Oceano County Airport: Future in question

Dixie 'the flying dog' hangs out at the Oceano airport. photo Jayson Mellom 2-25-10
Dixie 'the flying dog' hangs out at the Oceano airport. photo Jayson Mellom 2-25-10 The Tribune

A Los Osos man wants to see the Oceano County Airport torn down and a private development built in its place.

But Jeff Edwards’ plan concerns local pilots, who say the small airport provides space for local businesses, draws tourists to the area and is an important refueling stop.

Edwards, a land planner and local developer, has organized a March 17 meeting to discuss commercial redevelopment of the 58-acre county-owned property.

Bill Robeson, a senior planner with the county Planning and Building Department who works with the Airport Land Use Commission, said he has not heard of any official support or interest in closing the airport.

“None of the hearing bodies for the county are considering it,” he said.

Edwards has organized a lineup of presentations at the meeting, including an aviation law attorney, a geologist, an ecologist, an economist, a climate change expert and a Coastal Act specialist, according to a news release he had distributed.

He’s also invited county representatives and the supervisorial candidates for the 4th District.

“I’m a private land planner, and I see enormous potential for this property,” Edwards said. “This property would represent a significant cash flow to the county if they were to close the airport and lease it for development.”

Edwards said he believes Oceano lacks a town center. He envisions various uses for the property, including commercial and residential development, senior housing and other amenities to serve tourists.

The Oceano airport was built in the 1950s, said Richard Howell, airport manager for the Oceano and San Luis Obispo County Regional airports. The general aviation airport now has five commercial tenants, 14 stored aircraft and 30 spots for pilots to park and tie-down their aircraft.

The airport fell short about $1,100 in its 2008-09 budget of $79,000, Howell said. The money comes out of the county’s self-supporting airport enterprise fund, not the general fund.

According to AirNav.com, an online database of U.S. airports and facilities, there were an average of 27 aircraft operations per day during a 12-month period ending in May.

The county does not track daily usage, but the airport’s land use plan, amended in 2007, estimates it has 12,005 operations annually.

“There are certain parties that want you to believe that nothing happens down there and you hear crickets all day, and that’s not true,” Howell said. “We’re ready to spend some time sprucing it up, but by no stretch of the imagination is it obsolete.”

Planned upgrades for the airport include building additional hangars, creating additional aircraft parking and upgrading the facility’s electrical system. Since 2000, the airport has received $2.3 million from the Federal Aviation Administration and is applying for another $450,000 grant to complete the environmental work required for the upgrades.

The process to close an airport could also be lengthy. Steven M. Taber, an environmental and aviation law attorney with Chevalier, Allen & Lichman in Costa Mesa, said the FAA would have to determine whether the county would be released from the assurances the airport agrees to when it accepts funding.

Edwards invited Taber to the March meeting, where Taber said he would discuss the legal ramifications of closing an airport. Taber said he was not hired to attend the meeting and will be doing so for free.

Meanwhile, several local pilots said Thursday the airport is an important local resource as well as a tourist attraction.

“All us local people use that airport to buy fuel,” said Mitch Latting, who lives in Grover Beach. “Oceano is not only a local airport, but it is a favorite spot for California people to come.”

Keith Godfrey, treasurer of the San Luis Obispo Pilots Association, lands at the Oceano airport several times a year.

“Pilots depend on it being here for fuel,” he said. “This airport could be used more — some people don’t know about it.”

Meeting in March

A committee formed to discuss the Oceano County Airport will meet at 5 p.m. March 17 at the Rabobank in Grover Beach at 899 Grand Ave.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929.