Airport growth go-ahead

SAN JOSE
– After months of controversy – including last-minute pleas from
a busload of South County residents armed with hundreds of
signatures on a petition – Santa Clara County Supervisors voted
unanimously Tuesday to approve a plan that would shift the brunt of
general-aviation growth in the next tw
o decades to San Martin’s South County Airport.
SAN JOSE – After months of controversy – including last-minute pleas from a busload of South County residents armed with hundreds of signatures on a petition – Santa Clara County Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a plan that would shift the brunt of general-aviation growth in the next two decades to San Martin’s South County Airport.

The vote to approve new growth limits for the airports in the county master plan came with no debate and little discussion, despite a nearly two-hour parade of speakers at the hearing in downtown San Jose. Numerous South County residents protested the growth they consider unfair and in violation of the county’s own land-use rules.

Outside of the supervisors’ chambers, organizers were crestfallen.

“I’ve just gotten my first real education in what politics are all about …” said Sylvia Hamilton, president of the San Martin Neighborhood Alliance. “I’m extremely disappointed because we’ve presented our points over and over again, and it was very obvious today that they’d already made up their minds.”

But District 1 County Supervisor Don Gage called the decision a good compromise, noting the county could have set even higher growth capacities at South County. And he said the county can’t make everyone happy during major land-use decisions.

“You always have people who have a desire for one thing and a desire for another,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “Our job is broad, and we have to look out for the whole county. What we’re trying to do is balance the situation we have.”

The master plan document that was the subject of the vote sets the tone for growth and operations in county airports for the next two decades. Under the recommendations approved Tuesday, the San Martin airfield will absorb most of the new growth in the three-airport system growing to a maximum capacity of 418 planes by 2022.

South County Airport currently has room for 178 planes. The airports department also plans to build 100 new hangars in San Martin by the next year. Roughly 90 planes park at the airport now.

A corresponding increase in individual takeoffs and landings from the current 56,000 a year now would mean up to 175,560 a year at maximum capacity, according to a consultant.

While there’s room to expand at San Jose’s Reid-Hillview airport, the plan will essentially cap growth there by adding only 24 more planes to its capacity of 726. Reid-Hillview is hemmed in by subdivisions and a major shopping mall.

Palo Alto’s airport would also be slated for limited growth, taking on room for 23 more planes.

The growth limits aren’t officially set in stone, but are critical because they’ll be the basis for further – and expensive – studies on physical development, business plans and environmental reviews at each airport.

“This is not a final action,” said county Roads and Airports Director Michael Murdter. “It’s not a done deal.”

But such statements gained little trust from San Martin residents, who chartered a bus in order to take the microphone and reiterate their arguments that the county is unfairly shifting North County’s aviation demand – and community-altering, quality-of-life impacts like aircraft noise – to South County in violation of its own land-use policies.

Hamilton said just 5 percent of the county’s population would have to deal with impacts from 74 percent of the county’s aviation growth.

“We’re not just standing up here saying ‘We don’t want it in my backyard,’ ” she said. “We all know this is North County demand.”

Meanwhile, the plans break the county’s own land-use policies for San Martin set in the county General Plan, said San Martin resident Greg Tomlinson.

“Is the county justified in breaking its own rules while holding others to them?” he asked.

San Martin speakers also noted they had secured more than 1,100 signatures on a petition against the recommendations.

But several east San Jose residents also showed to speak out at the hearing in opposition of any growth at Reid-Hillview.

“It’s time to recognize residents of the area have dignity and need to be respected,” said Stella Alvarez.

When discussion moved to dais, Supervisor Blanca Alvarado – whose district includes Reid-Hillview – said she would “reluctantly” accept the growth there because she and others had tried for years to close the airport, but to little avail.

“The county is stuck,” she said. “I hear what the San Martin folks are saying and can relate … but I’ve come to the conclusion that given the lack of larger support to get the county out of the airport business, the best thing to do is what we’ve started to do now.

“We must plan the airport system so we don’t recognize all attention on one airport.”

Gage had not spoken when it appeared the board would move to vote, but a speaker took the microphone to challenge the supervisors.

“We elected you to vote for what we want, and you’re going to vote against everyone in this room?” said San Martin resident Marilyn Peterson. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Gage responded before casting his vote.

“We are listening, but we have to balance everything throughout the county,” he said.

District 3 Supervisor Jim Beall drew applause when he asked airports officials to return with information on what incentives the county could offer pilots to conduct training flights at other airports outside the county. Such activity – which usually includes so-called “touch and gos” – adds thousands of annual takeoffs and landings at the airports.

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