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Proposed Buena Vista Development West of the Airport?

Updated: May 19, 2019

The following is text taken from the WPA home page of past articles and editorials on the subject of the proposed Buena Vista land annexation and development near the Watsonville Airport. City annexation of 400 acres west of the Airport is part of the General Plan under Measure "U". There is great concern by airport users over a proposed 2,500 unit (revised in 2011 to 1,300 units) development off the departure end of runway 26.

MAY 18, 2010, WATSONVILLE AIRPORT ALLIANCE BEATS THE ODDS---by Ed Rosiak, President, California Pilots Assn: “They say that you can’t beat City Hall, but then whoever they are never met these determined groups from Watsonville California. The Watsonville Pilots Association (WPA), the Friends of Buena Vista - a local airport neighborhood group, some local businesses, and the Sierra Club, along with the California Division of Aeronautics, and the California Pilots Association became allies against a city planning effort that provided more questions than answers."  


MARCH 25, 2010, AOPA ONLINE APPLAUDS DAN CHAUVET, ET AL, FOR THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS IN MAINTAINING SAFETY ZONES AT KWVI: “Watsonville Pilots Association’s Dan Chauvet has been a one-man army in keeping this issue on track and moving forward,” said Dunn, who has spoken with local pilots about the efforts at Watsonville. "Chauvet’s dogged efforts demonstrate how pilots can make a difference by engaging in their communities", Dunn added... You can see the entire article at:

SEPTEMBER 2, 2008, WATSONVILLE CITY OWES LEGAL FEES IN BUENA VISTA LAWSUIT: On August 27, 2008, Judge Paul Burdick ordered the City of Watsonville to pay for the attorneys' fees of Friends of Buena Vista (FBV) and the Watsonville Pilots Association (WPA) in the lawsuit they won earlier this year. The two groups - WPA & FBV - argued successfully that the City did not follow proper procedure in its review of the City's General Plan. The pilots, supported by the state's Division of Aeronautics, opposed the redesignation of runways 8-26 and the elimination of safety zones designed to limit development under airports' traffic patterns. **Kudos to the supporters and promoters of the WPA & FBV for this achievement.**

JULY 15, 2008, STATE-WIDE SUPPORT NEEDED FOR AIRPORT PROTECTION: The Watsonville Pilots Association (WPA), the Friends of Buena Vista (FBV), and the local Sierra Club were successful in litigation against the City of Watsonville, CA. The Superior Court ruled that the City is in violation of State Aeronautics Law and certain California Environmental Qualities Act (CEQA) provisions. Since the City's general plan update was predicated on a council resolution inconsistent with airport land use planning precepts, the court ruled that the general plan and its made-to-fit Environmental Impact Report (EIR) are to be rescinded.

On June 24, 2008, however, the Watsonville city council voted to appeal. A ruling by the appeals court makes this a precedent setting case. The ruling will then be applicable to future state-wide airport land use litigation in California. A ruling supporting State Aeronautics Law would help to protect all airports in California.

The Watsonville Pilots Association once again needs the financial support of the aviation community in California. Fighting the appeal will be backing a case that has already won at the lower court level. The Caltrans Department of Aeronautics is involved in the appeal supporting State Aeronautics Law and associated CEQA law (as relates to noise and safety around airports). The Department of Aeronautics supports the lower court ruling. Attorneys for Watsonville Pilots Association (et. al.) are cautious and conservative, but feel confident that the lower court decision should and will be upheld.

Contributions to the legal fund should be sent to: Watsonville Pilots Association, P.O. Box 2074, Freedom, CA 95019-2074. Please make checks payable to "WPA" and in the check memo section write "legal fund." A favorable ruling at the appeals court will mean protection for not only Watsonville Airport (WVI), but all GA airports in California.

