Reid Hillview Airport – Santa Clara County Wastes Resources With This Proposal

Monday, March 17, 2008
County revisits airport
By Deborah Lohse
The San Jose (CA) Mercury News


Is the county-owned Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose an expensive indulgence or a crucial civic service? That’s the touchy question the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors plans to tackle Tuesday – for the third time in nearly 20 years. The board’s chairman, Supervisor Pete McHugh, wants the supervisors to investigate closing and redeveloping the 69-year-old airport property, which serves about 600 private pilots. He’d like county staff members to come back later this year with the practical and legal implications of doing so. I think it’s most appropriate for us to see what we can do with that land,” said McHugh, who said a $220 million budget deficit spurred him to support a possible sale after years of resisting.


McHugh notes that the county will reap $201 million during the next 28 years from 34 acres of land it sold for housing near the Elmwood Correctional Complex. The airport property, by contrast, is 179 acres. “That’s five times as much,” he said.

But some of the pilots who keep planes at Reid-Hillview are outraged, saying the issue has been put to rest time and time again, most recently in 1996.

“The county has spent well over a million dollars studying this,” said Mark Kadrich, president of the Reid-Hillview Airport Association, a group of pilots and other airport fans. “Their own reports and their own experts have come back and said Reid-Hillview is the safest use of the land.”

Fans and critics alike agree there would be numerous thorny issues if the supervisors opt to sell the airport, including:

  • The county has accepted millions of dollars in federal grants over the years, much of that on the condition that they keep the airport open for at least 20 years. Can they repay that money, or must they wait for time to lapse?
  • Where would the planes now at Reid-Hillview go, especially since Mineta San Jose International Airport is not welcoming new “general aviation” planes? The recently expanded South County Airport in San Martin doesn’t have enough space, experts say.
  • Will the Federal Aviation Administration, which helped fund the purchase of the airport, resist its closure? The FAA counts on Reid-Hillview as a backup landing site for small planes from San Jose airport.
  • Will residents in the area be unhappy if the county puts traffic-clogging housing or retail there as a way to generate revenue? Betty Howard, who has lived on nearby Endicott Road for 35 years, said she’s long wanted the airport gone, but her first wish would be for a park or a place for kids to play.

    “I certainly would not like to see a hotel or something like that,” she said, although she said housing would still be preferable to the airport, which occasionally sends planes through her neighborhood.

    Kadrich, who says several pilot groups will be speaking in protest at Tuesday’s meeting, noted that the money generated from things like hangar rentals and fuel taxes at Reid-Hillview also supports the county’s two other airports in San Martin and Palo Alto. “They are not spending a dime on the airport,” he said.

    County Executive Pete Kutras acknowledged the issue has been studied before, but he said times have changed and the county needs to decide based on facts, not “myths.”

    “Our financial condition continues to deteriorate,” Kutras said. “What might have been OK in the dot-com boom might not be OK in 2008.” Editor’s Note: It is time that Santa Clara County stop playing political football with this important community business asset, and look at the real long term areas which need to be cut. They know what needs to happen, but prefer the easy route selling assets versus doing what must be done.

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