See if you can follow along here. In May 2006 "Smokey" Rickerd, then airport manager, got a USDA Forest Service permit to cut down 387 trees that were not in compliance with California's State Aeronautics Act and FAA regulations. Over the years, he had lost the staff that maintained the trees, and they had grown into the flight operations area. But he did not have permission from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) to cut the trees.
Now TRPA has levied a $500,000 fine and notice of violation for cutting the trees, but approved the cutting of 408 more trees in an attempt to comply with those state and federal regulations. "We are confident that those 408 trees will satisfy state and federal regulations," said Rick Jenkins, the new airport manger. However, there are still negotiations with the state on how much trimming is required beyond an area outside a zone 600 feet from the runway. Still lacking at press time was a waste discharge permit — or a waiver from the permit — from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board for waste discharge during the cutting. Coordination with landowners also is required.
TRPA officials remain suspicious that the airport is pulling a fast one, that if the trees actually fall, larger aircraft suddenly will come roaring down final approach. The airport has no such plans. As for Rickerd, he quit February 9, telling one councilman, according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune, the job "wasn't fun anymore." This seems to be a pattern among some of the airport's previous seven managers.
AOPA California Regional Representative John Pfeifer has talked with state aeronautics officials and airport officials about the problem.
AOPA is closely watching S.B.10, sponsored by state Sen. Christine Kehoe, which removes responsibility from the San Diego Regional Airport Authority for development of airport land-use compatibility plans around all airports in San Diego County and transfers it back to a consolidated agency that includes the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). The airport authority's efforts to develop these plans over the past two years have been fraught with controversy and opposition. AOPA is asking Kehoe to amend the bill and require that any airport land-use plans created by SANDAG fully meet the requirements of existing state law — including the makeup of the Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC) with at least two members who have aviation expertise. And that the plans be prepared using all available California Division of Aeronautics guide material.
AOPA has contacted Kehoe as part of a larger effort with the Division of Aeronautics to update and strengthen the Public Utilities Code with regard to airport land-use commissions and airport-compatible land-use planning.
AOPA told Kehoe: "It is AOPA's belief that if the ALUC authority and responsibilities are transferred to the consolidated agency, the ALUC functions should be carried out by a smaller subcommittee. That subcommittee should be structured in accordance with the Public Utilities Code Section 21670.(b)(1), which specifies two members representing the cities in the county, two members representing the county, two members having expertise in aviation, and one member representing the general public. This will make the representation consistent with most other ALUCs in the state." The letter also suggested that updating of airport land-use plans be synchronized with updates to the California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook.
Encroachment is the biggest threat to airports nationwide, particularly to those in California.
That's why AOPA is working with California legislators to make stronger land-use laws. "Land-use laws are very important to have in place," said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "John Pfeifer, our AOPA California regional representative, and I have met with legislators twice so far this year to work on the issue."
While Pecoraro was in California, he also met with state officials to prevent a pilot background check proposal from moving forward in the legislature.
The Tracy City Council voted to commit $1 million to California's Tracy Municipal Airport to repair the airport building, hire an airport coordinator, and improve the portable bathrooms and irrigation and septic systems.
That pledge of support came after considerable local advocacy: AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Denny Presley and pilots based at the Northern California airport recently formed the Tracy Airport Association to voice the airport's needs. There also was support on the City Council from those who understood the value of the airport to the community.
"Local pilot involvement is key to protecting and improving airports," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airports. "The council is listening to the pilots — their voters. Without the advocacy of these pilots working with the few supportive council members, the council likely would not be investing in the airport."
Find out online how you can form an airport support group to protect your airport.
Thanks to local pilots, a cell phone tower won't be going up at Big Bear City Airport in Southern California. The Big Bear Lake Planning Commission voted 4-1 against the proposed tower location after a group of pilots voiced opposition at the public meeting. AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Ken Dally also spoke out against the tower. "Local pilots are what count," said John Collins, AOPA senior liaison of airports. "The majority of AOPA's success at protecting airports has been because local pilots got involved." AOPA sent a letter to the city explaining that locating the tower less than a mile from the airport and only 1,460 feet from the departure end of Runway 26 would pose a significant hazard for pilots.
It appears city officials are as anxious as developers are to put housing too close to the north side of Watsonville Municipal Airport. Last year the state Division of Aeronautics asked Watsonville city officials to stop proposed development that encroached on safety areas at the Watsonville airport, and strongly suggested the establishment of a land-use planning commission.
AOPA and other groups also support such a commission. According to an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the same advice has been offered by the Santa Cruz County grand jury and local pilot groups.
The newspaper reported that the city wants to put more than 2,000 homes in the Buena Vista area.
City Manager Carlos Palacios stalled on establishing a land-use commission, despite a strongly worded letter from California Division of Aeronautics Chief Mary Frederick, and wants instead to have a city-appointed committee determine land use next to the airport. Pilots told the newspaper they are concerned that the committee might be stacked in favor of developers and the city.
AOPA California Regional Representative John Pfeifer said: "The Watsonville Municipal Airport needs to be protected from incompatible development, such as the proposed housing project.
The way to protect it is to establish an Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC), as is clearly defined in the California Public Utilities Code. The ALUC needs to develop an airport-compatible land-use plan in accordance with the current Division of Aeronautics handbook."
Palacios told the newspaper that the safety issue is really a matter of risk assessment, and the city does that every time it puts in a stoplight. Apparently, for him, state pressure to meet housing goals outweighs state pressure to keep development from growing too near the airport. Palacios expressed confidence in the possibility of finding a compromise, noting that the city agreed to limit growth west of state Highway 1 in exchange for local and state support of a new high school.
City officials, thwarted in past efforts toward development, fear a land use commission with authority near the airport could further stifle city growth. Opponents see the city and developers as being in danger of growing a noise problem by putting unsuspecting residents too near the airport. The new residents then discover the airport and they lobby to close it.