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Battle over McClellan-Palomar Airport continues

Above: The Carlsbad City Council directed city staff to bring back a resolution to oppose the San Diego County Board of Supervisor’s approval of upgrading McClellan-Palomar Airport to a D-III facility. Photo by Steve Puterski

CARLSBAD — The fight continues over McClellan-Palomar Airport.

City Council directed staff to bring back a resolution during its June 11 meeting to officially oppose the San Diego County Board of Supervisors re-classifying the facility to a D-III airport. As for the advisory vote on the March 2020 ballot and interpretation of the city’s conditional use permit (CUP) 172 and city municipal code 21.53.015, the council will not take up those matters until a lawsuit from Citizens for a Friendly Airport is settled.

The council rescinded its previous vote on May 7, but approved, 4-1 with Councilman Keith Blackburn, Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel, Councilwoman Barbara Hamilton and Councilwoman Cori Schumacher, voting in support, to direct staff to bring back a resolutions opposing the D-III option. The council also voted, 3-2, in support of the B-II enhanced option with no runway extension.

Blackburn did not support the second resolution citing safety concerns and noise tied to lengthening the runway.

“In this particular case, the county doesn’t have any specific projects proposed for a council vote,” Blackburn said. “I’m voting as a status quo type of vote until something is brought forward.”

The supervisors approved the airport’s master plan update, which includes re-classifying the airport from a B-II to a D-III on Oct. 10, 2018. The classifications refer to mid-size jets (B-II) to corporate business jets (D-III), which are larger than the standard.

It is the second time in five weeks the council discussed opposing the supervisor’s vote. On May 7, in a 3-1-1 vote, the council voted to oppose, but a Brown Act violation complaint was filed, as the council did not agendize the item.

Schumacher originally called for the May 7 vote with Bhat-Patel and Hamilton voting yes. Mayor Matt Hall voted no and Blackburn abstained, as he requested a staff presentation on the issue, but was rebuffed.

Regardless, Schumacher pointed to cost as another factor to oppose the county’s position on the airport.

“We hear about safety around the master plan quite a bit,” Schumacher said. “The cost to taxpayers would be approximately $2.6 million with this B-II enhanced alternative; whereas the D-III alternative we just voted on will cost taxpayers $42.7 million.”

As for a possibly advisory vote, it is a nonbinding vote and allows residents to express their opinion of whether the airport master plan should have been approved. The county, which owns the airport, is not obligated to follow the result of the vote.

The estimated cost is between $45,000 to $60,000, while city staff will return with the ballot question language at a later date.

CUP 172 is one of several key points opponents of the master plan update use to argue the county is violating its plan.

However, City Attorney Celia Brewer requested the council to continue the CUP, municipal code and election ballot items due to the lawsuit. The group recently filed a lawsuit against the city and county over the master plan agreement settlement.

The group also has a pending lawsuit against the county.

In addition to city code and the CUP, other concerns from community outreach include a longer runway, moving the runway and taxiway north, noise, building on an inactive landfill and traffic, said Jason Haber, assistant to the city manager.

However, he also noted airport air traffic, at its peak with the new master plan, would be 30% lower than the historical peak in 1999-2000. Currently, air traffic is about 50% lower.

Residents had different perspectives on the matter. About 10 voiced their support to oppose the county’s actions and master plan.

Their concerns have long been documented, especially with fears the county will expand the airport to the size of John Wayne in Orange County and concerns about noise, a longer runway and environmental issues, to name a few.

Two others, Noel Breen and Larry Posner, though, said they had concerns over potential conflicts of interest between Citizens for a Friendly Airport, Schumacher, Bhat-Patel and Hamilton. They noted the treasurer of the group, Laura Drelleshak, was also the treasurer for Schumacher and Hamilton’s campaigns, along with donating money to all three.