Watsonville Airport Report

In order to accommodate high density housing off the end of Watsonville’s (WVI) east-west runway, the Watsonville City’s Community Development Director proposed moving runway protection zones (RPZs) further into the Airport. At a council subcommittee examining the runway issue Daniel Gargas, CALTRANS Dept. of Aeronautics, said CALTRANS could support shortening runway 8-26 to achieve zone’s safety objectives. The downtown City staff jumped on this as a green light to move the zones so that they could plan the big housing development. It’s a blatant move to diminish the Airport and endanger its long-term viability. The Development Director feels his plan, shortening and zone shifting, has CALTRANS’s blessing.

Not suggested was the best answer, to purchase the existing development to get RPZ compliance. If shortening runways to move safety zone lines around is a solution to existing development, how many runways in California would be shortened? Doesn’t shortening a runway by cutting off one end increase the risk to those on the ground at the other end, as well as the aircraft occupants? What is CALTRANS’s policy? My inquiry was to R. Austin Wiswell, Chief of the department. He responded in a recent e-mail, “…Shortening a runway to allow a new proposed land use that is otherwise incompatible for safety reasons is not our role. We would not advocate shortening a runway to allow a new incompatible land use. We would advocate not going ahead with the proposed incompatible land use.” But then he confirmed, “…Mr. Gargas indicated that we could support shortening runway 8-26 to achieve RSA & RPZ safety objectives.” He (Mr. Gargas) also indicated that “..we would not object if the City did shorten runway 8-26 to achieve RSA & RPZ safety objectives.” “Don’t make it worse” was a profound statement by Mr. Wiswell at a planning seminar at Marina Airport in reference to existing development of the end of runways. Now I’m scratching my head, which is it Mr. Wiswell?

With development planners at meetings one has to very careful what you say because “mitigation” now means jump on anything to get development anywhere.

Dan Chauvet
Watsonville Pilots Association