March 1, 2008
By Alton K. Marsh
The recent midair crash of a Cessna 150 and 172 a mile south of Corona Municipal Airport has once again pointed to the need for good land-use planning near airports. One of the aircraft disintegrated while a second spiraled down on a car dealership. All four people aboard the two aircraft, plus one person on the ground were killed.
The present California law, in existence since 1967, to prevent development near airports, has become weakened over time, allowing businesses and homes to be located in potentially dangerous areas. State Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino) will soon introduce a bill to improve safety.
“[This] tragic accident shows the need to protect public safety around airports,” Negrete McLeod said, referring to the Corona crash.
Senator Negrete McLeod’s legislation will strengthen the state laws governing land use around public airports. In 1967, state legislators required local officials to set up airport land use commissions to reduce conflicts over public safety and noise at airports with scheduled commercial flights. In 1984, legislators expanded this requirement to all public use airports, including general aviation airports such as the one in Corona. But a bill in 1993 let counties disband their airport land use commissions, allowing cities and counties to regulate land use.
“We must protect neighborhoods from the noise that comes from active airports, but we also need to protect airports from safety threats that result when development hems in airports,” Negrete McLeod said. “It’s just plain common sense to sort out these problems before we have accidents and lawsuits.”
Her legislation will tighten up the state law by requiring an airport land use commission in every county with a public use airport. Her bill will strongly affect Marin, San Bernardino, Kern, and Santa Cruz counties, and those are the counties most likely to mount a strong opposition to the bill. Negrete McLeod chairs the Senate Local Government Committee which will hear her bill in March.
“I know that better planning won’t solve every problem, but it’s time to make public safety and smart land use decisions our priorities,” Negrete McLeod said. “California’s population has doubled since 1967, and so has the importance of making smart land use decisions.”
AOPA will offer strong support for the bill. “The bill is intended to get back to the original intent of the law, which was to protect people on the ground and protect airports from development,” said John Pfeifer, AOPA California regional representative.
Nevada County Air Park at Grass Valley is under watch by AOPA to assure no development problems arise. Airport Support Network volunteer Bruce Marlowe is conferring with leaders of the Loma Rica Ranch development southwest of the airport to determine if any issues arise that could affect the airport.
Airport Manager Greg Marshall said cooperation has been good with the development concerning air traffic arrival paths, housing density issues, and aviation easements. He added that the community has been cooperative.
Another proposed development on the north property line of the airport has failed after the developer decided not to proceed. He had planned for 20 airport community homes with taxiway access to the airport. However, the developer could not persuade local officials to change zoning from industrial to residential.
The airport badly needs extra land on which to build hangars, so the site is being watched closely by airport officials to see if it becomes available.
In general, the airport has enjoyed good relations with local officials, especially since the forest-fire tanker began using the airport as a base. Other forms of cooperation include the sharing of tax revenues the airport needs to remain viable. “The supervisors value the airport,” Marshall said.
The airport has four special development areas near it that AOPA continues to watch.
AOPA needs an Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteer to watch over Tehachapi Municipal Airport on behalf of AOPA and, like Paul Revere, sound the alarm in case of trouble from developers, city officials, or other threats.
However, it should be an easy job.
A local story in The Tehachapi News on January 21 recognized the airport as a strong economic asset with 12,000 operations per year. There are 129 aircraft based there, making it eligible for $400,000 in federal airport improvement fund money. When there were fewer than 100 airplanes there, the airport was eligible for only $150,000 from the federal government.
Improvements now reaching the airport include precision approach and runway lighting, LED lights for taxiway and wind sock illumination, and direct density-altitude readouts for pilots.
There are numerous businesses on the airport, but the one causing the most excitement is Icon, Inc., a firm that plans to build light sport aircraft. The airport is a backup to Bakersfield Meadows Field when that airport is fogged in, bringing additional revenue to the airport from air cargo carriers. A new taxiway is to be built in the coming year. It will open the northwest corner of the airport up to aviation-related development, including the possibility of a residential air park for home owners who want to live with their airplane tucked in the garage.
“How nice it is to have good things happen,” said AOPA California Regional Representative John Pfeifer. If you want an important job that adds aviation expertise to your resume, call the AOPA Airport Support Network office in Frederick, Maryland, 301-695-2000 or 800/USA-AOPA and ask for Government Affairs. Tell them you want to be an airport support volunteer.
The Watsonville Airport (WVI) Pilots Association and AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteer Rayvon Williams, formed the Watsonville Regional Airport Promotion-Political Action Committee (WRAP-PAC) to ensure their airport has friends in the political arena.
WRAP-PAC provides a sanctioned resource for airport supporters to offer financial backing to local candidates for the City Council, County Board of Supervisors, and other public offices that affect Watsonville Airport. The PAC’s 2007 efforts included several successes.
In May, the city council members who received donations from the WRAP-PAC prevented a biased Airport Land Use plan. And to ensure this vote is not overturned, WRAP-PAC raised thousands of dollars at its annual donation dinner in November 2007 to continue supporting local pro-airport candidates. According to Williams, Watsonville’s WRAP-PAC has been a key driver in protecting the airport from several potentially detrimental votes.
AOPA is concerned about not one but two proposed gas-fired turbine power plants near California’ s Hayward Executive Airport. The latest project, the Eastshore Energy Center, would have a negative impact on safety because of obscuration and turbulence created by the exhaust stacks. AOPA said in a letter to the California Energy Commission from AOPA Vice President for Airports Bill Dunn that these concerns are grounded in fact. A similar plant was built near another California landing facility, Blythe Airport, and pilots have reported a detrimental effect on their ability to land safely there. Mitigation measures were promised but not enacted at Blythe. AOPA previously asked the energy commission to reject the Russell City Energy Center near Hayward. AOPA is doing the same for the Eastshore proposal, hoping for a better outcome.
The AOPA letter from Dunn to the California Energy Commission said, in part: “While the Association can understand the need to meet the ever-growing demands for electric energy in Northern California, and Hayward, based on the information we have reviewed regarding the above referenced project, AOPA is strongly opposed to approval and construction of the Eastshore Energy Center at the currently proposed location which is roughly one mile from Hayward Executive Airport (HWD). HWD, with over 477 based aircraft and nearly 125,000 operations each year, is a major reliever airport in the Bay Area.”
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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