Friday, September 9, 2005
Airport under fire again in Oceanside
Consultant OK’d to study its future
By Lola Sherman
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune
OCEANSIDE – This city’s municipal airport appears to be fighting for its life – again. By a 3-2 vote late Wednesday night, the City Council decided to hire a consultant to figure out the best use of the airport land and how to close the field if the council eventually decides to do that. Councilmen Jack Feller and Rocky Chavez voted against seeking the consultant.
Feller said shutting down the airport would be a shortsighted decision.
Chavez said the harbor, airport and parks are what make Oceanside unique.
“This continuous cycle of redigging old graves is why this city does not go forward,” he said. “It’s a shame we have no vision.”
On the other side, Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said the airport “is not in the best interest of Oceanside’s future” and asked, “What do we have to do to close” it?
She said she hates to remember that terrorists used a municipal airport to train for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
And she said the airport is preventing Costco from locating a store in Oceanside.
The discount chain has been considering the old Valley Drive-Ins site just east of the airport.
But development of that site is complicated by proposed limits on the height and density of development around airports. The county Regional Airport Authority, a new player in the airport debate, is expected to approve new regulations in the coming months.
Mayor Jim Wood, who joined Sanchez and Councilwoman Shari Mackin in voting to hire the consultant, said the authority is his biggest concern.
Wood, who has lived in Oceanside most of his life, said he never knew the airport was an issue in town before he ran for office in 2002 until he was questioned on where he stood on it.
He said he favored asking for a consultant’s study then and he still does.
Public Works Director Peter Weiss said the city would have to pay back to the Federal Aviation Administration $3.5 million it has received in grants and loans for improvements if it does not maintain the airport until 2024.
Weiss also said nearly 15 acres acquired for the airport with one of those grants could not necessarily be sold for other commercial uses because the previous owner has a first right to get the property back.
Oceanside is the only city in the county besides San Diego to operate its own airport. The single 2,000-foot-long-runway accommodates primarily propeller-driven light planes.
Council members also voted 4-1 Wednesday, with Sanchez opposed, to pay a $195,000 bill outstanding on new hangars already built at the airport.
It had deadlocked 2-2 two weeks ago, with Wood absent, on paying the bill.
At the time, both Mackin and Sanchez balked. But on Wednesday, Mackin changed her vote, because paying the bill would not extend the time frame for the airport’s existence, she said.
That earlier 2-2 vote also killed a proposed $150,000 FAA grant for security fencing and an access-card system at the airport because the deadline to accept the money has now passed.
But Weiss said the Homeland Security Department suggests the fencing, so it may have to be paid for by assessing owners who use hangars and tie-downs.
The Oceanside Airport Association told members it now fears that a majority of the council members favor closing the field, and it urged members to make their voices heard in its behalf.
Both sides spoke at Wednesday’s meeting.
Rayford Scott said he’s been fighting the airport for 50 years and knows that the land “is worth millions of dollars,” but said the airport is “a financial disaster and has been for years.”
Proponent Bruce Willbrant asked, “Why is it just the airport and pilots that you have it in for?”
Editor’s Note: Councilwoman Sanchez, how do you reconcile your statement on training terrorists when you know the Federal Government has changed the system so it cannot happen again?