Faced with a $220 million deficit, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is on the hunt for easy revenue to buoy the sinking ship. Consequently, Supervisor Pete McHugh is targeting east San Jose’s Reid-Hillview Airport for destruction so the 179 acres it occupies can be developed. (He uses the area around Elmwood Correctional Facility as a model for his proposal.) The problem is that the airport is home to 600 small planes and several aviation businesses, and the county has received millions of dollars in grants from the federal government (the FAA) to keep it open for another 20 years.
If Reed-Hillview were to be closed by the county, there is nowhere nearby for the planes to go as all the other airports in the county are full. (San Jose Airport is only for much bigger and faster commercial and corporate jets and turboprops.) Relocation would be prohibitively expensive and there is no viable site. The businesses based at the airport would have to close. The biggest financial thorn, though, would be the necessity to repay the FAA the money the county took in return for agreeing to keep the airport open. Also not to be forgotten, the airport already provides considerable revenue to the county through parking and use fees, taxes, etc.
There are complaints about aircraft noise from some residents around the airport. However, it should be noted that when the airport was built 69 years ago, it was off in the boondocks. Large-scale developments in the area have brought homes right up to the airport perimeter and under the final approach and departure zones. Airport supporters make a good point when they say area residents knew the airport was there when they bought their homes and shouldn’t now be complaining about it.
Supporters of the airport also point out that Reid-Hillview would provide a vital lifeline in case of catastrophe, such as a large earthquake. After the Loma Prieta quake, much-needed emergency supplies were ferried out of Reid-Hillview to Watsonville Airport while the roads were impassable. The next time, it might be the other way around.
According to the Reid-Hillview Airport Association, the county has already spent more than a million dollars on consultants studying this matter (and I thought the city’s waste of money on consultants was bad) and none of them recommended closure. More to the point, the county supervisors have already voted to keep the airport open for 20 years in return for FAA grant money. Aren’t they bound to honor that undertaking?
Given the circumstances, McHugh’s quest is a waste of time, effort and money. Closure of the airport would cause more problems than it’s worth and be too expensive, so it won’t solve the budget deficit.
However, while surfing the Santa Clara County website, I noticed that the county owns two large patches of ground occupied by golf courses. I wonder why McHugh doesn’t look into redeveloping or selling that land? Or, heaven forbid, why don’t the supervisors put in some extra hours re-evaluating the county budget and figuring out how make do with the revenue they already have? Isn’t that what we elected them to do?