Do we want an airport at Watsonville or not? Your contribution says–YES! Thank you... -- article above submitted by WPA member Dan Chauvet, Asst. Secretary for Legal Affairs

APRIL 29, 2006, CA DIVISION OF AERONAUTICS LANDS HARD ON WATSONVILLE AIRPORT DECISION. A year-old decision to change the designation of runway 8-26 at Watsonville Municipal Airport to "low activity" isn't flying with the state Division of Aeronautics. The state agency, part of CalTrans, is calling for the City Council to overturn its contentious decision to designate the so-called crosswind runway [8-26] as "low activity". The re-designation resolution allowed for the elimination of some safety zones and thus cleared the way for extensive future housing and commercial development in the rural Buena Vista Drive area, north of the airport. "We do have a strong objection to the resolution related to public safety, pilot safety and compliance with public utility codes and state law," said Mary Frederick, acting division chief. The aeronautics division is weighing in now as part of the environmental review of the city's general plan update, which is a blueprint for development during the next two decades. If runway 8-26, a secondary strip used under certain wind and fog conditions, remained unchanged, plans to build as many as 2,200 homes in the area would be slashed in half due to safety zones. The complete Santa Cruz Sentinel article was submitted by Donna Jones. For the complete CalTrans DOT letter to the City of Watsonville in PDF click here.

APRIL 4, 2006, Current General Plan Draft Needs Revision! The Watsonville General Plan 2030, February 2006 draft, contains development plans for Buena Vista (Concept A) that will impair the safety and utility of Watsonville Airport and create noise and safety problems for proposed future residents of the area. Runway 26 is the second most heavily utilized runway at the Airport. The area proposed for development lies immediately under the flight path of aircraft departing this runway. Click here to find out about the ramifications of this General Plan.

JUNE, 2005, The Register-Pajaronian prints: "Airport revenues benefit city’s general fund" BY DON FRENCH Last Saturday’s editorial from Peter Nichols concerning the Watsonville Airport contains a number of misconceptions that I would like to take the opportunity to clarify. The airport is a self-sufficient enterprise and a significant economic engine in the region, creating an estimated 1,400 jobs and contributing substantially to the city’s general fund. According to a recent economic impact study, the airport annually generates hundreds of million of dollars of economic activity in the local region. It is estimated that the Watsonville Fly-In, alone, generates over $3 million annually. It is absurd to suggest that the city and the pilots are afraid of an independent audit.

APRIL 12, 2005, the Watsonville City Council moved to declare Watsonville Airport's east-west runway 8-26 a "low activity runway" to allow removal of safety zone 3 and restrictions over public facilities. This opens the door for high-density development just west of the Airport. Staff further recommended, and Council voted to, strip away language from the new Airport Master Plan that once stipulated safety zone "Basic Compatibility Qualities" that were included for responsible airport land use planning. Although the council's logic was flawed (they spoke only of runway 8 operations...their action DID NOT take into account departures from 26 which is the second most used runway at the airport), they accomplished their goal which was to eliminate the airport obstacles to high-density development and put the development question in the hands of LAFCO.

APRIL 12, 2005, TUESDAY EVENING -- THE CITY COUNCIL OF WATSONVILLE WILL BE REVIEWING THE RUNWAY 8/26 ISSUE. The Airport Study Sub-committee will be on the April 12th agenda to give its recommendation to the City Council relative to operations off runway 8/26 as they relate to proposed development in the Buena Vista area. The Sub-committee is recommending re-designating runway 8 as "low utility" (less than 2,000 operations per year) and taking away Runway Protection Zones 3 so the City can put in high-density housing west of the Airport. The complete matter will be posted on the City website soon under "Meeting Agendas". This is an important issue and well worth your attendance if you are interested in keeping WVI safe for future use. The position of the WPA at this council meeting will be: (1) for safety and utility reasons, there must be no restricted use of any runways, now or in the future, and (2) for public safety and avoidance of noise impacts to future residents, the City needs to adopt and conform to the standard runway safety and protection zone densities described in the Watsonville Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan and the California State Handbook. The meeting will be held in the City Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Main Street, Watsonville. Check this site for updates closer to the April 12th meeting date for more details. If you cannot attend the meeting, please feel free to forward your written comments to: Mayor Anna Ventura-Phares; City of Watsonville, P.O. Box 50000, Watsonville, CA 95077-5000

