Watsonville Airport Lawsuit – Appeals Update


Send a Message to Certain Elected Officials of Watsonville – Airports are Asset$

City Files Appeal of Lower Court Ruling

City of Watsonville has submitted their Appeals Brief to the Appeals Court in San Jose. The Watsonville Pilots Association and others are currently preparing their response brief. It is estimated that the court’s review of briefs will be in June 2009, and appeals court decision in early 2010.

In review, on March 21, 2008 the Santa Cruz County Superior Court ruled that Watsonville City Resolution 74-05 and the new General Plan update violated the State Aeronautics Law. The purpose of the law is “to prevent the creation of new noise and safety problems” around airports. The City of Watsonville’s Resolution 74-05 was a prerequisite for the city’s general plan update, specifically, building plans just west of the airport. This resolution removed two sections of the Zone 3 runway protection zone, changed density criteria, and removed all restrictions on building high-occupancy buildings in the Zone 6 airport influence area – illegally.

The Division of Aeronautics’ (DoA) California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook “prohibits” building high-occupancy buildings such as schools, assisted living facilities, facilities where people congregate, and housing densities in Zone 3 runway protection zones.

The City of Watsonville’s attempt to change the Zone 3 area to a less restrictive Zone 6 was a deliberate attempt to circumvent the DoA’s California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook and Aeronautics Law. The lower court concluded that this was an attempt to circumvent the intent of state law and the land use precepts contained in the DoA Handbook. The city’s appeal brief tries to obfuscate these details. We trust that the appeals court will observe that the city’s brief is simply an attempt to confuse the facts.

Who does this affect? It affects everyone in the community, including those that operate aircraft, FBOs, and business aircraft operators. Economic studies show that Watsonville Airport is responsible, directly and indirectly, for 1600 jobs. Like many others, Watsonville’s City Planners tend to misunderstand or ignore the long-term positive economic impacts of airports and their value.

This case is about preventing development encroachment off the runway ends at Watsonville Airport. The lawsuit is intended to prevent what has already happened around other airports. Where, instead of landing in open areas, aircraft in emergency situations impact houses. Inappropriate planning decisions turn aircraft “incidents” into “accidents”, often resulting in devastating fires.

In 2008 two accidents in Florida were fatal to aircraft and housing occupants in areas off the ends of runways. Two fatal accidents also occurred in new developments at North Las Vegas Airport. Now there is an effort to prevent closure of North Las Vegas airport. Just recently an F18 crashed into two houses just southwest of Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego. The pilot ejected and landed in a high school athletic field. Believe it or not, Universal High School was built southwest aligned with the departure end of Miramar’s runway 24R. All these accidents involved ruptured fuel tanks followed by ignition.

West of Phoenix, AZ, there is a lawsuit to prevent encroachment at Luke AFB. Maricopa County, the defendant, wants to build houses around Luke AFB even though departing jet fighters are often carrying ordinance. Is greed the motivation that overrides common sense?

Currently, the Stockton, Tracy, and Half Moon Bay Airports are all resisting plans that would result in housing encroachment of their airports. Housing encroachment inevitably results in restriction of aircraft operations. The responsible solution is to deny encroachment attempts, thereby eliminating new noise and safety problems.

The essence of the Watsonville Pilots Association lawsuit, and the current appeals process, is to keep the community and airport safe, and to prevent closure of a runway. A win in the appeals court will be precedent that deters costly litigation involving other airports in California. Or if litigation is unavoidable, a favorable decision by the appeals court could be very helpful in a legal win for other airports.

What can you do? Write letters and contribute. Now is an excellent time to write to state Senators and Assembly Members. Ask them to amend or remove the insane housing element law that requires (and finances) cities and counties to continually build more houses.

The Watsonville Pilots Association is soliciting contributions to its legal fund to help cover costs of the appeal. Contributions can be sent to:
P.O. Box 2074
Freedom, CA 95019-2074.
Please specify “legal fund” in the memo section of the check.

Remember. Your contribution could help save a runway, avoid more restrictions at Watsonville and help other airports, possibly yours, battling encroachment.

Picture of Dan Chauvet Dan Chauvet
Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs
Watsonville Pilots Association

Editor’s Note: Please support the Watsonville Pilots Association in their efforts to stop certain high ranking city officials from underminding the aiport. These two officals are gambling that WPA will not have enough money to continue the battle against their efforts to more than triple housing density around Watsonville Airport. This is a real example of how elected officials pander to special interests such as housng developers. Don’t let them win, support WPA’s efforts. WPA is a Chapter of the California Pilots Association therefore donations are tax deductable.

For more information go to the Watsonville Pilots Association web site.

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