Oceanside Airport – Lease It?

Saturday, May 19, 2007
Oceanside council looks at leasing airport to private developer
By PAUL SISSON
The San Diego (CA) North County Times

OCEANSIDE — Though they say they have no problem with the city’s recent decision to explore the possibility of leasing the Oceanside Municipal Airport to a private developer, airport proponents and opponents said Friday there are a few points where they still disagree.

Ben Meyers, president of the Oceanside Airport Association, said Friday that his organization wants to make sure that any plans to build more hangars or other structures at the 55-acre, city-owned property in the San Luis Rey River Valley use the entire property. We want to offer our expertise in ensuring that the airport be developed completely,” Meyers said. “That means the north side of the property and the south side of the property.”

Meyers added that the association, which represents pilots who use the airport, would also like to see flight lessons resume at the airport.

Ron Stewart, president of Citizens for a Better Oceanside, a group of airport-area residents pushing to reduce the number of airplanes based at there, said he’s also not opposed to leasing the airport to a private developer as long as a current settlement agreement it has with the airport is honored. That agreement forbids a flight school on the property. Stewart said he also does not think a vacant property on the airport’s northern side should be turned into more hangars.

“I guess that’s the point where we just don’t agree,” Stewart said.

Stewart added that his group “just wants to see the airport become self-sufficient,” a goal that Meyers seconded.

The Oceanside City Council voted 4-0 Wednesday, with Mayor Jim Wood absent, to direct city staffers to seek proposals from the private sector to lease its small airport just north of Highway 76 to a private developer.

The airport’s future has been the subject of much debate in Oceanside. Some residents who live nearby have pushed to have the council sell the land for commercial development. But pilots who stable planes there fought back in the 2006 election, backing candidates who support keeping the airstrip in place.

The Federal Aviation Administration has also said it will not allow the airport to be closed because the city took millions in federal grants to build hangars there.

Councilman Rocky Chavez proposed the idea, noting that the 55-acre property’s future seems to change every time there’s a new City Council. Chavez said he thought a private developer, who could add hangars and other amenities to the airport, might be able to bring more stability.

“I think the airport can survive on its own if you give it a little stability,” Chavez said.

Some people in the audience Wednesday were not happy that the council discussed leasing the airport in the first place.

Community activist (Editors Note: i.e., anti-airport) Nadine Scott filed a letter with City Attorney John Mullen alleging that three council members violated the state’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, and should not vote.

Scott said she attended a meeting of the Oceanside Airport Association on May 12. Scott said she observed Chavez speak at the meeting while council members Jerry Kern and Jack Feller were in the audience. Scott said Chavez told those at the meeting, including his fellow council members, that the airport item would be on the agenda Wednesday and urged them to send an e-mail to all council members, urging them to vote yes.

Scott said that open meetings law forbids discussion of agenda items outside a properly noticed meeting.

“I believe there was a substantial violation of the Brown Act,” Scott said.

Scott demanded that the council pull the airport item from its agenda, saying that otherwise it would “ratify the illegal meeting by Chavez, Feller and Kern.” Her letter also asks all three to explain themselves in writing.

City Attorney John Mullen said that he is not sure whether the three councilmen committed a technical Brown Act violation, but said that if they did, it could likely be cured by adding an item that acknowledges the airport association meeting to a future agenda.

“I understand the facts are in dispute,” Mullen said.

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