DECEMBER 23, 2004, WPA member John Cowan initiates the "Keep Watsonville Airport Safe" campaign. At present, it appears that the Watsonville City Council is pursuing development of high-density housing to the west of Watsonville Airport that is likely to have negative impacts on the operations at Watsonville Airport---particularly runway 8/26. There has even been talk of shortening runway 8/26 by 500 feet! Airport users would agree that any diminution of the utility or safety of Watsonville Airport would be a grave error - the Airport is an irreplaceable transportation and safety asset to our entire region. Unfortunately, this threat is serious. One chance we have to preserve the Airport intact is to convince our neighbors and our elected officials of its value to our community and the necessity to preserve the safety zones around the Airport. If you are interested in helping out with this effort please contact us at so we can send you specifics. Airports are for everyone. Help preserve and promote this irreplaceable resource.

DECEMBER 12, 2004, Watsonville Airport: An Irreplaceable Asset - this article by John F. Cowan appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. "The Watsonville City Council is currently pursuing the development of high density housing to the West of the Watsonville Airport that may eliminate or shorten two of the Airport's runways. To do so would be a mistake. Doing anything that would diminish the utility or safety of Watsonville Airport would be a grave error. Others can speak to the value of the Airport to the local economy, to the owners who base aircraft there and to the pilots who train and fly from the facility. I am concerned with public safety and the well being of the Airport's neighbors." To see the entire article go to this link. John Cowan is a commercial pilot and a new member of the WPA. Thanks for the great article John!

NOVEMBER 15, 2004, Proposed development in the Buena Vista area moves forward after recent election. The November 2004 Watsonville City Council elections resulted in the appointment of Oscar Rios and the re-appointment of Manuel Bersamin. During his re-election campaign, Bersamin went on record as saying he thought the airport property would be better served if it were instead used for housing. Rios is a long time Latino community activist and housing advocate. He served as the former Watsonville Mayor and Council member for several years. The election results may sway the Council member majority in favor of higher density development near the Airport at the expense of safety and operations at the Airport.

At an October 28, 2004 meeting of the General Plan Update (GPU) Steering Committee, updated housing targets were presented for the Buena Vista area. They are now projecting 2250 homes in Buena Vista (BV) with 1050 in BV I, 650 in BV II and 550 in BV III. These numbers assume decreased safety zones around runway 8-26 or possibly shortening runway 8 by 500 feet. The GPU Steering Committee expects to be able to do a preliminary review of the Update in mid-December, after receipt and incorporation of an AMBAG traffic model in mid-November. The Committee will officially meet again in January (date TBD) at which time they will have an administrative draft of the Update. They expect to have a draft EIR and final draft GPU in late March.

OCTOBER 28, 2004 - WPA member Dan Chauvet makes brief presentation to the Watsonville General Plan Steering Committee at public meeting. Dan Chauvet reported, "I asked on behalf of the WPA, AOPA, CPA, and NBAA that the General Plan Steering Committee revisit and revise their recommendations to the City Council. I stressed safety and adoption of the Watsonville Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan (WALUC Plan). Steering Committee Chairman Betty Bobeda asked that we supply her copies of the WALUC Plan to each committee member. We will do that. A steering committee member asked about shortening runway 8-26 and I explained the safety consequences of doing that."

