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Watsonville City Council Narrowly Votes To Close Runway

At last Tuesday’s meeting the Watsonville City Council (on a 4 to 3 vote) chose to ignore a compromise proposal to shorten the cross-wind runway and instead decided to close the runway entirely. Shortening the runway would have solved an FAA line-of-sight issue for operations on the airport and would have opened up a significant area for housing development in the city by reducing the runway protection zones. The three council members who voted against the closure (Dutra, Parker and Clark) understood that closing the runway would have a negative impact on flight safety.  To the majority attending that meeting, the small potential increase in housing was clearly not worth the risks associated with closing the crosswind runway.

The city planning department estimated that 2245 units could be developed by shortening the crosswind runway and that an additional 520 units (20%) would be possible if the runway was closed. But ‘potential’ isn’t certain, since the Buena Vista area currently belongs to Santa Cruz county, not the city of Watsonville.  The housing may never be built, but the runway closure will be final.  Councilwoman Parker asked the planning department if they had considered rezoning some of the vacant commercial space in other parts of the city for housing. They didn’t answer her question.

The funds for shortening the runway would be taken from the existing Airport Enterprise Funds (income generated from hangar rent, fuel sales, airport lease fees and FAA grants). There would be no cost to the City.  But closing the runway, quite to the contrary will cost the citizens of Watsonville $1.5 million dollars, taken from the city's general fund.

From a safety standpoint, the crosswind runway serves as a reliever runaway when the marine layer covers and prohibits the use of the main runway.  This condition occurs frequently throughout the year. Montesino, Salcido, Quiroz-Carter and Orozco voted to close the runway in spite of hearing numerous first hand accounts regarding the necessity of the runway.  Several years ago an entire family perished in an accident caused by the marine layer.   The crosswind runway was open and available.

At the council meeting, approximately 25 proponents spoke in favor of keeping the runway open, while only two people asked for its closure. Prior to the meeting the City Council received a letter supporting the crosswind runway, with over 750 signatures.  Supporters included many Watsonville businesses. Shortening the runway was proposed by airport management five years ago and is still supported by the FAA, Caltrans, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Watsonville Pilots Association.

The proposed compromise would have been good for the Watsonville community as a whole, retaining an incredibly valuable asset. Instead, the closure decision will have negative impacts for years to come. This decision needs to reversed.

Watsonville Pilots Association

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David Goldman
David Goldman

We need to remove/recall the council members who only care about the money they can generate and replace them with members who care about the whole city of Watsonville

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