Friday, September 10, 2004
Aviation group hears feedback on airport
By Julie Fernandez
The Tulare (CA) Advance Register
Aviation commissioners heard many passionate calls Thursday to keep open and expand Tulare’s airport. But they also heard concerns the airport is hindering economic growth because of disagreement over the types of developments allowed on nearby properties. About 50 people attended the first of two public hearings the City Council asked the Tulare Aviation Commission to host to determine if the community wants a consultant to study consolidation of Mefford Field with another airport.
“We have literally brought million and millions and millions of dollars into Tulare,” said Dave Johnston, president of Johnston Aircraft Service, which has operated at Mefford since 1956. “There is no airport around here that has what we have. And I’m including Visalia.”
He and others charged that the city has not done enough to promote and expand the airport.
“People are coming to us to see if we can build hangars for them,” he said. “All I’m telling you is the demand is out there and it’s just going to get larger.”
A consultant working on the airport’s master plan is exploring three airport expansion options. City Manager Kevin Northcraft has asked the City Council to add closure and consolidation of the airport as a fourth item.
“The city wants to send me to Visalia and I find that so incredible,” Durval Freitas said. “I take great exception to that. Maybe the city manager was right when he characterized us as the Appalachia of the West. Maybe we should all move to Visalia.”
John Hobbs, who was heavily involved in economic development when he was chief executive officer of the Tulare Chamber of Commerce, presented the commission with a list of 11 questions that he said needed answers.
In addition to determining the economic advantages to the city, he asked commissioners to find out the extent flight pattern issues or height restrictions have caused the city to miss out on development opportunity and why the number of aircraft based at the airport has declined.
“How does the commission propose to deal with the general perception that Tulare’s airport exists for the convenience of a few at the expense of many?” he also asked.
The city’s inventory of industrial properties is very low and an ad hoc action team has identified four areas for possible growth, including one near the airport, said Bob Reynolds, the chamber’s director of economic development.
He and former City Manager Lynn Dredge said the development community needs to know exactly where critical airport zones are and what will be allowed without question.
Knight Trucking is building a truck terminal in the airport’s flight zone, but in an area not highly regulated. The Planning Commission and City Council approved the development contingent on FAA approval, but the project nevertheless triggered a lawsuit by the California Pilots Association.
If the city has to tell a prospective industry it might face opposition if it builds at a particular location, that kills the deal, Reynolds said.
Billie Fry accused the development community of having a narrow point of view and short term perspective.
“A broader view would take into account the importance of a transportation service offered to large corporate businesses who commute by jet, not Amtrak.
“Closing the airport would also undercut the farming community, which often supplies the product that attracts new industries,” she said.
“The airport cannot be replaced, we must not lose it,” Fry said.
Victor Clark, owner of Earlimart Dusters, said the airport is needed for businesses such as his.
“Insect and disease can have a devastating impact on crops,” Clark said.
It also is needed for aerial campaigns against mosquitoes that carry West Nile and other diseases, he said.
Tulare residents Denis and Kathleen Houton came to the meeting expecting to get facts and figures about the airport so they could form their opinions. They said they were disappointed that information about jobs, revenues and other economic factors were not available.
“If there’s a loss of 200 jobs and the airport is providing 60, maybe we need to close it,” Kathleen Houton said.
“I really think the public needs to be better informed,” Denis Houton said. “We have here a lot of cheerleaders. I think we need to have other input as well.”
The Aviation Commission will hold a second public hearing on the airport’s future at 7 p.m. Monday at the Tulare Senior Community Center, 201 N. F St.
Letter to the Editor
City should continue to improve airport
The Tulare Aviation Commission will hold public forums soon to consider options to expand Mefford Field. The city staff has asked them to also consider the “consolidation” of the airport, by which they mean closing it. Because we have been in the flying business here for many years, several people have asked my brothers and me what we think the future of the airport should be.
Over the years, the city has done a great job of maintaining and expanding the airport facilities. Runways and taxiways have been upgraded, and a state-of-the-art fuel installation now allows every kind of aircraft to be serviced there.
Airport tenants provide maintenance and repair to airplane owners from all over the Valley. All of the tenants receive favorable comments about the airport’s condition from pilots stopping for fuel and other services as they pass through the Valley.
We believe that the city should continue to improve the airport. Other cities in the Valley have recognized that an airport can help to attract development to their communities, and we believe that the same has and will continue to happen here. Now is the time to make Mefford Field better. It will prove to be a good investment for the future of Tulare.
We hope that the people of Tulare will let the Airport Commission and the city staff know that they want to keep the airport. If you agree with us, we encourage you to attend one of the forums and let them know how you feel. If you need more information about the forums, you can call the airport manager at 684-4310.