Editorials

SLO council should override county airport commission

With Bishop Peak in the distance, a US Airways flight from Phoenix prepares for landing at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.
With Bishop Peak in the distance, a US Airways flight from Phoenix prepares for landing at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Ideally, the San Luis Obispo County Airport Land Use Commission and the city of San Luis Obispo would have come to an agreement on land use planning in the southern end of the city. Despite years of effort on the part of the city, that hasn’t happened.

The Airport Land Use Commission wants to greatly restrict growth at the south end of the city — yet has never adequately explained why such severe limits are necessary.

City officials say that’s the logical place for residential development to occur. The only other choice, city planners say, would be to allow development on hillsides, agricultural land and open space, which is exactly what the citizens of San Luis Obispo do not want.

The city’s long-term development plan — as delineated in the recently updated land use and circulation element — is scheduled for adoption Tuesday night.

In order to give the plan its blessing, however, the San Luis Obispo City Council will have to override the Airport Land Use Commission, which found the city’s land use and circulation element to be inconsistent with the airport’s safety plan.

That override will require a four-fifths vote of the City Council. The council also will consider creating an airport overlay zone that will show how the city plans to comply with the State Aeronautics Act to ensure land uses will be compatible with ongoing and future airport operations.

We urge the council to take these actions.

Here’s why:

The city hired one of the nation’s foremost experts in airport planning, Nick Johnson, to conduct an extensive study that included examining accident data, flight patterns and appropriate standards for development surrounding the airport. Johnson Aviation has worked on airport planning for several major airports, including those in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange County.

The Johnson Aviation study concluded that the city’s long-term development plans meet state airport safety guidelines and that the Airport Land Use Commission safety zones are larger than necessary. The Airport Land Use Commission has been relying on an airport land use plan that is outdated. According to city staff, that plan is identical to one adopted in 1977.

“In 37 years, the safety zones in this existing ALUP have not been updated to be consistent with actual aircraft accident and safety risk analysis research,” acity document states.

The city has been encouraging the Airport Land Use Commission to update its airport land use plan for more than two years. The commission has been dragging its feet. It’s now in the process of updating the Airport Land Use Plan — a draft was released just two weeks ago — but it could still be months, if not years, before a final plan is adopted. The state’s noise standards for new residential development — as delineated in the California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook — would be met.

Open space would be maintained for emergency landings, including 250 acres on the Chevron property; a substantial area within the Margarita Area Specific Plan area, at Laguna Lake Park; on the Brughelli property south of Buckley Road; and within the San Luis Ranch Specific Plan area, west of Highway 101 and south of Dalidio Drive.

Other California cities have taken similar steps — the city of Newport Beach did so just this past summer — and we believe the city of San Luis Obispo is fully capable of ensuring the safety of new residences and businesses planned for the southern end of the city.

We also believe the city would be far more transparent than the Airport Land Use Commission, which at times operates more like an exclusive private club than a public body. For example, the commission refused to share aworking copy of its draft airport land use plan with the city; nor would it include the city in discussions of the plan update.

Even after the city filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the plan, the commission still refused to offer the report, though it did share it with Caltrans. That’s not exactly the type of cooperation we’d expect between public agencies.

We believe the city of San Luis Obispo has done a commendable job of balancing future residential needs with the interests of the airport, both from safety and economic standpoints. We strongly urge the City Council to override the Airport Land Use Commission and to adopt the updated land use and circulation element.

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