March/April 2002 Letter to Governor Davis

Presidents Corner

Letter to the Governor

February 23, 2002

Honorable Gray Davis
Governor, State of California
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: Preservation of Safe and Efficient California Public Airports

Dear Governor:

This is to ask for your help in preserving California’s Public Airports. Our Association is a volunteer public benefit corporation whose purpose is to preserve the airports as an important element of thestate transportation system.

California is home for more than 200 public airports. Many are designated by the Federal Aviation Administration as reliever airports for larger airports that have airline service. Others are in included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems. Because of their importance as part of the air transportation system these airports receive special federal funding consideration.

Yet, despite their importance, some 30 California airports have closed since 1976. Others are being degraded in their service ability by curfews and other restrictions that limit their utility. Continueddegradation of the airport system will have a profound adverse effect on future generations of Californians.

Of current significance is the recent increased use of smaller airports for business travel. As an alternative to deteriorating airline service many corporations and others are using smaller public airports as an efficient and convenient means of travel.

A major reason for airport closures and restrictions is incompatible land uses that encroach on the airports causing noise and safetyproblems. While California statutory law is written to protect airports from surrounding incompatible land uses, the law is not being enforced by any governmental agency. Residential developments that are not compatible uses are frequently approved by cities and counties

A rationale often expressed by local government officials for approving incompatible land uses is that of a need for residential housing. While there clearly is a need for housing, there is also a need for a safe and efficient transportation system. There must be a balancing of land uses to meet the two needs.

Incompatible residential projects near airports are often approved even though other suitable and conveniently situated land is available for that purpose. Influence of project proponents often prevails over logic and common sense.

Policies of the two prior California governors were not helpful. Under their administrations all local land use decisions were considered local government functions. That included decisions that allowed incompatible airport land use decisions. These policies failed to take into account that each public airport was a part of the state and national transportation system and not just a local proprietary concern.

Under prior administrations the California Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division personnel have been frustrated by these hands-off policies. Aeronautics personnel have readily provided technical support and advice to local officials and land use planners. Their advice has frequently been ignored.

For example, in 2001 Aeronautics Chief Marlin Beckwith wrote a very cogent and forceful letter to the City of Los Banos expressing concerns about a proposed housing project near Los Banos Airport. (Attachemnt A). That letter was ignored. The council approved the project in the face of overwhelming evidence that the project would create noise and safety problems. (Attachment B).

The Aeronautics Division could not go further to require the city to comply with California law. The matter is now in litigation by volunteer lawyers representing the California Pilots Association.

The City of Los Banos, like owners of many of California’s airports, receives both state and federal funding for airport maintenance and improvements. As recipients of taxpayer monies these owners should be required to observe California law and do responsible land use planning to preserve their airports and protect persons who live or work nearby.

Our Association has made numerous requests to the California Attorney General and to the Federal Aviation Administration for help in preventing encroachment of incompatible developments. These requests have been denied or ignored.

It is the position of our Association that the State of California has a stake in maintaining safe and efficient public airports as an element of the transportation infrastructure. It is our belief that the state has a duty to the public as a whole that goes beyond local government planning concerns.

We respectfully request that you review the policy of your Administration with a view of achieving more effective means of preserving safe and efficient airports that will benefit future generations of Californians.

Jay C. White, President

Cc: Robert. A. Wiswell, Chief, Caltrans Division of Aeronautics
Brian J. Smith, Caltrans Deputy Director for Planning and Modal Programs.