By Lola Sherman
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune
OCEANSIDE ? The Federal Aviation Administration has told city officials that Oceanside Municipal Airport must stay open indefinitely despite a city economic study that considered alternate uses for the land in 15 to 20 years. In a letter dated Friday and sent to Mayor Jim Wood with copies for the rest of the five-member council, an FAA official called the 50-acre airfield ?an extremely valuable aviation asset? regionally and ?in the national system of airports.?
City officials were wrong to think they could close the airport or build stores on some of the land, wrote John P. Milligan on behalf of Brian Armstrong, manager of the FAA’s Los Angeles Airports District Office.
?The obligation to keep the airport open as an airport does not expire? because the city used $4 million in federal funds to buy 22 acres on the north side of the airfield, Milligan wrote.
Interim City Manager Peter Weiss countered yesterday by saying, ?The council has never in any formal way expressed a desire to close the airport.?
A city economic study issued in October indicated the airport must stay open for 15 to 20 years to pay off the $4 million debt. It also analyzed the relative benefits of building residential or commercial development on some or all of the airport property. City officials long have talked about bringing a Costco store to the north side of the airfield.
The study prompted such concern by pilots groups that the county Board of Supervisors authorized a study for potential county purchase and operation of the airfield.
The FAA letter stated the city must follow through on a master plan for the airport by building more hangars. Any suggestion the airport could close in 20 years would scare away potential aviation tenants and investors, it said.
The study was done when a majority of council members were entertaining the idea of alternative uses for the airport.
With the election of Jerry Kern in November, a council majority supports the airport, although interest remains for a Costco.
?The letter is not anything we did not know,? Kern said, adding ?they’re being pretty emphatic about the north side.
Councilmen Jack Feller and Rocky Chavez agreed that the letter was what they expected, although they were not so sure about its effect on a Costco.
Wood and (anti-airport) Councilwoman Esther Sanchez, who voted in 2005 with then-Councilwoman Shari Mackin not to accept any more state or federal money for airport improvements, could not be reached for comment.