Watsonville Airport Runway Study Considered

Monday, June 28, 2004
Watsonville Airport Runway Study Considered
The Santa Cruz (CA) Sentinel

WATSONVILLE – One of Watsonville Municipal Airport’s two runways could be shut down or shortened to make way for housing, according to a new study.

The report, which details six options for the airport’s reserve runway including keeping it open, will be considered today by a committee looking at city land-use issues. Any change would curtail some airport activities, airport Manager Don French said.

“The risk of doing something like this is once you do it, you can’t go back,” he said.

The study is part of the city’s update of its General Plan, the blueprint for development. The update includes a look at the Buena Vista area, a roughly 400-acre tract west of the airport that the city plans to annex.

Safety zones outside the airport will cut the amount of allowable housing in half if runway 8-26 remains in its current configuration. The crosswind runway, as it is also known, is used about 12 percent of the time to accommodate planes during certain wind or fog conditions, according to city officials.

Two of the six options presented in the report call for shortening the runway. French said due to pilot licensing requirements that could put the runway off limits to the small jets.

From the airport’s perspective, the least onerous option for change calls for having planes approach the runway from the right instead of the standard left, which keeps pilots in visual contact with the airport.

But French fears while that would open some space for development, it won’t be enough to satisfy everyone.

Plans for between 1,200 and 2,400 homes and apartments in the Buena Vista area are under consideration.

“There are tradeoffs on everything,” French said. “How much (the City Council) is willing to trade off as far as the airport and housing is a political decision.”

Fueling fears about the airport’s survival are previous attempts to close it down. In 1991, for example, affordable housing advocates wanted to convert the nearly 300-acre airport to a 1,551-unit subdivision.

John Doughty, community development director, said the City Council, which will consider the study in August, demonstrated its support for the airport when it approved plans for an upgrade.

The General Plan Update Committee will meet at 5 p.m. in the City Hall, 250 Main St. The agenda includes reports on neighborhood meetings held in Buena Vista and Freedom, and discussions on parks policy, economic development and housing strategies and transportation issues. The airport study is scheduled for a 45-minute discussion, starting a 6:30 p.m.

If You Go
WHAT: General Plan Update Committee.
WHERE: City Hall, 250 Main St.
WHEN: 6:30 p.m.

The study is available at www.ci.watsonville.ca.us