Public Hearing on Watsonville General Plan Update – November 30th

Public Hearing on Watsonville General Plan Update (November 30th) – CalPilots Editor’s Note: After losing a court battle as well as an appeal, the city of Watsonville will not give up on trying to encroach on its airport.

watsonvilleMembers of the Watsonville Pilots Association (WPA), EAA members and other airport supporters showed up in large numbers (about 60% of the audience) at the City of Watsonville public hearing at the Armory on November 9th.   The main purpose of the Armory meeting was to discuss airport land use planning that must be in the city’s general plan update.  The city saw high attendance and a keen interest in protecting Watsonville Airport.

A series of four meetings between WPA and the City preceded the public hearing.  Rayvon Williams, interim airport manager, arranged those meetings.  The purpose was to come to some understanding regarding off-airport land use planning prior to the city taking general plan content to the court for approval.  Not included in the WPA-City discussions and understandings were other issues like annexation, EIR content, building in zone 6 in Buena Vista, urban sprawl, and water availability.

The City presentation at the Armory on airport land use planning accurately reflected the understandings of the previous four meetings.  The Armory public hearing was well organized, was moderated by Eileen Goodwin and followed the city’s agenda.

Overall, the public meeting seemed to contain two parts, airport land use planning and other issues brought up by questions.

First, the airport land use planning dealt with zones associated with runways (zones 1-5) and respective building densities in those zones.  Medium runway size zones will be used on the ends of runway 2 and 20.  The planning provided for moving zones southward on the approach end of runway 2 when the runway is extended towards the freeway (to accommodate the precision approach).

In Buena Vista, the approach end of runway 8 (departure end of 26) adjusted size zones are in the plan.  The zone sizes are halfway between medium general aviation runway zones and short general aviation zones.  This understanding bypasses the likelihood of further litigation over the state classification (medium vs short ) of runway 8-26.  On the approach end of runway 26 in Freedom the short configuration zones are used because existing nonconforming development is nearly everywhere.  It’s already a mess.  The powerpoint zone slides are available on the city website.

The California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook stipulates that in zones 1 through 5 in rural and agricultural areas current zoning must be maintained. In the Buena Vista area current zoning and density is restrictive. That keeps existing open space to prevent creating new noise and safety problems.

Both the City of Watsonville and the County must have the approval of Caltrans Division of Aeronautics on planning.

Pertinent to the understanding on zones and densities is clarification about state classification of runways.  The California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook (January 2002) has been undergoing revision/updating for about the last year and a half.  The revised Handbook (October 2011) has just become available and supersedes previous editions.  Most airport land use compatibility plans are prepared by professional consulting firms. Their job is made easier now because the new Handbook has clarified information about adjusting generic zones “in recognition of the physical and operation characteristics of the airport.”

That works well for WVI’s situation or conditions; and validates the adjustment of zones in Buena Vista.  Page 3-20:  The focus should be “…on the aeronautical factors that affect their [zones] size and shape.”

It should be noted that the three runway length groupings are not a hard and fast rule—they were created for the convenience of the Handbook users. The total accident database was divided into three roughly equal groups with enough points in each to be statistically usable. If more data were available, smaller runway length increments could have been used. Also, a group could just as easily have been created encompassing runway lengths from 3,000 to 5,000 feet. See the discussion regarding adjusting the generic zones for individual runways for factors to consider when a runway length falls at a dividing point between the groups examined here

And the Handbook now says, “Runway length is a primary consideration.  However, if the length falls near the break point between two of the generic groups, it may be appropriate to define zones that are between the sizes of the two groups.”  And “…On the other hand, a short runway used by the more demanding types of aircraft may warrant starting with a larger set of safety zones.”

Attendees of the Armory meeting brought up other issues at the Q & A.  There were objections to proposed development in Buena Vista being included in the General Plan. It was called sprawl.  Ms. Marcela Tavantzis (city interim community development department director) responded that Buena Vista was picked because Action Pajaro Valley, with broad based consensus, decided that was the needed for future growth (that was like poking a beehive with a stick).  One person said that various entities and groups were ignored during the previous planning process.  It should be noted that WPA formally withdrew from Action Pajaro Valley in 2005 after APV ignored a compatibility plan and then dodged the Grand Jury report.  Marcella said that BV was needed for the city to received 5 million dollars per year for planning future housing.  Another attendee said the city should refuse the money, tell the state or federal government to keep those funds, and maintain a suitable living environment locally.

An individual from farming said that there are significant water issues involved with the Buena Vista plan.

Covering all the Q & A is not practical here.  The November 30th (at 6:00 pm) meeting at the council chambers will focus on these other issues.  There will be a summary meeting in January 2012.

dchauvetDan Chauvet
WPA Member

Editor’s Note: The WPA is a chapter of the California Pilots Association