Chico’s Airport Gets [Senator] Feinstein’s Help

Chico’s airport gets Feinstein’s help
By LAURA URSENY
The Chico (CA) Enterprise Record

Years ago, the west side of the Chico Municipal Airport was targeted for development, but city officials have encountered continuing “resistance” to the idea at federal levels. Recently, Chico found an ally in U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Assistant City Manager Dave Burkland confirmed that an offer to help has come from Feinstein’s office in regard to the discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration. “We’re not playing hardball. It’s a way to nudge,” said Burkland of the senator’s offer to help. Last month, Feinstein sent a letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakely, urging the agency to work closely with Chico to resolve the issues.
Editor’s Note: Check CALPILOTS response to this story at the end of the article. “The City indicates this is one of the last large parcels zoned for commercial industrial development within the City limits and they have already lost a conditional commitment for $2.5 million from the Economic Development Administration to help build infrastructure for a new business park,” reads a portion of the letter.

Making its way through environmental studies and master planning steps at the airport, the city has had hope that initial development could move forward quickly.

While there are environmental constraints in the shape of wetlands and sensitive plants, there’s about 100 of the roughly 200 acres that the city believes could be developed into an industrial park.

Giving businesses developable industrial land has been a city goal for years, Burkland said.

The existing east-side industrial park is considered a success, with little unoptioned land left, and a history of helping businesses expand and create new jobs.

As part of the process, the city was able to apply for Economic Development Administration funding with help from Tri Counties Economic Development Corp., receiving a federal commitment in 2002.

The City Council agreed to match the federal amount to help pay for streets, sewer and other infrastructure.

But all that is on hold.

While the airport’s master plan and environmental review were finished, the FAA has still not signed off on the plan, although other agencies have.

“It’s a loop we’ve been in for a couple of years,” Burkland said.

Saying the city has had many meetings with the FAA over airport improvements, Burkland said nothing has happened since the FAA approved the master plan in 2005. A meeting in November was no more helpful.

FAA resistance to the development of the west side of the airport has been characterized as the need to protect airports from intrusion and encroachments that have shackled airports elsewhere, Burkland said.

Burkland understands the FAA’s doggedness to airport protection, but believes the protection can be maintained while businesses are given a place to grow.

Burkland said the FAA would like to see businesses interested in the west side only to be aviation-related, and only lease, rather than buy property.

According to FAA spokesman Ian Gregor, the FAA wants to be reassured that the city doesn’t get itself into a position that it needs land it has sold.

“The city needs to show us that the land it wants to sell is no longer needed for aviation use and is therefore surplus. They have to provide us with a document supporting their case, which they have not yet done.”

Gregor said the city needs to prove many things, including why the land should be sold, why selling land is more advantageous to the airport than maintaining the land, explain the measurable benefit for the airport, and that the land no longer serves the purpose for which the airport initially obtained it.

Gregor said the FAA will review the city’s position and check to see if it meets all government requirements.

“The FAA has in no way delayed the sale process. To the contrary, we have tried to help the city by explaining what we need from them to evaluate their request. However, we cannot proceed until the city provides us with the required documentation.”

From the city’s perspective, selling the airport property will pay for the industrial park’s development, as it has done on the east side.

On the east side, while the strip of land adjacent to the runway is city-owned but leased to businesses, the majority of eastern property has been sold to businesses, which generally don’t want to make an investment without holding title to the land.

Primarily manufacturers, the businesses that have purchased airport property at fair market value have constructed offices and plants, and added jobs.

Burkland said a feasibility study was done last year for the city that indicated building the west side was of interest to businesses. What was clear was that businesses wanted to purchase property.

Aero Union, already a tenant on the east side, is interested in the west side for additional hangars. Aero Union converts military aircraft into firefighting tankers, among other diversified operations.

The FAA might not be so hesitant about the development if all the businesses were limited to aviation-related ones, Burkland said, but that’s not the only kind of businesses interested in the airport.

“Feinstein’s office may be able to encourage the FAA,” Burkland said.

Chico Mayor Andy Holcombe signed the city’s letter to Feinstein’s office officially asking for help.

“In fairness to them, they’re looking out for what’s best for an airport,” Burkland said. In other cities, encroaching businesses have caused conflicts and restrictions on air service.

“We believe there’s a significant amount of land left for aviation. I don’t think (local plans) would constrain aviation.”

Burkland said the city has to prove to the FAA that the land sales would not impact the airport, and identify the businesses that would be settling.

“We have to demonstrate that we would never need that property for aviation-related business.”

As far as Feinstein’s help, Burkland said, “I think they can contact the FAA and inquire into the process to see if they can lend support.

“We do believe it’s important to have our case stated.”

Additionally, the city’s new economic development manager, Martha Westcoat-Andes, is looking into the issue of available industrial land in Chico, taking an accounting of land as part of the General Plan update.

“Zoned (industrial) is one thing, but available and developable immediately is another,” Burkland said.


E-MAIL MESSAGE TO SENATOR FEINSTEIN

RE: Chico Airport – Federal Aviation Administration
It has been reported in a local newspaper that Senator Feinstein has been asked to assist in obtaining FAA approval for a proposed development of Chico Airport land. The Senator should be informed that she is being misled by those who propose to develop the Chico Airport property for non aviation purposes. The City of Chico has a history of compromising the airport at the urging of developers. That includes approving residential houses in or near the safety zones at both runway ends thus placing residents at risk. California law clearly states that prevention of noise problems and safety hazards is part of the airport land use planning process. Yet, under political pressure from developers the City has ignored guidance contained in the Airport Land Use Planning Handbook. That publication was prepared by the California Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics to enable planners to comply with the intent of the law. The Chico Airport is in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems and the California Airport System Plan. It is the region’s on-ramp and off-ramp to the nation’s aerial highway system. The City of Chico should be required to comply with state law by applying compatible airport land use guidelines so as to preserve this important transportation facility for future generations of Californians.

Thank you for you attention to this matter.

Jay White
General Counsel, California Pilots Association

Be the first to comment

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.