SM fights looming airport expansion

Despite local protests, county pushing for more flights,
hangars
The buzz of angry words from San Martin residents is beginning
to rival the noise from the aircraft they expect to hear over their
rural paradise if plans to accommodate expansion of general
aviation at three county-controlled airports continue on
course.
Despite local protests, county pushing for more flights, hangars

The buzz of angry words from San Martin residents is beginning to rival the noise from the aircraft they expect to hear over their rural paradise if plans to accommodate expansion of general aviation at three county-controlled airports continue on course.

Two opportunities this week to vent their feelings – a community forum and an airports commission meeting – won them few concessions as the county moved another step toward sending most of the increase in general aviation over the next 20 years to the South Valley.

“We totally disagree that North County demand (for hangars and tie-down spots) should drive South County (airport) expansion,” said Sylvia Hamilton, president of the San Martin Neighborhood Alliance, the grassroots organization leading the fight against increased activity at the San Martin facility.

The fuss concerns the updating of the county’s airports master plan – prepared in 1980 — to look at the next 20 years. The county operates Palo Alto airport, Reid-Hillview airport in East San Jose and South County airport in San Martin.

Santa Clara County supervisors are scheduled to make a final decision Nov. 19 on how much each airport should grow. Consultant Shutt Moens Associates estimates from a half-dozen long-range forecasts that 1,960 plane owners will want to base their planes in Santa Clara County by 2022.

Space constraints at urban Reid-Hillview and Palo Alto made it a virtual foregone conclusion that relatively wide-open San Martin would, by the end of the master plan period, see more than its share of the 324 estimated new aircraft expected in Santa Clara County.

But the inevitable is not necessarily more palatable, according to San Martin residents, who feel that they’ve been put upon by the county over the years. Facilities such as a methadone clinic, automobile dismantlers, waste-treatment centers and non-local-serving businesses always find their way to San Martin, residents say.

South County airport currently rents about half of its 178 available spaces, and is scheduled to see 100 hangars built soon. According to the draft update, the facility would ultimately be home base to 425 aircraft. Palo Alto airport would get 60 new airplanes, while Reid-Hillview would house only 24 more than its current capacity of 726.

San Jose International Airport is phasing out its general aviation component. The number of planes recommended for the facility in 2022 is 179, down from 279 currently and 804 as envisioned in the last master plan.

Residents and South County pilots alike are unhappy. In addition to the increased number of planes using their airport, they don’t like a proposal to lengthen the runway from 3,100 to 6,000 feet and strengthen the tarmac to handle bigger, heavier planes, which would account for some of the growth.

A decision by airport commissioners Tuesday left San Martin residents scratching their heads. While the panel left intact staff recommendations on how many planes South County airport can handle, commissioners voted against lengthening the runway, which would be a requirement to bring in bigger planes.

The 1982 master plan, residents point out, says that San Martin airport was not suited as a reliever for North County. The same holds true now, they add.

Bob Cerruti said six real estate agents assured him that more airport activity would decrease property values.

“A few select people with large aircraft shouldn’t jeopardize the rest of us. Is the county going to pay us what we lose in property value?” Cerruti said.

Barry Shiller said airport expansion is inconsistent with a number of county planning documents, including the general plan and the San Martin Integrated Design Plan.

Also, Shiller added, no one bothered to think about investigating a deal to use Moffett Field, a federally controlled base in Mountain View, or looking to the Hollister airport in San Benito County, about five minutes flying time from San Martin.

Steve Miller, representing the South County Pilots Association, said the consultant didn’t contract his group. “Without giving input, we can’t help,” he said.

Hamilton alleged that those preparing the update fudged the figures to make it appear that the number of airplanes based at San Martin would decrease. The 550 given as the maximum number of airplanes the airport can handle currently, she said, was taken from the 1960 airport master plan. The 1982 master plan puts the number at 300.

Hamilton said that only 9 percent of the aircraft registered in Santa Clara County belong to South County residents. She also cites the consultant’s preliminary report: “Demand for spaces is likely to be substantially higher at Palo Alto and Reid-Hillview.”

Accommodating general aviation growth has unleashed strong reaction from people who live around Reid-Hillview as well. They complain about noise and the inherent danger of aircraft in proximity to houses and schools.

Airport critic Bud Beacham said there are eight schools and up to 30,000 residents within a one-half mile radius of Reid-Hillview. He said public money should not subsidize private aviation.

Patricia Ramos, community coordinator of the San Jose Strong Neighborhoods Initiative, opposes basing more planes at Reid-Hillview. She doesn’t say directly to place them elsewhere, but at Tuesday’s commission meeting and an earlier one, Ramos called for equity.

“We can’t carry the burden alone. There must be shared responsibility,” Ramos said Tuesday.

At the commission’s September meeting, Ramos said: “There can be no NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitudes.”

Expansion of South County airport is a given, residents said, and they are willing to do their fair share, but they resent being imposed upon.

Airport commissioners Tuesday were not entirely happy with the draft update prepared by Shutt Moens.

Pria Graves lamented a short-sighted report.

“I think the board of supervisors would like some options instead of a single recommendation,” Graves said.

A motion by commissioner Eric Fuller to approve the draft update as presented triggered discussion. Graves proposed two amendments – a continued effort by the county to extend its lease at the Palo Alto airport, which expires in 2017, and the elimination of plans to extend the runway at South County airport.

A proposal by commission chairman Robert Lenox to maintain the capacity of Reid-Hillview at 900 aircraft, which would have taken pressure off South County airport, found no support. Elma Rosas said she prefers the lower number of 750. Lenox then declined to support the amended motion, leaving the vote at 4-1.

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