Caltrans challenges SLO council's decision to override airport commission

Jan Marx
Jan Marx jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A state agency has requested the San Luis Obispo City Council reconsider its vote late last year to override a ruling by the Airport Land Use Commission that would have limited development near the airport.

In a March 20 letter to San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx, Caltrans’ Division of Aeronautics asked the council to reassess “the improper overrule of the ALUC and the rescinding of its airport land use compatibility plan.”

“Even though the city argues that it complied with all applicable state laws, regulations and guidelines, the end result is the city placing high-density development near and in the (San Luis Obispo County Regional) Airport’s safety zones by disregarding the height, noise, safety and density criteria that had been put in place by the ALUC,” Caltrans Deputy Attorney Raiyn Bain wrote.

The city received the letter Monday. On Tuesday, City Attorney Christine Dietrick said the city would respond to give the public accurate facts about the city’s land use authority and other issues.

“We feel like there are numerous inaccuracies and a misrepresentation of the law in the letter,” she said.

The council voted 4-1 in December to override the airport commission’s ruling that the city’s updated General Plan is inconsistent with its own airport land use plan, which, based on noise and safety concerns, limits development near the airport. A majority of council members would have to agree to reopen discussions on the override.

The vote allowed 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. The plan envisions new developments in the southern section of the city where the airport is


Several large developments include the 131-acre San Luis Ranch planned for the former Dalidio property on Madonna Road and the 150-acre Avila Ranch on the north side of Buckley Road.

The city hired an expert in airport planning who concluded that the commission’s safety zones were larger than necessary and that the city’s long-term development plans meet state airport safety guidelines.

“The city proceeded carefully and cautiously throughout the whole project,” Marx said Tuesday.

The Caltrans letter states that construction of about 1,500 homes in the areas surrounding the airport’s safety zones will create new noise and safety problems for residents and the


As an example, Bain pointed to the Santa Monica Municipal Airport, which could be closed after complaints about noise, safety and pollution from residents, some of whom live as close as 300 feet from the runway.

“The incompatible residential encroachment that occurred around the Santa Monica airport exemplifies how important it is to prevent the development from occurring in the first place,” Bain wrote.

But Kim Murry, deputy director of long-range planning, said San Luis Obispo’s situation is entirely different: The council is very supportive of the airport and is working to preserve open space, so there isn’t new development near the runway. The closest residential dwellings planned for the San Luis Ranch project are nearly 2 miles from the runway, she said.

In addition, each of the projects will come back to the Airport Land Use Commission for consideration of whether the plans are consistent with the commission’s airport land use plan.

“We want to partner with the commission and the county, and we are equally committed to a safe and economically vibrant airport,” Murry said.

When asked about Caltrans’ next step, District 5 spokesman Colin Jones said the agency would wait for a response from the city.

He added: “We also want to convey our support to the city for meeting their housing needs and would like to see a collaborative effort with the ALUC to address the long-term needs of both the city and the airport that are mutually beneficial and supportive.”

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