OCTOBER 15, 2004 - The Runway 8-26 sub-committee for the City of Watsonville may not be reporting back to the General Plan Steering Committee anytime soon on the closing or shortening of runway 8-26. We expect the sub-committee to ask for more time to study the issue as they have received conflicting data from CalTrans and the FAA on the safety ramifications of shortening runway 8-26 by 500 feet. The next meeting of Watsonville's General Plan Update Steering Committee is scheduled for October 28, beginning at 6:30 at the Watsonville City Hall, 250 Main Street.

OCTOBER 14, 2004 - Members of the WPA meet with the Runway 8-26 Sub-committee.Representing the pilot community, WPA members Dan Chauvet (Aviation Consulting), President Richard Lippi and Hal Zamora of the WPA legal fund met with Mayor Judy Doering-Nielsen, Councilman Dale Skilicorn and City Manager Carlos Palacios to discuss the safety issues involved in shortening runway 8-26 by 500 feet. A full report will be given at the October 27th WPA meeting.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2004 from AOPA's ePilot newsletter --- AOPA WARNS [WATSONVILLE] ABOUT CLOSING RUNWAY AOPA is warning the City of Watsonville, California, that its plans to close Runway 8/26 at the municipal airport will likely run afoul of federal agreements and expose the city to liability in the event of an accident. The city has plans to annex property west of the airport and allow the construction of some 2,400 new homes off the end of the existing crosswind runway. That would put homes so close that the runway couldn't be used safely. Local pilots say they need the runway for the times when the wind is blowing to or from the shore (a fairly common occurrence for coastal California) and when fog covers the south end of Runway 2/20. In a September 15, 2004 letter, AOPA pointedly reminded city fathers they had accepted more than $3.7 million in federal grants for the airport, and those grants obligated them to protect the airport from hazardous encroachments.

If you are an AOPA member, you've seen the article in the September issue of AOPA PILOT (page 16-B) on the possible closure of 8/26 (great picture of WVI!).

AUGUST 10, 2004 - The City Council of Watsonville met to decide the fate of runway 8-26 in view of the proposed 2,500 unit development in the Buena Vista area west of the Airport. We owe a great deal of thanks to all the supporters at the meeting, both from the Airport community and from Friends of Buena Vista (FOBV). They showed up in force. Those that spoke were articulate with prepared speeches pertinent to the 8-26 proposed closure/shortening and land use planning ramifications. The WPA legal consultant also addressed the council about responsible land use planning and potential liabilities. The bottom line is that a sub-committee was formed to make recommendations on the content of the General Plan relative to runway 8-26 and any proposed Buena Vista development.

The sub-committee formed is made up of: Mayor Judy Doering-Nielsen, Councilman Dale Skillicorn, District 7, and Councilman Antonio Rivas (representing District 3 which includes the Airport). All hard copy correspondence should be addressed to: City of Watsonville, P.O. Box 50000, Watsonville, CA 95077-5000

In the near term, airport supporters and FOBV need to input information to this sub-committee so they can draft recommendations that will 1) insure the long-term viability of 8-26 and the Airport as a whole, and 2) contain responsible land use planning criteria. Our ultimate goal is to implement a longer term fix to this re-occurring problem of encroachment from developments. The sub-committee could be making some recommendations to the Council as early as October 28, 2004.

AUGUST 10, 2004 - Tuesday, starting at 6:30 PM is the Watsonville City Council meeting.Discussions on closure of runway 8-26 is on the agenda estimated to happen around 7 PM. In a recent memo to the City Manager, John Doughty, the City Planning Director wrote, "The Watsonville Pilots Association has adamantly opposed any modification of Crosswind Runway (8-26) as it is seen as a precursor to closure of the airport. Staff is recommending the formation of a subcommittee as a means to sit down with the Pilots Association and other stakeholders to find agreement on Crosswind Runway (8-26) and provide assurances relative to the Watsonville Airport overall." The City Council Meeting will be held at the City Council Chambers, 250 Main Street, Watsonville.

