Oceanside – Airport’s Fate Changes As City Council Changes

Thursday, November 30, 2006
County still waiting on airport takeover response
By GIG CONAUGHTON
The San Diego (CA) North County Times

OCEANSIDE — Oceanside officials said this week that they probably won’t respond to the county of San Diego’s query about possibly taking over Oceanside’s long-debated airport until January or February. The county, led by Supervisor Bill Horn — who was asked to intervene in September by Oceanside pilots who feared Oceanside was financially starving the airport into nonexistence and wanted to develop the land — sent a letter to the city Oct. 25. The two-page letter said that the county wanted to keep the airport running, and asked for information that would allow the county to “analyze the potential costs and benefits related to the county relieving the city of the burden of operational responsibility and ownership” of the airport.

This week, Oceanside officials said they were basically sitting on the letter and had not yet figured out how to respond.

However, a couple of city officials indicated they weren’t thrilled by the idea of the county buying the 50-acre airport on Highway 76 that services propeller-driven “general aviation” planes.

Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood, who would like to see the airport developed into retail stores that could become moneymakers for the city, said again that he wasn’t interested in the county’s curiosity unless they were willing to spend big money. He has said that would be enough to cover the land’s fair-market value — plus the added value of whatever future development might add to the land’s price.

“Right now, Highway 76 isn’t finished,” Wood said. “When it is finished … the value of that (airport) land will be astronomical.”

Councilman Jack Feller said he didn’t like the idea of the county buying the airport. But he said would entertain the idea of leasing the airport to the county, which runs nine airports of its own, and letting the county run it.

Feller was part of the City Council’s 4-1 majority that voted one week after the county sent its letter — and after a year of contentious debate in the city — to keep the airport open for at least another 15 years.

That “compromise” vote included the conditions that the city would spend money to improve the hangars on the airport’s south side, and consider developing shops or houses on its north end.

This week, Wood said he had forwarded the county’s letter to the city attorney’s office. City Attorney John Mullen said he had sent it to the city manager’s office.

Acting City Manager Barry Martin said he had the letter, but needed to hold more in-house discussions with council members to determine if he should answer the letter himself, or whether the City Council needed to discuss it together and write a response.

Supervisor Horn, reached Wednesday in Anaheim, where he was attending a California State Association of Counties meeting, said he and the county were still patiently waiting for a response.

Regarding Wood’s assertion that the county would have to be ready to spend big money to own the airport, Horn said he was “waiting for numbers.”

“We don’t know what the value is until they put some numbers (down),” Horn said. “I’m looking forward to getting that information.”

However, Horn also disputed Wood’s suggestion that the airport’s dollar value should be inflated by the potential to develop the land for other purposes — because the city has a binding, 20-year contract with the Federal Aviation Administration that could prohibit other development.

Horn has repeatedly said that it was important that Oceanside keep the airport running, and that it was an important regional “jewel.”

Horn said in late September that the San Diego region depends upon its airports, that they were “precious commodities,” and that once an airport was closed, “it doesn’t come back.”

Despite Horn’s assertion, Feller said this week that he wouldn’t be interested in selling the airport to the county because he was afraid that the county could eventually develop the airport land to create tax revenue for itself.

Meanwhile, Ben Meyers, president of the Oceanside Airport Association, said that he and the pilots there were just glad that somebody was finally paying attention to the airport.

“As pilots, we’re just excited that they’re interested in the airport, rather than watching it evaporate,” he said.

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