San Diego County Regional Airport Authority Under Attack

Thursday, April 14, 2005
County, two cities object to airport panel’s plan
Rules would limit growth, rebuilding
By Leslie Wolf Branscomb and Janine Z??iga
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune

Coronado and Chula Vista have joined the county Board of Supervisors in objecting to the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s plan for land use near airports. In Coronado, much of the city ? excluding the Coronado Cays ? sits inside a noise or safety zone surrounding the runways at North Island Naval Air Station, which may severely limit what can be built or rebuilt.

The authority’s plan would prohibit amphitheaters and structures over 70 feet tall, which might be a problem for Chula Vista since both Coors Amphitheatre and the Soak City water park are in affected zones.

Every city in the county that is near an airport ? including military airports for the first time ? has until tomorrow to submit comments on the plan. So far, it appears those comments will be far from supportive.

The Airport Authority is mandated by state legislation to adopt a new San Diego County Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan by June 30.

Councilwoman Carrie Downey, an environmental attorney, said the problem in Coronado is that the city is built out. Regulations in the draft plan would have a much different effect on Coronado than on a city such as Chula Vista, where there is developable land.

The plan will have no control over existing or approved development. However, in the future, Coronado could not allow schools, hospitals and churches in most areas, according to the draft plan. Additionally, if a home in a high-risk zone ? the area closest to one of the runways ? burns down, the plan prevents it from being rebuilt.

Downey said the land-use plan must be changed to allow those uses before the city adopts it. Those changes will be proposed as part of the city’s comments to the Airport Authority.

Coronado City Manager Mark Ochenduszko said the plan is based, with some modifications, on the Navy’s 1984 Air Installation Compatibility Use Zone report. That plan is 21 years old, and things have changed, he said. For example, airplanes now approach North Island at a slightly different angle than in previous years, which would change the noise and safety zones.

Angela Shafer-Payne, vice president of strategic planning for the Airport Authority, said the authority does recognize Coronado’s unique situation and will be working with the city on some solutions.

Chula Vista officials say that what is being proposed in the land-use plan is unnecessarily restrictive and likely to damage the city’s economic growth.

Chula Vista has been planning for years to develop an industrial park near Brown Field. But now City Council members fear certain uses will be prohibited.

While Coors Amphitheatre would be allowed to remain, the Airport Authority’s plan could prohibit any expansion of the venue or any new facilities, such as restaurants.

The adjacent Knott’s Soak City water park likewise could not expand. The plan also would prohibit structures more than 70 feet tall ? which is the height of an attraction being built there.

An attorney for Coors Amphitheatre said the Airport Authority did not take into consideration that the concert venue and the water park are at a lower elevation than Brown Field and on the periphery of the flight zone.

The Airport Authority’s plan states that existing “nonconforming uses” could continue provided that “usage intensity is not increased above the levels existing at the time of adoption of the (plan).”

“The way it’s written, it’s going to limit ‘intensity,’ which I assume means attendance,” said Soak City General Manager Marty Keithley.

He complained that the business was not notified by the Airport Authority of the pending changes.

“We need legislation to neuter authority of the San Diego Airport Authority,” said Chula Vista Councilwoman Patty Davis. “I just can’t believe they think that anyone will just sit there and let this happen.”

“This is going to have significant impacts to the economic health of our community,” said Councilman John McCann. “We should not stand by idly and allow this to happen.”

Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla asked why the Airport Authority’s South Bay representative, Paul Nieto, was not at the meeting.

“This is not the first time that South County’s delegate has failed to be ahead of the ball and has failed to brief our staff,” Padilla said.

Nieto was appointed to the Airport Authority for a six-year term in November 2002 by former Chula Vista Mayor Shirley Horton, just before she left office. Horton is now a member of the state Assembly.

“It was designed so that an appointment was made, and nothing could be done to change it,” Padilla said.

He said he will ask the city attorney whether Nieto can be removed from the seat.

On Tuesday the county Board of Supervisors also publicly objected to the Airport Authority’s proposed plan and threatened to sue to stop it.

Ochenduszko, Coronado’s city manager, said the city will meet tomorrow’s deadline but added that it has not decided whether it will adopt the plan or overrule it.

“We are going ahead with our comments the best we can but the time allowed for that is unfortunately insufficient,” Ochenduszko said.

The city has 180 days upon adoption by the commission to decide whether it will adopt or overrule the plan. If the city overrules it, Coronado must develop its own plan. But that plan must have thorough, detailed and technical findings that contradict the commission’s findings and support the city’s plan, Ochenduszko said.

Copies of the draft plan were first presented to cities and agencies involved less than a month ago and public workshops were held beginning March 22. All land-use plans, if adopted, must be made consistent with the cities’ General Plans.

Shafer-Payne said the strategic planning group will review the comments from all the cities and agencies at a meeting April 25. Then the group will present summaries of the comments to the full board of the land-use commission May 2.

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