(News of interest to California’s 72,000 pilots)

(submitted by CPA Rep Jeff Hand)

You may recall that last year Monterey County passed an amortization ordinance to close Carmel Valley Airport. The County admitted that an environmental review would be required based on the airport’s designation as a California historic resource, but the County was banking on the fact that the historic designation would be overturned by the State Historic Resources Commission last November. It wasn’t.

On top of that, Caltrans came to Carmel Valley’s defense by pursuing a lawsuit against Monterey County for enacting an ordinance which, among other things, violated the State Aeronautics Act. Suddenly, the County had more than they bargained for.

Since November,the Carmel Valley Airport supporters have been working with various people to come up with a plan which allowed for development on some of the airport while still allowing continued operations. Since the airport was a legal, but non-conforming land use, this was not an easy task.

Nonetheless, good progress was being made when out of the blue a letter was received from the County Counsel’s office saying that the airport owners, who previously intended to keep the airport open until development plans were set, had decided to voluntarily close the airport in exchange for an indemnification agreement from the County.

Despite vigorous and vocal accusations of backroom dealing, the board of supervisors gleefully signed the agreement.

Following up on their agreement, the property owners told Caltrans that they were abandoning the airport and requested that the airport operating certificate be revoked. Caltrans informed the owners that the revocation would be effective May 30th – about a month later in order to provide adequate notice to airmen. During this month the Carmel Valley Historic Airpark Society enlisted the help of a lawyer whose practice specialized in historic preservation.

Some legal sleuthing uncovered the fact that the Public Utility Codes which govern the airport’s closure gives Caltrans a certain amount of discretion to not revoke the permit. This is a crucial issue because Carmel Valley’s airport permit was granted on a grandfather provision due to it early existence; Carmel Valley wouldn’t be able to receive a new permit based on current airport standards due to the confined nature of the airport in the valley.

Because there would be no remedy available to airport defenders who may prevail on the legal issue if the certificate were permanently revoked, Caltrans agreed that the airport defenders were entitled to a public hearing in front of an administrative law judge. The hearing will consider whether the owners have to perform an environmental impact report (EIR) now, before the airport is destroyed, or later, before it is developed.

In the last week the property owners have released their plans for a 75 unit “senior resort” development on the 30 acre site. The project is clearly large enough to warrant an EIR, so it is our hope that a judge would agree that an EIR which considers preserving the historic site would be appropriate.

While I have been writing this update to the CPA, the “Xs” have been painted and the windsock taken down. A passerby informed us that they heard that a backhoe was appearing tomorrow to tear up the runway. We are scrambling to file a temporary restraining order in the county superior court to halt the demolition at least until the administrative hearing can be held.

Fighting to save this airport is being financed with contributions from local pilots and the war chest (ha!) is not very big. Anyone wishing to contribute ten bucks or so can send (non-deductible) donations to the Carmel Valley Historic Airpark Society, P.O. Box 683, Carmel Valley, CA 93924. If we are unsuccessful and don’t spend the money, donations will be returned on a pro rata basis.