Saturday, January 29, 2005
Airport plan draws crowd
By Bonita Brewer
The Contra Costa (CA) Times
Controversy over plans to upgrade the Livermore Municipal Airport is likely to pull a huge Tri-Valley crowd to a Livermore City Council meeting Monday evening. “Thousands will probably show up,” said Livermore resident Karen McMullen. “We’ve already distributed 7,000 fliers. People from all over the valley are very interested in this and will come to the meeting.”
The 7 p.m. meeting had been planned for the Granada High School student union but city officials agreed to move it to the school’s gym, which holds up to 1,700 people. Airport plan foes from Livermore, Pleasanton and Dublin warned the smaller building wouldn’t be nearly big enough.
There will also be plan supporters there. Pilots in favor of the upgrade are also expected to make a showing.
They insist the proposed upgrades are meant to accommodate airport growth, not create it, and to improve airplane safety on the ground and in the air.
Ralph Cloud, chairman of the city’s Airport Advisory Commission, and a member of the 21-member regional panel that reviewed expansion plans, said the upgrades would be no different than adding freeway lanes to handle increased traffic on Interstate 580.
Though foes insist they’re not trying to close the airport down, “if they get what they want (some residents support increased restrictions), they will choke it to death and it will close eventually,” Cloud said, warning of negative effects on the region’s economy.
With other Bay Area airports outgrowing their capacity, the 643-acre Livermore airport, the area’s fourth-busiest behind San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, is being eyed as a growing base for corporate and “fly-for-hire” charter jets.
The plan’s most controversial aspects would lengthen the shorter of two runways from 2,700 to 4,000 feet, add more hangars and lease space to aviation support businesses catering to corporate jet users.
The 21-member advisory panel — comprised of residents, pilots, elected officials and business representatives from the valley’s three cities — completed its work in December sharply divided on the proposed master plan.
The strongest consensus was for a full environmental impact study to be done, for storage hangars to be developed only to satisfy demand within the Tri-Valley area, and for projections of future airport activity to be revised downward.
Master plan supporters say forecasts that annual takeoffs and landings will nearly double from last year to 370,000 by 2020 are unrealistically high and scaring the community. Opponents fear the projections will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The city councils of Pleasanton and Dublin also have requested that Livermore conduct the environmental report, which Livermore officials say would take from nine to 18 months and cost $100,000.
But several airport neighbors who served on the advisory panel, including McMullen, now say they won’t be satisfied until the project as now proposed is rejected and sent back to the drawing board — before any environmental review is launched.
“Otherwise, it could be a complete waste of taxpayer money,” warned panel member Tom Hagen of Pleasanton. He contends the entire process has been biased in favor of the plan and that an environmental impact report would be no different.
Livermore resident Purnham Sheth agreed.
“They need to take the plan back with direction for specific policies that would constrain growth, come up with a noise-reduction program and discourage jet traffic,” Sheth said.
City officials said if an EIR is done on noise, safety and other issues, one of the alternatives that would legally need to be analyzed is doing no project at all.
Because the extended runway would still be shorter and structurally weaker than the main 5,255-foot runway, the plan wouldn’t allow larger, heavier aircraft, Cloud said. He said the lengthening is needed mainly to reduce both noise and hazards by cutting down on aircraft congestion on the ground and in the air during landings and takeoffs.
He noted that scheduled commercial passenger service would continue to be prohibited.
But airport neighbors argue that more airport capacity will simply attract more planes and jets, ultimately doing nothing to improve noise and safety hazards.
Granada High School is located at 400 Wall Street in Livermore.