Open Letter to Attorney General Bill Lockyer

California Pilots Association
P.O. Box 6868
San Carlos, CA 94070

 

July 11, 2006

Honorable Bill Lockyer
Attorney General
State of California
Sacramento, California

 

Dear Attorney General Lockyer:

This is a request for assistance in preserving California’s public airports and the California Airport System Plan. The request is made as a result of a recent action by the City of Tulare that approved construction of a trucking terminal in the Runway Safety Zone of the Tulare Airport. The California Pilots Association is dedicated to the preservation of California’s public airports. These airports are a vital element of the state’s transportation infrastructure.

Several statutes adopted by the California Legislature are designed as guidance in effecting state policy. Public Utilities Code Section 21670 (a)(2) states: “It is the purpose of this article to protect public health, safety, and welfare ….minimize the public’s exposure to excessive noise and safety hazards within areas around public airports…”

Government Code Section 50485 states: “This article shall be known and may be cited as the ‘Airport Approaches Zoning Law’ “Sections 50485.1-.2-.10-.12 define ‘Airport Hazard’, declare that an airport hazard endangers the lives and property of users of the airport, declare an airport hazard is a public nuisance, airport hazards should be prevented, no permit shall be granted that would allow the establishment or creation of an airport hazard, and finally, each violation of this article shall constitute a misdemeanor.

Recently the California Pilots Association brought an action against the City of Tulare alleging that the City had wrongfully adopted an ordinance that would permit incompatible uses of land in the Runway Safety Zone of the Tulare Airport. The court ruled in the petitioner’s favor and ordered the City to conform its general plan to the county airport land use plan.

A second part of the petition as stated in a 3rd cause of action named the Knight Transportation Corporation as a respondent. Knight had received from the City of Tulare a conditional use permit to install a trucking terminal in the runway safety zone of the Tulare Airport.

The safety zone is a special area reserved for safe landing of any aircraft forced to land because of mechanical or other difficulties while taking off or landing. According to statistics compiled by the University of California this is the area of most forced landings. This information is included in the Airport Land Use Planning Handbook that Hon. Bill Lockyer is published by the Aeronautics Division of the Department of Transportation.

The court tentatively overruled a demurrer to the 3rd cause of action and the other causes of action. Later after oral argument the court sustained a demurrer to the 3rd cause of action because the petitioner had not exhausted its administrative remedies. Further, the court found that for lack of a property interest the petitioner could not maintain an action to abate the Knight project as a nuisance.

It is the contention of our Association that the Knight Trucking Terminal was and continues to be an airport hazard as defined in Government Code Section 50485.1. As such, in knowingly creating and maintaining the hazard, Knight is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to criminal sanctions.

As an additional characterization, Knight has created and is maintaining a public nuisance. The trucking terminal has created a safety hazard potentially affecting rights of pilots and their passengers who rely on a clear safety zone for emergency use. Pilots and their passenger constitute a substantial element of the traveling public. Moreover, Knight’s employees who are forced to work in the runway safety zone have been placed in harms way because of potential crash of disabled aircraft on the Knight premises.

Knight Transportation officials and Tulare City officials were repeatedly warned before the terminal project was commenced that it was an incompatible land use. Numerous warning letters from Caltrans’ Aeronautics experts, the Federal Aviation Administration and the California Pilots Association were submitted. These warning were ignored. Instead, Knight rushed to start the project knowing that legal action had begun contesting the city’s issuance of a conditional use permit.

As approved by the conditional use permit, the project consists of a large operations building, above ground fuel tanks, a water collection pond and a large parking space for truck trailers. In an attempt to reach an accommodation, our Association has suggested to Knight that certain mitigation measures could be implemented that would lower the risk of injury or death of pilots and their passengers. These mitigation measures include relocating above ground fuel tanks to a less dangerous area, relocating a trailer parking area and relocating or replacing a water collection pond. This would leave the main building in place and operational while providing alternate landing space for a disabled aircraft. Knight has not responded to these suggestions.

Our Association members are of the strong belief that the Knight Trucking Terminal constitutes an airport hazard and public nuisance. Since Knight had adequate prior notice that the terminal was an incompatible project and airport hazard, construction of the project Hon. Bill Lockyer was an intentional criminal act in violation of Government Code Section 50485.12

It is the desire of our members that attorneys in your office exercise the authority of your office to remedy this situation. Knight would likely argue that any forced removal of the main structure would be an unreasonable hardship. That would not mean, however, that meaningful mitigation measures increasing the safety level should not be mandated.

While the Knight installation is an individual case, it is indicative of the bad land use decisions that affect public airports throughout California. Action by your office to remedy the Knight situation would serve as a beneficial signal to other municipalities around the state that proper planning for land uses near airports must be done in accordance with state policy.

 

Thank you for considering this request. Please consider our Association as a resource in this or other airport issues.

 

Yours truly,

Jay C. White
General Counsel, California Pilots Association

 

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