JUNE 30, 2004 - WPA's regular Wednesday night was a packed crowd. The FAA "WINGS" seminar Electrical Failure! Now what? presented by CFII Rayvon Williams was entertaining and instructional. Everyone is looking forward to his next presentation. During the business section following the seminar the membership discussed the proposed 2,500 unit housing development west of the Airport. This could have drastic effects on runway 8-26.Development is a natural evolution of any community, however, new developments should not adversely affect the Airport operations. On a larger plane (no pun intended) new developments should merge in harmony with all of the surrounding land uses, not just the Airport operations. See the June 22, 2004 article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on this subject. It was motioned and passed unanimously that a legal fund shall be established to protect and preserve the use of runway 8-26 and future operations of the Airport. A core committee was established. Investigations will ensue and appropriate protests submitted.

TAX DEDUCTIBLE CONTRIBUTIONS are greatly appreciated: Checks should be made out to "Watsonville Pilots Association" or "WPA". On the memo line note: legal fund. The address to send to is: Watsonville Pilots Association PO Box 2074, Freedom, CA 95019


JUNE 28, 2004 - Update on the proposed residential development west of the Airport and its effect on runway 8-26 as submitted by member Dick Steinkamp. Dick is also the AOPA Airport Support Network rep on the field. For those that weren't [at the June 28, 2004 meeting], the consultant's study on closing 8-26 was presented---but not by the consultant. He was... ...tied up at another location and couldn't attend. There were no comments by members of the Watsonville General Plan Steering Committee following the presentation. Several airport supporters then gave their arguments (limited to 2 minutes each) from a safety and business perspective on why it would be unwise to close runway 8-26. The Committee then voted to forward the study to the City Council with no specific recommendation. At this point, the airport supporters left the meeting. Representatives from "Friends of Buena Vista" stayed for the remainder of the meeting, however. The Committee then voted on a motion to ask another consultant group to move forward on a development plan that included the building of 2500 homes in the Buena Vista area. This consultant group had also prepared 2 other plans that limited the housing development to either 1200 or 1600-1800 homes. These 2 other plans would allow runway 8-26 to remain either as is or in a shorter form as shown in the options outlined in the 8-26 consultant's study. In order to squeeze 2500 homes into the area, runway 8-26 would need to be closed. Since the 2500 home plan is the only one authorized by the Committee to move forward on, the need to recommend that 8-26 be closed became a moot point. The Committee's direction is clear. Close runway 8-26 and build 2,500 homes in the Buena Vista area.

JUNE 17, 2004 - The City of Watsonville has hired a consultant to study many aspects of the continued use of runway 8-26 as it relates to proposed residential expansion west of the airport.The justification seems to be a continuation of the Measure "U" plans for future annexation and development of three (3) areas west of the airport. This Measure passed in November, 2002 however, annexation is a separate hurdle for anxious developers. It is believed that most residents in the rural "Buena Vista" area west of the airport oppose the idea of annexation, not because the airport will be negatively affected, but because they don't want higher density housing which usually brings in more traffic, noise, crime, pollution, etc. At a public meeting of the Measure "U" General Plan Committee held June 16th, at Calabasas School, it was apparent that residents in the Buena Vista area will present a hostile position towards any possible annexation or development in that neighborhood. The last public meeting to discuss the Measure "U" General Plan was Monday, June 28th.

MARCH 18, 2004 - WPA sends letter to Santa Cruz Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) requesting assurances from LAFCO that state airport land use planning laws are complied with in any development areas surrounding the Watsonville Airport. See letter in .PDF format.

SEPTEMBER 6, 2003 - the Register-Pajaronian featured a story about how the Watsonville Airport provides "A high-flying economy" for the Monterey Bay Area. Per a recent AMBAG study, the Watsonville Municipal Airport was estimated to bring in $645,930,640 in 2002 in direct or indirect ways. That is over $200,000,000 more than the next closest airport, the Monterey Peninsula Airport. This is testimony to how well the airport operates under the guidance of Airport Manager, Don French.

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