WATSONVILLE (CA)–Runway at Airport Up For Debate

Sunday, April 10, 2005
Runway at airport up for debate

City officials are gearing up for debate at Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. City Council meeting on changes to the Watsonville Municipal Airport crosswind runway that would pave the way for eventual development of the Buena Vista area west of the airport. The City Council will consider re-designating Runway 8, used as part of crosswind runway 8-26 during foggy conditions, as “low activity.” The move would also eliminate one of six safety zones and allow for the possibility of new homes, schools and day care centers in the Buena Vista area.

Under that plan, the runway would remain the same length and there would be no changes to airport operations, city officials say.

Runway 8 is used for approximately 2 percent of flights at the airport, while Runway 26 sees about 10 percent of the 100,000 annual flights at the airport, airport manager and pilot Don French said.

French said the plan is a “good compromise,” although he recognized that most pilots would prefer no change at all to the runway.

An ad hoc City Council Airport Committee, which includes council members Dale Skillicorn, Judy Doering-Nielsen and Antonio Rivas, had originally considered reducing Runway 8 by 500 feet, but vetoed the plan for safety considerations.

“Airports are better served when there are no homes around them, not only because of safety but because of neighbor complaints. But that’s not going to happen,” French said. “Runway 8 clearly meets the definition of a low-use runway.”

“There’s possibilities and probabilities. The probability is what you have to go by. This is an acceptable risk,” he added.

The runway change represents the next step toward annexation of the Buena Vista area, after voters passed Measure U in 2002, targeting the land for new housing. The city has proposed adding as many as 2,200 new homes in the area.

“From staff’s perspective, if the issue was simply the one on the table, with regard to re-designating the runway, there would be very little debate,” Community Development Director John Doughty said. “But I think it’s very likely that this will be drawn into a larger argument about what is the future of the airport.”

If the plan passes, changes would be incorporated into the city’s General Plan, to be followed by a specific plan addressing the Buena Vista expansion – including the design and exact number of housing units.

The specific plan process could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months, Doughty estimated.