Let's set the stage. A developer called Sunroad Enterprises and its vice president, former San Diego mayor's aide Tom Story, want to complete a 180-foot-tall office building near Montgomery Field. The FAA and the California Division of Aeronautics say it will be a hazard to landing traffic, especially those aircraft using navigation systems in IFR weather. The building must stop at 160 feet, says the FAA and San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre. Sunroad officials have dismissed FAA claims, saying they hired a consultant who decided the building wasn't a hazard. The developer said it would stop at 160 feet, but later built the structure to the originally intended 180 feet, citing "land availability and location" as reasons the building had to be built that high. Later, after the city of San Diego issued a stop-work order for the top 20 feet of the building, Sunroad said it needed to put a roof on that part of the structure that was in progress and extends to 180 feet. That's allegedly to protect the lower floors temporarily open to the weather.
But in March, Aguirre learned that glass siding, not just a temporary roof, was going on the building to a height of 180 feet. Not only that, but Sunroad plans two additional buildings nearby that would be still higher. Aguirre turned up the heat on the developer, filing criminal charges against Story, saying Story lobbied more than a dozen times to let the project continue. That violates a city law that says employees who leave for another job must not lobby the city for a year. Story left in 2005 and at the time was chief of staff for a mayor who was pressured to resign in the face of criticism of his administration. Story's attorney, Pamela Naughton, told The San Diego Union-Tribune the ban against lobbying is unclear, adding that Story is innocent of all charges.
All of the sideshow theatrics have clouded the main issue: Pilots may hit the building in poor visual conditions if it is not limited to 160 feet.
Story was expected to be in court May 1 to answer the charges, but his attorney has filed a motion to remove Aguirre from the case. In attempting to develop his charges, Aguirre had in March sought and won a search warrant from a judge to search Sunroad records. When it was taken to the police chief to be served, it somehow was leaked instead to the press and to Sunroad, an aide to Aguirre said. "This is the Wild West out here," she added, saying the current fight may be just an opening shot in a future effort by developers to close Montgomery Field. Search warrants are normally secret. The present San Diego mayor, Jerry Sanders, gave an interview to a local television station criticizing his own city attorney, saying he thought Aguirre had gone too far.
The charges carry a penalty of a $1,000 fine and one year in jail for each conviction.
In the meantime, Sunroad has sued the city for $40 million, claiming the building was legally built.
Aguirre says it is not just a matter of keeping Sunroad from ignoring FAA rulings so general aviation planes won't hit the building. Rather, his look into the case is part of a broader investigation into citywide corruption. The Union-Tribune editorial writers think maybe Aguirre overstepped his powers, and the newspaper's editorial page sided with the local police chief who refused to serve the search warrant Aguirre obtained, saying it was for Aguirre's political gain.
Rialto Municipal/Miro Field, better known as Art Scholl Memorial Field, moved a step closer to extinction when the Rialto City Council approved a relocation plan for the current 127 tenants, such as Art Scholl Aviation, a large flight school, to move off the airport, according to a report in The Riverside Press-Enterprise. The school plans to move to San Bernardino International Airport nearby.
Art Scholl invented many of the standard acts seen in airshows today — except the one where he walked on his own wing during the act — and worked in hundreds of commercials and feature films. He died in an accident during the filming of Top Gun, but his wife continues to operate the flight school. Each tenant is eligible for $10,000 for moving and related costs under the plan, the newspaper reported.
The airport will be closed and turned into a 1,500-acre master-planned community. Once developed, the property should bring the city $2 million to $3 million a year.
The local sheriff's aviation division told the council it had been kept in the dark about the move for the past year, and would like to know if it has a facility to move to. City Council members said they plan to meet with the division and are confident the situation will be corrected.
The land, purchased by Lewis-Hillwood LLC for $120 million, will be used not only for residential use but also for industrial, commercial, and public uses, the newspaper reported.