Study: Keep Oceanside airport open for at least 15 more years
By: PAUL SISSON and DAVID STERRETT – Staff Writers OCEANSIDE — A long-awaited report on the Oceanside Municipal Airport, released Friday afternoon, concludes that the city should “continue to operate the airport for a minimum of 15 to 20 years.” The report, written by the Oceanside Public Works Department and economic consultant Keyser Marston and Associates, also finds that the city should “consider alternate uses” for a 14.7-acre chunk of real estate on the northern edge of the airport’s 3,000-foot runway and that the city should finish building hangars planned for a smaller piece of land on the airport’s southern edge.
The Oceanside City Council voted 3-2 on Sept. 8, 2005, to commission the study with the stated goal of determining the best use of the 50-acre property off Highway 76 next to the Valley Drive-In at the west end of the San Luis Rey River Valley.
That vote, combined with the yearlong wait for the study, led local pilots to speculate that the council intended to close the airport to bring in commercial development.
City Council reaction to the report was generally positive.
“This is exactly what I thought it would be,” said Councilman Rocky Chavez. “We are going to build out the south end of the airport. The airport will be around for some years. The north end will be discussed. And in 15 years another council will determine what to do with it.”
The Oceanside Airport Association, which represents pilots who use the airport, was not quite so pragmatic.
Association President Ben Meyers said the report’s conclusions looked like an attempt to bring about the facility’s eventual demise. He said turning the 14.7-acre property on the airport’s northern edge into a commercial development —- council members have said the city has been talking with Costco officials about the site —- would starve the airport.
“Without the 14 acres on the north side, there is no way for the airport to be able to be an economically thriving general aviation airport,” Meyers said.
Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said the recommendation is consistent with a proposal she planned to bring forward to her colleagues. Sanchez said she wants to create a 15-year plan for the airport, and said this “puts the ball back in the pilots’ court.”
“The pilots have 15 years to make this work and show us they can pay back funds and make it economically feasible,” Sanchez said.
She said it is unnecessary for the airport to use any of the 14.7 acres on the north side of the airfield. Sanchez said the city should use that land to attract a business such as Costco to the city because it could generate more than $1 million a year in sales tax revenue.
“Building out the south side of the airport is sufficient and the north side is not critical at all to the airport,” Sanchez said. “The airport is never going to be anything more than it is now.”
Meyers said that the 14.7-acre property is vital for a vibrant airport because about 100 hangars could be built there, adding that the south side can only accommodate about 50 hangars.
“This is a thinly veiled attempt to take away the 14 acres on the north side,” Meyers said. “This is not the proposal we anticipated.”
Meyers said the airport association would allow 4 or 5 acres on the north side to be used for commercial businesses if hangars could be built on the other 10 acres.
When speculation over closure of the airport began to swirl, many, including U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, cried foul, noting that the airport had accepted $4.1 million state and federal grants to rebuild hangars and purchase land around the airport. Many said that taking federal and state airport money came with strings attached that would prevent closure by the council.
A section of the airport study that focused on legal issues surrounding the airport seems to bear that statement out by noting: “Federal grants prohibit the City from disposing of the property without the FAA’s prior consent and approval, even if the City determines the property is no longer needed for airport purposes.”
When it commissioned the report, the City Council turned down an additional federal grant to build more hangars. Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood said Friday he believes that was the right decision because federal grants extend the city’s obligation to keep the airport open.
“We don’t want to hamstring ourselves because the best use of the airport is a few years off,” said Wood, adding that he had not seen the entire finalized report. “After Highway 76 is finished, the value of that land will be a lot higher.”
Councilman Jack Feller said he would support the recommendations in the report as long as a portion of the 14.7 acres on the north side of the airport was used for aviation-related purposes.
Councilwoman Shari Mackin said the city doesn’t have to make a decision about the north side of the airport at this time.
“I support getting the south side of the airport built out,” Mackin said. “This (recommendation) is exactly what I wanted to see —- a compromise.”
The report is scheduled to come before the full council Nov. 1.
The 56-page document also examined what kind of money the city might earn if the property were sold today.
Financial alternatives considered for the property show that, if the land were developed as residential property, it would have a net worth of $22.6 million. But, because 22 of the property’s 50 acres were purchased with federal grant funds, the study states that, if those acres were sold, that 90 percent of the proceeds must be given to the FAA.