Sunday, August 28, 2005
Oceanside officials have different visions for airport’s future
By BEN FRUMIN
The San Diego (CA) North County Times
OCEANSIDE —- Alan Cruise has big plans for the expansion of the Oceanside Municipal Airport, though they appear counter to the desires of a City Council majority. Cruise, a pilot who heads the Oceanside Airport Association, envisions the small, 41-hangar facility growing into a 151-hangar operation with new offices and a cafe to serve the pilots who take off and land on the runway in northwest Oceanside.
The first piece of Cruise’s vision was recently realized with the completion of 11 new hangars along the airport’s southern border along Highway 76, west of a defunct drive-in theater.
But plans for development and expansion appear to be in limbo after the council deadlocked twice last week on financial issues related to the airport: whether to accept a $150,000 federal grant that would pay for new fences and a security access system, and whether to pay $195,000 that the city already owes for the 11 new hangars.
Both 2-2 votes —- Mayor Jim Wood was absent due to a family emergency —- pitted Councilman Rocky Chavez and Jack Feller, who voted to financially support the airport, against Councilwomen Shari Mackin and Esther Sanchez.
Opposition to airport expansion by Sanchez and Wood is well-documented, with both having voted more than once in recent years against airport growth.
“For the economic future of this city, an airport is not the best use of that land,” Sanchez said after Wednesday’s meeting. “I don’t want to tie the hands of a future City Council.”
Sanchez said Friday that the airport is “never going to be what some people have envisioned it to be.”
“Unfortunately,” she said, “it’s not a money producer. It’s a huge money eater.”The councilwoman said she also wants the city to stop going after federal money for airport projects.
“I have directed the city manager, and I believe I speak for the majority on the council, that we are not to seek any more grants from the (Federal Aviation Administration),” Sanchez said.
For her part, Mackin said she’s committed to making sure the Highway 76 corridor, and especially the drive-in property, are redeveloped to generate tax revenue for Oceanside. The newly elected councilwoman said she “cannot make a responsible decision on the (airport’s future) until I see the whole picture.”
“I don’t know what I want to see there in 20 years,” Mackin said. “It’s not a question of if I like the airport, or if I don’t like the airport. It’s about what’s best for Oceanside.”
Long-term promises<>PBut even if Oceanside’s leaders wanted to close the airport, it doesn’t appear that they would be able to. That’s because Oceanside used federal money to acquire 14.7 acres north of the airport in 2003.
Several city officials have said using that federal money bound Oceanside to keep the airport open for 20 years. Cruise has said, on the other hand, that federal regulations say an airport must remain open forever when federal money is used to acquire property, as was the case in 2003.
Donn Walker, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said last week that there was a 20-year limit on keeping the airport open. However, he said later —- after he had investigated the question further —- that use of federal money to purchase land “does obligate the airport to stay open well past 20 years.”
“It basically obligates the airport to stay open in perpetuity,” Walker said.
The question now, Cruise said, is “are we going to develop it and let it make some money, or are we going to let it fall into disrepair?”
Paying the bills
The airport currently has a “short-term cash-flow problem” because it’s not bringing in enough money to support itself, said Peter Weiss, public works director.
The airport charges rents on its hangars and tie-downs, though it’s not quite enough to pay debt service on the state loans used on the 11 new hangars, officials said.
Officials said the airport would be in the black if it built 10 more hangars, which Cruise said could bring in as much as $770 per hangar in monthly rents. Cruise said the airport needs $1 million in state loans to build 10 more hangars.
Without the loans for the 10 hangars, “the airport will not be able to pay for itself,” Weiss said, adding that the city expects to hear in mid-September whether it will receive those loans.
But Cruise said he’s concerned that a council that appears opposed to airport expansion won’t accept any loans from the state, even if it means the loans would put the airport in the black.
If the city does accept those loans, Cruise said the 10 hangars could be built within a year, boosting the airport’s hangar total to 51.
Here are the next steps in the airport master plan, approved by the council in 1997, as outlined by Cruise:
Cruise said developing that property would require an environmental impact report identifying any potential adverse effects of the project, and laying out a plan to mitigate them. Such reports typically take 12 to 18 months to complete.
The land on which the airport sits isn’t the only property in town that may have development restrictions placed on it based on air traffic.
The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority has drafted a plan that would change the rules for development of the Valley Drive-In property east of the airport, placing restrictions on the type of development that would be allowed there.
Mackin said she would like to see a Costco or Ikea built on those 90 acres, saying such development would be “an economic boost” and a “shot in the arm.”
Mackin, along with other Oceanside leaders, said she has concerns and questions about the airport potentially restricting first-rate development on the drive-in site.
Cruise said he’s also a supporter of developing the drive-in site, and said he thinks there are ways to build commercial developments there in compliance with the airport authority’s plan.