Big Bear Airport Update

Planning Commission Votes Against a Cellphone Tower at City of Big Bear Lake

The Big Bear Lake Planning Commission voted 4-1 against the proposed tower location after a group of pilots voiced opposition at the public meeting. Big Bear City Airport (L35) lies outside of the City of Big Bear Lake. The departure threshold of Big Bear?s Runway 26 would be 1500 ft from the proposed tower.


Previously, the city planning commission had voted to draft a resolution for the issuance of the cellphone tower Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to allow the tower?s construction. On March 7, the approval of the CUP was up for a vote. One of the driving considerations in the Staff Report for the CUP was the ?FAA?s ?Determination of No Hazard to Air Navigation??.

BB Short Final

Final Big Bear Airport

Downwind Big Bear Airport

The T-Mobile plan was to construct a 65 ft tower, which, according to their spokesman, would provide coverage to the north ? across the lake. It would be south of the runway extended centerline by 926? (reduced to 708? assuming an over-the-lake noise abatement 10? left turn after takeoff). The tower would be clear of the runway?s protected airspace as calculated by the FAA. Their calculations, however, follow a standard that does not consider turns.

Speaking against he tower were the Airport?s Manger, Garry Dokter, the airport?s Pilot Association President Ken Campbell, and its members, the airport?s ASN Rep Ken Dally, and CALPILOTS VP for Region IV, Jack Kenton and a AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer. Letter assistance for the opposition came from the AOPA, and CalTrans Division of Aeronautics (K.Haukhol). There were also about 15 local pilots that spoke before the planning commission. These airport?s supporters had made an effort to educate the commission by offering and giving a local airplane ride to the commissioners

The proponents of the tower spoke of the trees that existed, an ?eagle perch? pole that was allegedly over 50? tall (in the departure path), and especially emphasized the FAA?s expertise in studying the airport before issuing its ?No Hazard? finding.

Airport manager Dokter rebutted the ?eagle perch? argument stating that the airport was working with the environmental organizations to have the ?eagle perch? removed and hoped to succeed in the near future. He also spoke of a CEQA study requirement (which the city legal staff denied); and finally, the issue of having the Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC) hold a meeting, and vote on the proposal.

The ALUC issue is an interesting one. Garry Dokter researched the ALUC situation and found that San Bernardino County had opted not to have an ALUC per the CalTrans handbook on airport planning. The county had voted to use an alternate method of satisfying the requirement. The only problem is that the county never followed through to the point of establishing such a commission. Garry pointed out to the city?s planning commission that, as an official ALUC did not exist, he, as the airport?s representative would fill that void. The city did not agree with Garry?s position, or with his offer of another location for the cellphone tower.


T-Mobil?s plan for the tower?s location was educational. As part of his presentation, CALPILOTS? VP Kenton?s advised that an antenna expert suggested that a cellphone tower would provide better coverage on a mountain, or hillside as the radio signals were line-of-sight. The T-Mobil proponent chided us for not knowing that they did not want such extensive coverage. They seemed to want more limited coverage that would reach into some areas that were not being served today.

Safety was in the forefront of each person?s statement to the commission. As the CALPILOTS? representative, I pointed out that the NTSB showed some 35 accidents at Big Bear in the last 20 years. Examining the accidents indicated the majority of them were a result of the airport?s altitude (6500? msl), and the marginal engine power available to small airplanes at Big Bear Airport. (In most cases, having sea level engine power would have prevented most of the accidents.)

While the proposed tower would normally be no factor in lower altitudes, the angled departure path, the possibility of an airplane struggling ? perhaps in ground effect ? and staying close to the shore line and then hitting the tower was expressed as a possibility. The fact that the FAA rejected every complaint of the KFI tower (Los Angeles metro area) being a hazard and still saying it was ?No Hazard? up to the day that it was again hit by an airplane showed that the FAA?s evaluation methods are less than foolproof. I stated my observations, contrary to the T-Mobil proponent, that I did not believe the FAA went into any great detail study in their ?No Hazard? determination, but just put airport data into a computer and let the computer do the rest.

Following the vote, I was pleasantly surprised to have a member of the city planning commission speak to me and thank me for providing a statement of information that was helpful in the commissioner?s vote. The city staff will now draft a resolution to disallow the T-Mobil CUP and present it to the planning commission for a vote at their next meeting.

Jack Kenton

Jack Kenton

VP Region 4 – California Pilots Association


Photos by Jack Kenton

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