SLO Council delays vote on airport override; Rivoire asks for more time

Dan Rivoire
Dan Rivoire jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The San Luis Obispo City Council delayed making a decision Tuesday on a proposed override of an Airport Land Use Commission ruling that would limit much of the city’s planned growth at the southern end of the city.

The council’s decision Tuesday night was its second attempt to pass the override, which requires a 4-1 vote of the five-member City Council. The council failed to pass it on its first attempt Oct. 21 after Councilman Dan Carpenter and former Councilwoman Kathy Smith voted against it.

Newly-elected Councilman Dan Rivoire, who was sworn in Monday, was viewed as the needed swing vote.

However, on Tuesday, Rivoire said he needed more time to consider the issue and asked for the decision to be delayed until Dec. 9.

"I feel this is an important moment to continue to hear from constituents," Rivoire said. "While I don't expect huge transformative comments to be made in the next week, it is important to me to take a moment to continue to listen to the dialogue this evening and digest the comments made tonight."

Rivoire stated publicly during his campaign that he supports the proposed override. "It is not my goal to drag this out much longer," he said Tuesday.

The override vote is needed for the city to move forward with updating its General Plan — the city’s blueprint for growth — which will shape development for the next 20 years, including several large residential projects now in the works.

The seven-member airport commission believes the city’s plan is inconsistent with its own Airport Land Use Plan, which limits development near the airport based on noise and safety concerns.

More than 50 people attended Tuesday's meeting, with more than two dozen people speaking both in favor and against the decision to override the airport commission.

Carpenter maintained his stance against the overrule Tuesday, warning of the risk of expensive litigation

Both the airport commission and the Caltrans Division of Aeronautics have implied that they will take legal action against the City Council’s decision to overrule the airport commission's findings.

"Are the interests of developers more important than the quality of life we enjoy?" Carpenter said.

Members of the public who expressed support for the override Tuesday said that moving forward with the updated General Plan would help with the existing housing and job imbalance in the city by allowing for more residential projects to be built.

In that plan are several large developments that have been proposed, including the 131-acre San Luis Ranch planned for the Dalidio property on Madonna Road and the 150-acre Avila Ranch near the airport on the north side of Buckley Road.

Developers of those projects have been in limbo, relying on the city’s General Plan update to proceed.

Even with the override, those projects will still have to go before the ALUC because they require a specific plan. However, the council will have the ability in the future to override individual project decisions made by the ALUC if the council moves forward with the initial override.

The Airport Land Use Commission is a seven-member autonomous committee created by the state Public Utilities Code. Its purpose is to draft land use plans for the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport that determine what type of development can occur around the airport, taking into account safety and noise impacts, to protect the airport from development that would hinder its future operations.

The city and the airport commission have been at odds for more than a decade over various planned developments.

In April, the airport commission found the city’s General Plan update to be inconsistent with its own safety plan and a compromise was not reached.

In October, three of the seven commissioners serving on the ALUC encouraged the council in private correspondence to move forward with the overrule.

The city, which hired the consultant Johnson Aviation to help draft its new plans for development, maintains that the city is following all required state safety standards.

Aileen Loe, deputy district director at Caltrans, told the council at Tuesday’s meeting that the agency considers issues related to noise and public safety have not been unresolved in the city's plan.

"These issues represent an area of weakness in the plan that is before you," said Loe. "We are concerned that moving forward on a plan with a slightly shaky foundation could have implications on future decisions."

Loe went on to say that Caltrans supports the airport commission and its ongoing update of its airport safety plan.

"And we want to support you," Loe said. "As a partner, we are open and available to sitting down and working through these issues."