Tulare Lawsuit- Tentative ruling: City Didn’t Follow Procedures

Judge critical of Tulare
Tentative ruling: City didn’t follow procedures
By Julie Fernandez
Staff writer

The city of Tulare did not follow the proper procedures before it approved a permit in March 2004 that allowed Knight Transportation to build a truck terminal near the Tulare airport, a Tulare County Superior Court judge said in a tentative ruling Friday. The ruling came in the California Pilots Association’s lawsuit against the city, Knight Transportation and the state Department of Transportation, Division of Aeronautics.

The association filed the lawsuit after alleging the city-approved truck terminal and the yet-to-be built, above-ground tanks pose safety risks because of they are too close to the Mefford Field runway.

The association maintained the city failed to submit its airport land use plan to the county for approval, making its action on the Knight permit invalid.

While the city maintained it had legally opted out of the process years ago, Judge Melinda Reed said “there’s no authority for anyone to opt out.”

The judge stopped short of declaring Knight’s permit invalid, saying she would need more information about the city and county’s airport land use plans ? their consistencies and inconsistencies.

After a lengthy discussion, the judge and attorneys for the four parties agreed it might be best to have Reed declare the permit invalid and let the city reconsider the permit, this time following the proper procedure.

If the attorneys report their clients are in agreement, Reed will dismiss the case on Oct. 21.

The judge told attorneys she would not order Knight Transportation to cease operations.

Nancy Jenner, attorney for the city, indicated she will take the matter to the City Council in a closed session. The council’s next meeting is Tuesday and it also has a meeting scheduled for Oct. 18. If the plan is approved, the city will have to submit its airport land use plan to the county for review. If the county and city don’t agree on certain points, the council can still adopt its own plan with council approval.

After this happens, the Planning Commission can reconsider the Knight Transportation permit, holding a public hearing that would allow the Pilot’s Association and the state Department of Transportation, which also has raised concerns about the proposed above-ground tanks, to fully air their objections. The general public will also be allowed to comment.

Before and after the commission’s 2004 ruling, which was upheld by the City Council in an appeal that involved a highway matter, several members of the aviation community, including the chairman of the Tulare Aviation Commission, expressed strong concerns about the location of the project.

The issue of above-ground fuel tanks was raised during the Planning Commission’s hearing and commissioners agreed with a recommendation from the city’s Environmental Impact Review committee that Knight Transportation should obtain FAA approval for the tanks.

The problem, according to the Pilot’s Association and the state Department of Transportation, is that the FAA’s jurisdiction is over navigable air space. It is the state that has jurisdiction over ground issues and the state thinks the location is a problem, they said.

Court files include a declaration from an FAA supervisor supporting their contention that the tanks fall under the purview of the state Aeronautics Division.

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