S.B.1118, an AOPA-supported bill designed to protect California airports from encroachment while shielding neighborhoods from safety hazards and noise, passed the state legislature’s Senate Local Government Committee (SLGC) by a 5-0 vote.
The bill is now with the Senate Appropriations Committee and could go straight to the Senate floor in a matter of weeks. If the full Senate votes in favor of the bill, it will move to the Assembly side of the California legislature.
If the bill passes, it will restore a requirement that counties establish Airport Land Use Commissions (ALUC)—groups created to regulate land use around airports.
AOPA has worked closely with bill sponsor Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino) and the California Transportation Commission to promote the measure. AOPA California Regional Representative John Pfeifer testified in favor of the bill, and AOPA also asked members to contact their state senators and express support for S.B.1118.
“Responsible land-use planning heads off many of the noise complaints and safety concerns that threaten airports,” said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. “This measure becoming law is vital for the future of California’s airports.”
The ALUC mandate was repealed in 1993 as a cost-saving measure. The legislature restored it a year later, but allowed local officials to avoid forming an ALUC if they found no noise, safety, or land use issues affecting their airports.
As a result, several counties stopped using a countywide body for planning land use around airports, allowing what were traditional ALUC functions to be administered inconsistently throughout the state. It also allowed loopholes that favored the interests of land developers.
ALUCs typically have seven members, representing cities, counties, aviation experts, and the general public. Their purpose is to adopt airport compatibility use plans (ACUP) for areas around public use airports, while determining if development plans and land use decisions are consistent with those ACUPs.
A city council or county board of supervisors can overrule an ALUC’s consistency determination by a two-thirds vote. But if a city or county overrules the ALUC, state law dictates that the airport operator is immune from any liability for damages or personal injury connected with city or county’s decision.
According to the SLGC, S.B.1118 improves oversight of near-airport land use by restoring the countywide review the ALUC mandate was created to provide. The bill balances the competing interests of airports and their neighbors, the committee said, while giving local interests priority over broader outside interests.
“Because most counties have kept their ALUCs operating, they will see few changes because of S.B.1118,” the SLGC said. “But in counties that disbanded ALUCs, property owners and airport operators will need to return to countywide discussions.”
The San Jose Airport Commission passed a resolution that supports keeping Reid-Hillview open and operating, but the airport isn’t safe yet. The resolution, which passed a 5-0 vote with two commissioners absent, goes to the San Jose City Council for consideration.
Introduced by longtime aviation supporter Frank Sweeney, the resolution declares Reid-Hillvew “is an irreplaceable asset to the public transportation system,” and urges the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to cease all efforts to close the airport.
The resolution also asks San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed to write the board of supervisors, reiterating the city’s support of the airport and seeking to dissuade county officials from further attempts to close it.
“The airport is still under threat, but this kind of unequivocal support from the airport commission is a good first step toward persuading Santa Clara County that closing the airport would do more harm than good,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of local airport advocacy.
Dunn recently visited San Jose, meeting with local pilots, members of the board of supervisors, and airport management. He also plans to speak before the San Jose City Council when it considers the resolution.
Over the objections of the FAA, AOPA, and various local aviation groups, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has repeatedly considered closing Reid-Hillview and redeveloping the area for non-aviation uses.
The Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority is aggressively pursuing a seven-year-old proposal to prohibit all takeoffs and landings at Bob Hope Airport between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6:59 a.m., with limited exceptions.
While such a ban would likely have the greatest impact on night freight services, operators of personal jets and other general aviation aircraft would be subject to the restriction as well. Airlines have already ceased operations during those hours on a voluntary basis.
According to the airport authority, its nighttime ban proposal is the first application for a restriction on newer Stage 3 noise compliant jets since the Airport Noise and Capacity Act became law in 1990. Among other stipulations, the law prevented airports from imposing their own access restrictions in the absence of FAA approval.
Dan Feger, interim executive director of the airport authority, said the methodology used to justify the ban is “very defensible” and meets all Part 161 requirements. “We are prepared to go to the FAA and make a very strong argument in favor of this curfew,” he said.
California has imposed nighttime noise restrictions on aviation operations to a greater extent than any other state. Affected airports include John Wayne Orange County, Lake Tahoe, Long Beach, San Jose International, San Diego International, Santa Monica, and Van Nuys.
A runway renovation project is slated to close Mammoth Yosemite Airport for at least four months beginning in late May.
The 7,000-foot Runway 9/27 is 35 years old and in poor condition; both the town and the FAA consider repaving it a safety priority.
The town of Mammoth Lakes had considered rebuilding a portion of the runway at a time to keep the airport open but shelved the plan amid concerns about costs and delays. Partial closure could also impact safety, as the airport’s 7,128-foot elevation can result in density altitudes of 10,000 feet or more during the summer.
Mammoth Lakes also proposed keeping 3,500 feet of parallel taxiway open for light aircraft use, but the FAA rejected the idea over concerns about flight path obstructions.
The airport is located approximately 66 nautical miles northeast of Fresno, California. According to Airnav.com, the airport is home to six single-engine aircraft, and averages 35 flight operations per day.
1979: Santa Monica votes to ban jets larger than Category B-II from the airport.
1984: The city settles a federal lawsuit with the FAA, AOPA, and others resulting from the ban. Santa Monica agrees to keep the airport open and accessible through 2015.
July 2002: The Santa Monica Airport Commission recommends that the City Council create an ordinance banning Category C and D jets from the airport.
March 25, 2008: The City Council unanimously passes the ordinance.
April 7, 2008: Santa Monica responds to an FAA order to show cause, defending the ban as a safety measure.
April 21, 2008: The FAA asks the city to withdraw its enforcement letter, pending a review of the ban’s legality.
April 22, 2008: Santa Monica replies to the FAA, refusing to withdraw its enforcement letter.
April 24, 2008: Santa Monica moves to enforce its jet ban; FAA issues a cease-and-desist order.
The FAA issued a cease-and-desist order to Santa Monica after the city tried to enforce a law banning Category C and D jets from Santa Monica Airport. The order is the latest move in an increasingly contentious fight over access to the publicly funded airport.
The FAA issued the order April 24, the same day the ban was to take effect, and one day after the city refused to withdraw a letter warning pilots that they could face fines and jail time for violating the ban. After receiving the order, city officials met with the U.S. Attorney’s office and did not immediately enforce the ban.
In its request that the city withdraw the letter, the FAA said the legality of the ban remains the subject of review. Santa Monica Municipal is a federally obligated airport, meaning it must remain accessible under federal law.
The FAA also warned that it will pursue a cease-and-desist order if the city failed to withdraw its enforcement letter, and accused the city of attempting to circumvent the agency’s authority as the final arbiter of aviation safety.
In response to the FAA’s warning, the Santa Monica city attorney refused to withdraw the letter, saying the city is acting prudently to protect public safety and claiming that the FAA has prejudged the case.
“This airport has been under threat for decades, and AOPA has worked hard to keep it open and accessible,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA’s vice president of local advocacy. “We will continue to fight for this vital reliever airport.”