CARLSBAD — A three-year court battle came to an end with each side claiming victory over the McClellan-Palomar Airport Master Plan.
Citizens for a Friendly Airport filed a lawsuit suit in 2018 alleging San Diego County, which owns the airport, had sidestepped the City of Carlsbad’s conditional use permit process first agreed upon in 1978 and was not properly monitoring noise.
A judge ruled in favor of Citizens for a Friendly Airport on seven components of the master plan, including the lengthening of the runway by 800 feet and changing the airport’s designation from B-II to D-III to accommodate larger jets.
Additionally, the county must apply for an amendment to the conditional use permit (CUP 172) and undertake more robust noise monitoring.
All projects must be set aside and the County Board of Supervisors must decide the next steps, according to Hope Nelson, president of Citizens for a Friendly Airport.
“The county must go back to the city to get a conditional use permit,” Nelson said. “That’s a game-changer for us because the city has the option of what they want to do with the conditional use permit. There’s nothing that says that they have to extend a revision in the way that the county wants it.”
However, the county prevailed in its challenges to the group’s claims concerning noise, traffic and energy impacts and greenhouse gas, Michael Workman, director of communications, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Workman did not immediately respond to questions from The Coast News.
Regardless, both Nelson and Frank Sung, also a member of the resident group, said the county plans to “expand” the airport via the 800-foot extension, plus the redesignation. However, Nelson said the ruling prohibits the county’s expansion until it secures the conditional use permit and addresses other issues from the ruling.
Additionally, the Carlsbad City Council passed two resolutions in 2019 — one stating its opposition to the D-III designation and one in support of the B-II with a 200-foot engineered materials arresting system (EMAS) for safety. The city and Citizens for a Friendly Airport also sued the county in 2018, with the city and county settling in 2019.
The group’s lawsuit over the environmental impact report (EIR) over concerns of the county’s methodology and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) findings is ongoing, Nelson said.
“The judge says the project requires an amendment,” Sung said. “The reason is the project changes the designation of the airport. So, this is not a little 200-foot EMAS, this is an 800 to 900-foot extension of the runway. The county claimed they were immune to it … but the judge agreed that the county waived their immunity. You can’t have it both ways.”
The group also plans to approach the Board of Supervisors, which has five new members since 2018, to approve the court’s invalidation of the Master Plan update, adopt the California Public Utilities Commission definition of an airport expansion and commit to retaining the airport’s current classification.
But the noise concerns are not relegated to Carlsbad, as residents in Vista and San Marcos have long voiced complaints. Nelson and Sung said the voluntary noise abatement program doesn’t work because no one follows it.
According to Sung, airports in operation prior to 1990 are exempt from implementing restricted hours or mandated flight paths. McClellan-Palomar Airport does not, and cannot, have mandatory quiet hours and flight paths, Sung said.
“The (Federal Aviation Administration) has this new Next-gen strategy where they just fan out,” Sung said. “Even here at Palomar, they are doing it.”