October 1, 2007
By Alton K. Marsh
AOPA is using a time-lapse camera on the Internet to watch the deconstruction of the top floors of the Sunroad building near Montgomery Field in San Diego. It was determined to be 20 feet too high by the FAA, and now the top 20 feet must be removed to conform to the approved 160 feet. You can watch it, too.
AOPA is drawing attention to the victory because, in similar cases elsewhere, local airport sponsors and the FAA have acquiesed to developers. The Sunroad action instead sets a precedent to guide future FAA, local government, and court decisions.
Sunroad Enterprises defied the San Diego city attorney, the FAA, and the California Department of Transportation when it built the building seven-tenths of a mile from a Montgomery Field runway.
AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn has learned that a second building at the same location, which was to be even higher, will not be built after all. Two San Diego city officials who had a hand in approving the building have resigned. Land-use chief James Waring, according to a report in the San Diego Union-Tribune, "...tried to broker a deal that would have undermined [Mayor Jerry] Sanders' June order to demolish the top of the Sunroad Enterprises building." And Marcela
Escobar-Eck, the Development Services director hired less than a year ago, left a short time later, the news-paper reported. She had authority over building permit applications and was involved in initial efforts to allow the building to remain at 180 feet, which the FAA determined was too tall.
AOPA helped those fighting the contractor and was a party to a lawsuit against Sunroad. On June 22, Sanders ordered the contractor to remove the floors because the building was a hazard to air navigation.
AOPA has sent a letter to Mayor Janet Lockhart of Dublin warning that four high-rise buildings ranging from 16 to 21 stories are proposed for the site of the Grafton Plaza 2.3 miles northwest of Livermore Municipal Airport. It is proposed by Charter Properties of Pleasanton, California.
"While the airport may not be within the Dublin city limits or planning areas, none-theless, the city has a legal and moral responsibility - both in federal and state law - to ensure that any construction project contemplated is not a hazard to air navigation in the area or would pose a risk to your citizens," said AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn.
"We suggest that the City of Dublin require the developer to provide determinations of no hazard from the FAA before approving any planning element of the proposed Grafton Plaza project. Doing otherwise could have a significant negative impact on the city," Dunn said.
AOPA Vice President for Regional Affairs Greg Pecoraro has informed California state officials of a New York ruling overturning a state law requiring background checks for pilots. California legislators briefly considered a similar law.
In a letter to Gloria Romero, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety in the California State Senate, Pecoraro noted that Sen. Jim Battin had offered S.798 requiring background checks for individuals seeking flight instruction. Battin offered the bill at the request of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security. AOPA urged the bill to be rejected. Romero chose to wait on considering the bill until a challenge to a similar New York law by AOPA was adjudicated. U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe granted AOPA's motion.
The judge recognized that the federal government has responsibility for aviation safety and security, not states, in order to create a uniform system. He found the New York law unconstitutional and unenforceable, and enjoined the state from enforcing any part of the law.
"I hope that you will find this information useful should the Committee on Public Safety be asked to consider any similar legislation in the future," Pecoraro said. "Please be assured that AOPA always stands ready to work with legislators to develop reasonable, effective programs that improve aviation security while protecting the nation's vital general aviation industry."
AOPA had met senior staff of the members of the Senate Committee on Public Safety and the committee's analyst to discuss implications of the bill. AOPA provided copies of letters from the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration, written in regard to the New York case, which clearly established the federal preemption of flight training regulation.
During the April 24 committee hearing on the bill, Senator Romero alluded to material provided by AOPA as a basis for not proceeding with the bill. AOPA California Regional Representative John Pfeifer testified against the bill at that hearing.
Airport encroachment continues to be a major focus of attention by AOPA in California. In the first seven months of 2007, AOPA has been involved in attempting to thwart local efforts to construct residences and schools in airport safety areas, erect cell phone towers near airports, construct tall buildings such as the Sunroad Centrum building near Montgomery Field, and build proposed power plants under flight paths. The list is long and includes: a cell phone tower at Big Bear City Airport, power plants at Hayward Executive Airport, a school at Auburn Municipal Airport, residential rezoning at Rancho Murieta Airport, and residential development at Placerville Airport. And the list goes on.
Recently the city of Bakersfield proposed to modify the Bakersfield Municipal Airport's land-use compatibility plan to shorten the protected approach/departure zone for Runway 34 from the current 10,000 foot length to 7,000 feet to allow the construction of more high density homes. In a letter to the City Planning Commission, John Collins, senior airport liaison, expressed AOPA's objection to the proposed project, pointing out that as more overflights occur, so will complaints and demands to restrict the airport. And the city listened to AOPA and the local pilots who opposed the amendment. At its June 7 meeting, the Planning Commission voted to disapprove the amendment to the land-use compatibility plan.
The fight to protect airports from surrounding incompatible development goes on. As the pressure to develop grows along with the state population, developers will continue to look for developable land. And often, as case after case proves, they will look at the land surrounding the airport that was wisely protected in the past by land-use compatibility plans.
A major factor in AOPA's ability to assist in the protection of airports is a strong, effective local airport support group and a local Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteer (see " America's Airports: Promote, Protect, Defend," page 76). Without the strong support of the airport by local pilots and businesses who know elected officials and vote in the community, AOPA's ability to halt unwise development is limited. Does your airport have a strong support association? If not, AOPA's Guide to Obtaining Community Support for Your Airport is an excellent place to start. And find out if your airport has an ASN volunteer online. - John Pfeifer, AOPA California regional representative
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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