Thursday, February 15, 2007
By: DAVID STERRETT
The San Diego (CA) North County Times
OCEANSIDE — The City Council directed its staffers Wednesday to spend the next 90 days looking for money to improve the Oceanside Municipal Airport.
The council voted 4-1, with Esther Sanchez in the minority, to support Councilman Rocky Chavez’s proposal to proceed with upgrading the airport off Highway 76 in the western end of the San Luis Rey River valley.
In addition to searching for funding, the council agreed to Chavez’s call for the city to keep the airport open in “perpetuity” and form a committee to develop a good-neighbor policy.
“The biggest obstacle for the airport has been funding,” Chavez said. “This finally puts to rest the issue of whether the airport will be here tomorrow.”
The 50-acre airport has been a controversial issue in Oceanside for years, but only three advocates of the airfield attended the hearing.
The airport hearing didn’t begin until around 11 p.m, because the council was discussing other issues.
Critics have complained about planes flying over homes and say the valuable property could be better used. Airport supporters said the airfield, where about 85 private planes are based, is a valuable asset to the community.
Previously, Mayor Jim Wood has opposed seeking grants to approve the airport but voted to support Chavez’s proposal on Wednesday.
“I want to give you a shot to make the airport what it can be,” Wood told the airport supporters. “This is your opportunity.”
He said airport supporters need to help staffers find state, federal and local funding to improve the airfield.
Wood said he decided to give the airport a chance because of the results of the November council election. Chavez and Councilman Jerry Kern, both strong supporters of the airport, defeated former Councilwoman Shari Mackin and retired educator George McNeil, who were both strongly opposed by airport backers.
Wood said the airport was a major issue in the election, and voters demonstrated their support for the airport.
Airport advocates thanked the council for its decision. (Editor’s Note: It should be noted that this result flowed from the efforts of a few dedicated pilots who formed a CALPILOTS Chapter years ago to preserve their airport.)
“We are thrilled to get to this point,” said Ben Meyers, the head of the local airport association.
Meyers and the airport supporters said they might also be able to find a way for the property to generate more money the city could use to provide services for residents.
Councilman Jack Feller suggested that the city could lease the property to an airport operator to create revenue.
But Wood said he was skeptical, because the money created by the airfield has to be used for the facility. The airport has cost the city more than $400,000 over the last several decades.
Sanchez said she didn’t support the proposal because “the airport always been a drain on the city.” She compared the airport to a specialty use like a dog park, the difference being, Sanchez said, that a dog park receives more use than the airport.
Airport supporters said the property could become a jewel for the city if the facilities were upgraded and expanded.
“It’s time to make the airport work,” Kern said.
Peter Weiss, the interim city manager, told the council that city staffers plan to bring a proposal before the council next week calling for the city to seek state loans to pay for more hangars at the airport.
Weiss said after the meeting that the Federal Aviation Administration recently sent a letter to city staffers saying the agency wouldn’t provide grant money for airport hangars.
The federal agency also sent the city a letter last month that said it wouldn’t allow any shops, stores or other non-airport uses on the property.
The council discussed the possibility last year of using a vacant northern portion of the airport as a drainage basin for a Costco store to be built nearby.
City officials have recently said they might not need a portion of the airport to bring a Costco to the area because a store could be built on other property in the area.
There was no discussion of Costco during the meeting Wednesday night.