Compatible land-use measure could save headaches

June 3, 2010

A little planning can save a lot of headaches and lost funds when it comes to developing the land around airports. The California aviation community and state and city officials know that all too well.

That’s why the California Senate passed a bill June 2 that would require airport land-use commissions in each county that has a public-use general aviation airport. A law was enacted in the 1960s that did just that, but over the decades, changes and exemptions had been made to the law allowing some counties to operate airports without having an airport land-use commission. And that has caused a lot of headaches.

For example, the city of Watsonville and pilots were embroiled in a multi-year legal spat about eliminating a runway safety zone and allowing developers to build homes near the airport. Ultimately, the judge sided with pilots, and the city has dropped its pressure to continue encroaching on the airport.

Concerns about affecting that legal battle had effectively stalled the airport land-use commission bill in previous sessions of the California legislature, but now that it is settled, AOPA hopes the Assembly will pass the bill and restore protection to the state’s public-use airports.

“The past few years, AOPA members have rallied to support this legislation, and we may need their help again this year for a final push to get this through the Assembly,” said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of airports and state advocacy. “Passage of this bill would return California to its role as a leader in general aviation airport protection.”

State Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod authored the bill and has been instrumental in getting it to this point. AOPA had worked with McLeod to advance the bill, and helped develop an amendment that would allow local governments to receive grants to help cover the cost of starting an airport land-use commission. At a time when local governments are facing budget deficits, removing this financial barrier led to the bill’s passage.

“Airport land-use commissions are crucial to ensuring proper use of land around airports,” Pecoraro said. “They can help ensure development projects don’t threaten an airport or the safety of pilots and city residents, which can pave the way for a positive long-term airport-community relationship.”