrong — the building was not a hazard after all. City officials lost e-mails from other city officials warning of the project. The developer promised to stop at 160 feet and, according to the newspaper, then proceeded and informed city and FAA officials on the day the first girder was placed above 160 feet. A roof was then needed at the 180-foot level to "winterize" the construction project. The mayor was unable to recall a $3,600 campaign contribution that came at a critical junction in the decision-making process, the newspaper said.
In a late-breaking development, California Legal Affairs Secretary Andrea Lynn Hoch declined to refer the Sunroad controversy to the state attorney general and advised San Diego officials that the proper channel is to make contact directly, rather than going through the governor's office. However, the letter did note that Sunroad was required to have a state permit for the building, but does not have one.
A Sunroad public relations consultant said the company has done nothing wrong and has complied with the law. Yet the building stands at 180 feet today.
Sanders issued a stop-work order on the building, saying the city mishandled the project, adding he wouldn't criticize any department directly. Yet he took another swipe at City Attorney Michael Aguirre, saying Aguirre's call for intervention by the governor to force the mayor to act was just a political play by the city attorney. Meanwhile, Sunroad is planning its strategy for two more buildings in the same location, both higher than 160 feet. Sunroad officials did not respond to a question from AOPA Pilot months ago asking if reports were true that company officials told the San Diego news media that they would build the two remaining buildings above the 160-foot level.
Ever heard of a developer promising that you'll always have a golf-course view, if only you'll sign the contract for a new home? Airport Support Network volunteer Claudette Colwell has. She owns a home near county-owned Placerville Airport, but the golf course is now slated to become a housing development — near the airport. The problem with that is the new surge of complaints from homeowners who are sure to discover the airport only after they buy — complaints that can threaten the viability of the airport.
The issue is especially tricky since the Fairway Pines development is just far enough away from the airport to avoid violating the state guidelines for safety zones. "While the proposed development may be outside of California Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics' mandated low-density safety zones, there will still be overflights by aircraft arriving and departing from the airport," John L. Collins, AOPA's senior liaison for airports wrote in a letter to Steve Calfee, community planning director for Placerville. "We also believe that, despite the findings of the draft environmental impact report, potential negative impacts on future residents by normal airport operations will result in requests to their elected officials to do something about the airport. That may lead to calls by local homeowners for access restrictions, curfews, and other actions against the airport and its users, resulting in decreased viability, convenience, and ultimately the closing of another airport."
The state's Business and Professions Code, Section 11010, and Civil Code Sections 1102.6, 1103.4, and 1353 address buyer notification requirements for land around airports and are available online. Anyone who intends to offer land for sale or lease near an airport is required to disclose that fact to the person buying the property.
Can the city of Watsonville, which wants to put 2,250 new homes in the Buena Vista Road area north of the Watsonville Municipal Airport, form its own land-use planning group that is city appointed? The state Division of Aeronautics, local pilots, and AOPA, among other groups, say any land-use planning commission should be set up according to state guidelines. The city has not established the commission as urged in a letter last year by state Aeronautics Chief Mary Frederick. In addition, the city has deferred action on the plan by City Manager Carlos Palacios to set up a city-appointed committee that was to consist of home owners, business people, environmentalists, and pilots. Pilots, including Airport Support Network volunteer Rayvon Williams, were suspicious of the fairness of the proposed city-appointed committee and declined. The city proceeded with the proposal, but the action was deferred by the city council to allow time for a ruling in a pending lawsuit by the Watsonville Pilots Association over the proposed development.
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.
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