CARLSBAD — It took more than two hours, but the Carlsbad City Council reaffirmed its position on the legal settlement with the San Diego County regarding the McClellan-Palomar Airport on May 7.
The council voted 4-1 to settle the city’s lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act challenging the findings of the airport master plan environmental impact report.
The council also approved rescinding a resolution to initiate a zoning amendment to restrict airport uses. Councilwoman Cori Schumacher was the lone no vote, saying “it was a re-statement of the status quo.”
The matter came back before the council after attorney Cory Briggs, on behalf of Citizens for a Friendly Airport, sent a demand letter to the city alleging a Brown Act violation for a lack of notice of the public meeting and to reverse its decision.
The city and county both sent letters to Briggs stating they disagreed with his clients’ position.
City Attorney Celia Brewer said the action taken by the council does not concede or admit to any violations, but “if an agency acts” a court would likely dismiss any subsequent legal action filed against the agency.
“It concerns me that the context and the past and the history of this body that we’re entering into a very loose agreement with … that we’re relying on a history of bad action,” Schumacher said of the county.
Meanwhile, Councilwomen Priya Bhat-Patel and Barbara Hamilton, who said she’s received “hate mail and calls” regarding the issue, backed their initial decisions to vote in favor of the agreement on March 27.
Both said they are against airport expansion, but said their votes were based on what was best for the city moving forward, better advocacy, ensuring the city still has its rights and creating a better working relationship with the county. The two also said they understand the trust issues residents have with the county.
“If I would’ve made an emotional decision, I would’ve voted the other way,” Bhat-Patel said. “I understand that in the past we did not have a good working relationship with the county. I also understand the distrust that comes with that past.”
“I still do feel that I made the right decision,” Hamilton said. “I don’t believe we gave authority to the county that they didn’t already have. We have to make a commitment to be there having these conversations.”
Mayor Matt Hall, though, said he believes the impacts from the airport are better than they were 20 years ago. In 1999-2000, the airport had between 280,000 to 290,000 takeoffs and landings per year.
Now, the number has dropped by almost half, between 140,000 to 150,000 per year.
Numerous residents, once again, stated their firm opposition to the airport citing noise, pollution and expansion. Many objected to the city’s agreement with the county, saying the deal does not provide enough control and power over decisions regarding the facility.
In addition, many railed against the upgrade to the D-III designation by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 10, 2018. They also criticized the lengthening of the runway of up to 800 feet, moving the runaway and taxiway north, becoming an offload airport from San Diego International Airport, the lack of restricted flight paths, non-enforceable voluntary flight hours and the county not following CEQA.
“Our direction, not our intentions, determines our destination,” resident Frank Sung said. “In order to avoid ending up where you don’t want to be, you need to determine whether there is a disconnect between your intentions and your destination and change directions if needed.”
Another issue was with the city’s Conditional Use Permit 172, which the county has agreed to voluntarily follow; although Schumacher noted by moving the runway and taxiway, the county is already “violating” the CUP. She also noted how the county is fighting against another lawsuit regarding its Climate Action Plan and greenhouse gas standards.
Attorney Peter Kirsch, whose Denver-based firm Kaplan Kirsch and Rockwell was hired by the city last year, said the agreement has several functions and protections for the city.
The city and county will have regular quarterly meetings, while the county will also address all mitigation concerns address by the city. As for zoning, the city, through state law, holds the power to approve and land acquisitions by the county.
“The agreement provides no permission, no approval, no authorization, no facilitation, no acquiescence for airport expansion,” Kirsch said. “I don’t know how to express that any clearer. There is nothing in this document that provides for airport expansion. The city retains all the legal rights it had before the agreement … to oppose expansion of the airport, if and when that’s ever proposed by the county. The city has given up no power to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), to the county or anyone else.”
The council, though, voted 3-1-1 to oppose the San Diego County Board of Supervisors’ Oct. 10 decision to re-classify the airport to a D-III facility.
Hall opposed and Councilman Keith Blackburn abstained, saying he wanted more information on the supervisors’ comments and a presentation from city staff.
The council also approved a future agenda item to discuss placing the settlement agreement on the March 2020 ballot for an advisory vote.
Even if approved by voters, it is a non-binding vote, thus the county has no obligation to incorporate the results into any future plans, according to city staff.