San Diego County Airport Authority Responds

Saturday, April 16, 2005
Airport officials seek to smooth flap over perceived power grab
The San Diego (CA) North County

Buffeted by accusations it was sticking its nose where it didn’t belong, the San Diego County Airport Authority last week sought to smooth the ruffled feathers of city and county officials who said they believed it was trying to wrest control of land around the region’s 16 civilian and military airports. To underscore its sincere interest in getting along, an authority official is proposing to extend the comment period on land use plans around the airports. That extension would give the public and governmental agencies more time to study the state-mandated plans and register any concerns.

“If our board accepts it, we would be reopening the public comment period,” Angela Shafer-Payne, the airport authority’s vice president for strategic planning, said Thursday.

The authority incurred the ire of the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, which contended the plan updates were an attempt to assume control over land use around the six airports the county owns. Supervisors threatened to sue to halt the perceived power grab. Carlsbad and Oceanside city officials raised similar concerns later in the week.

Shafer-Payne said that there was no such desire and that extending the public comment period that officially ended Friday to June 30 was one way to get that message across. The authority’s board is slated to consider the request May 2.

“I think one of the points of misinformation out there is that we have more power than we actually do,” Shafer-Payne said. “We have the authority to update compatibility plans, but no direct authority over land use surrounding the airports. That is up to the jurisdiction that controls the land around the airports.”

The chairwoman of the county Board of Supervisors, Pam Slater-Price, said Thursday that she was encouraged by the request, calling the move a “step in the right direction.”

“My concern is that the plans don’t reach conclusions that are counter to what makes sense,” she said.

The plans the authority is cobbling together reflect current land use and anticipated growth around the airports over the next two decades. The plans are required by state law and have no relationship to the authority’s other major mission —- identifying a site for a new regional airport to meet anticipated growth in air cargo and airline passenger demand.

The flap over the land-use issue was the second time in recent weeks that the authority found itself on the defensive. The supervisors’ threat to sue came a day after the authority was forced by state and federal lawmakers to back away from a plan to discuss military sites as possible locations for a new airport. Bowing to that pressure, the authority decided on Monday to keep mum on base sites until an upcoming round of base closures is completed at year’s end.

The background

When it was established by the state Legislature in 2001 to assume control of San Diego International Airport-Lindbergh Field and plan for a new airport, the authority also was given the responsibility of serving as the county’s airport land-use commission. That responsibility used to reside with the San Diego Association of Governments, the region’s planning agency.

In the role, the authority is required by state law to update what are called “compatibility plans” for the airports. The plans reflect anticipated growth of the airports over the next 20 years, and address noise and airspace protection around the airports. Responsibility for each airport’s operating plans reside with the entities that own them.

Last July, the authority launched the work to update the plans, most of which have not had any major revisions for about a decade. Authority staffers met with airport operators, city and county officials and conducted public workshops as they reworked the plans.

Shafer-Payne said that the authority, in its role as the airport land-use commission, was simply trying to fulfill its state-mandated obligation.

The concerns raised by the county supervisors stem from the authority’s requirement that certain land uses, such as zoning ordinances and new building regulations around airports, be submitted to it for review.

Shafer-Payne said she does not believe that will be a problem.

“We have publicly stated this would be a rare occurrence,” she said. “We hope we end up with compatibility plans that do not require specific projects be submitted to the airport land-use commission.”

County, chamber concerns

San Diego County counts 15 airports within its boundaries in addition to San Diego International Airport-Lindbergh Field.

The civilian airports are McClellan-Palomar, Borrego Valley, Agua Caliente, Brown Field, Fallbrook Community Airpark, Gillespie Field, Jacumba, Montgomery Field, Oceanside Municipal Airport, Ocotillo and Ramona.

The military airports are Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, Camp Pendleton, North Island Naval Air Station North Island and Reem Field in Imperial Beach.

Slater-Price said one of her complaints is that the preliminary plans drafted by the authority appear to favor residential over commercial development.

“Commercial and industrial uses are the most suitable uses around airports,” said Slater-Price, who is chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors. “Those are what often generate noise and are not likely to complain about airport noise.”

Shafer-Payne said similar concerns were recently raised by city of Carlsbad officials and business interests about the compatibility plan for land use controlled by Carlsbad around McClellan-Palomar Airport. That plan will incorporate the changes that were recommended by the city, she said.

Ted Owen, head of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, said his group fired off a letter to the authority on Thursday asking that it let city officials guide land use around Palomar Airport.

“It’s our position, like the county’s, that we will fight to the death to protect our position,” Owen said.

In Oceanside, city officials said late in the week that they were worried the compatibility plan for Oceanside Municipal Airport might restrict commercial development around that airfield.

Joe Craver, chairman of the airport authority and the airport land-use commission, said the agency was simply trying to fulfill the responsibilities it was given and will address all of the concerns raised in recent days.

“This is a mandated requirement that the airport authority must accomplish,” Craver said in reference to the compatibility plans. “I am confident our staff will do everything it can to work with any concerned groups or individuals.”