County will press on with airport call

– Disputed data. Reports reissued with


numbers. Decisions made before they’re expected, then revisited,
then quashed again by the absence of key commissioners.
SAN MARTIN – Disputed data. Reports reissued with “clarified” numbers. Decisions made before they’re expected, then revisited, then quashed again by the absence of key commissioners.

These are among the flurry of events that have swirled like so much wind shear over the last two months as the county nears a key policy decision about future growth at South County Airport and its other two general-aviation facilities.

Despite those events – and a request for delay by a San Martin planning board – the county will press ahead with a decision on future capacity at the airfields that’s scheduled for this later this month, District 1 County Supervisor Don Gage said Thursday.

“We spent a lot of money on a consultant that came up with all sorts of different options,” Gage said. “We’re going to choose what direction we’re going to go. When you have a report and options, I don’t know if any one is perfect, but I wouldn’t call it flawed enough to go back to the Airport Commission.”

Supervisors are currently slated to review the draft county Airports Master Plan update – which sets 20-year growth limits at the county’s airports – and make a policy decision on capacity at each airport on Nov. 19.

But Wednesday, the San Martin Planning Advisory Committee asked that the document and recommendations be sent back to the county’s advisory Airports Commission for more analysis and retooling, calling them flawed and inconsistent with the county’s own land-use policies concerning the unincorporated hamlet between Morgan Hill and Gilroy.

Through the draft plan, county airports officials have recommended the San Martin airfield take the brunt of new growth in the three-airport system by allowing for roughly 50 percent more spaces for aircraft there over the next 20 years then currently exist or are being built.

Airports staff said last month the facility should be able to base between 425 to 550 aircraft by 2022 – roughly 125 to 250 planes above the recommended growth capacity of 300 outlined in the airport’s 1982 Master Plan. They have since revised the recommendation, asking a total of 418 planes allowed to be based in San Martin by 2022.

The San Martin airport currently has room for 178 planes, but that number will increase to 278 in 2003 with the expected completion of 100 new hangars that were already approved by supervisors – meaning an increase of 140 planes to reach a new maximum capacity of 418. Roughly 90 planes park at the airport now.

The San Martin committee issued its request for delay after what several members felt was an unusual month of machinations – and a rush to judgement – by the Airports Commission.

South County residents were told during a September public hearing that the airport board would hold two meetings before making a recommendation on the master plan to supervisors. But despite noting several discrepancies in the plan, the commission approved it and the recommendations at its first meeting Oct. 1.

The initial pressure to approve the plan at that meeting reportedly came from commissioners appointed by Supervisor Blanca Alvarado. Alvarado’s district includes San Jose’s Reid-Hillview airport – a source of fierce protest for years from residents in subdivisions that have grown to hem in the facility right up to its edges.

The recommendations commissioners approved there would essentially cap growth at the East San Jose airport, leaving room for only 24 more planes over the present-day actual capacity of 726.

A chartered busload of San Martin residents that protested at the meeting were left with little consolation, except an amendment that said the runway at South County should not be lengthened.

Days later, residents learned the master plan had been re-agendized for discussion at the commission’s Nov. 5 meeting – as residents were originally told in September. But when a busload of San Martin residents appeared again, they found the commision could not legally consider the matter because it did not have a quorum.

Both of Alvarado’s commissioners were no-shows at that hearing – including one that works for the county elections office – along with a commmisioner appointed by Supervisor Pete McHugh.

The experience left attendees with a bad taste in their mouths.

“This is a very important issue a lot of people have spent their time on,” said San Martin resident Sylvia Hamilton. “When you make a committment (to serve as a commissioner), you have to do it professionally and follow through.”

Gage said he wasn’t too happy about the no-shows either.

“I’m getting kind of dissapointed in the fact we have a very important issue and we’re not having people show up at the meetings,” he said. “I don’t know whether it was the election and they were busy or trying to avoid making a decision.”

But despite that, he said end-of-year timelines faced by supervisors and the consultant’s contract mean things have to push on.

“We hired the consultant, he had a time schedule, we paid him the money and that’s it,” he said. “We’ve had 12 to 15 public hearings, so it’s time to go to the board and get a decision.”

Thursday, Gage said the county airports staff’s recommendation to allow a maximum of 418 planes at South County seem like a “fair” amount of growth – growth he thinks would come gradually over many years’ time corresponding with other overall growth projected for South County and its economy.

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