Op-Ed: Santa Clara County Should Keep Reid-Hillview Airport Open

Santa Clara County supervisors are considering the closure of Reid-Hillview Airport. As part of the proposal, they intend to weigh the potential use of the land to build affordable housing—housing that will take years to build and have minimal impact.

Reid-Hillview site is designed for general air traffic that cannot be absorbed by Mineta or other farther airports. It is a historical site, an emergency response center, an employment source, and a community builder.

We need to encourage our representatives to place value in the safety of San Jose and its neighbors. We all acknowledge the need for housing, but we also know that this need has to be balanced with safety, jobs and community.

Mineta Airport is Not a Home for Small Non-jet Aircraft

Mineta San Jose International Airport is consistently under pressure to grow its commercial flight traffic. Market demands for longer-distance flights require larger jet planes. Currently, 90 percent of private airplane traffic at Mineta Airport is by small jet.  Non-jet aircraft traffic is not designed to mix with these types of larger crafts. Conflicts between light planes and airliners were frequent before most light traffic was moved to Reid-Hillview Airport.

We would not want such conflicts to resume. If Reid-Hillview were to close, the light planes would have few options for getting to the South Bay. Palo Alto and San Martin are far away from San Jose. They both have only one runway and Palo Alto is too short for some planes. The reality is, if you close Reid-Hillview Airport, most of the light planes will be merging in with the big jet traffic at San Jose Mineta.

Historically Significant to Relief Efforts

Reid-Hillview was a strategic and crucial part of Northern California’s recovery after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Small, agile airplanes were required to deliver critical supplies to those seriously impacted in Watsonville after mountain and coastal roads were blocked, cutting off Santa Cruz and Watsonville from relief efforts by ground.

The airport serves as a base of operations for Civil Air Patrol and Cal Fire. Reid-Hillview offers the emergency staging required by our community; as we know, the next major earthquake is imminent.

Jobs and Training

Reid-Hillview Airport generates approximately $10 million dollars a year in business revenue, and $1 million dollars in state and local taxes, through approximately 100 jobs. Reid-Hillview is the home of San Jose State University’s Department of Aviation and Technology, as well as multiple flight schools.

At least 60 percent of its flights are those of student pilots. The flight schools located at Reid-Hillview provide job training to an industry in high demand for employment, as well as primary employment for retired commercial pilots, who make up a majority of the 30-plus flight instructors at this site.

Keeping Reid-Hillview open helps maintain San Jose’s employment-land ratio, as there are dozens of blue-collar jobs associated with the nine fixed-base operators who provide mechanical maintenance of the site that would also be lost should the airport close.

Community Building

Those who encourage the closure of Reid-Hillview Airport misrepresent the role this historical site serves in our community. Our civic leaders would be remiss to ignore the critical resource the site provides for charity flights, San Jose festivals, car shows like Hot August Nights, and their annual Airport Day, which raises money for the Valley Medical Center Foundation. In addition, the airport hosts a variety of community-based activities and charitable programs such as Young Eagles, Angel Flights, and Pilots N Paws.

Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken!

Underfunding concerns are misrepresented: on Dec. 4, 2018, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 not to accept new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grant funding for the airport.

Concerns over safety are poorly estimated: a county-funded study found that the airport was the safest possible use of the land for the well-being of airport neighbors. No one living around the airport has ever been injured by an aircraft accident. Regarding pollution, we already see that technology is evolving.

Experts anticipate that the current leaded fuel (100 low-lead) will be phased out over the next 10 to 20 years as alternative fuels become available. Also, some clean, quiet electric planes are progressing beyond the experimental stage.

Affordable housing inventory is a concern shared by our community, but the Reid-Hillview location will not offer a timely solution. Shuttering operations will take 12 years initially. After that could be years of environmental impact studies before building could even commence, by which time many other housing solutions—ones that do not reduce our communities’ safety or employment—could be implemented.

Our community wont find serenity if they take the sky away. I urge our community to support keeping Reid-Hillview Airport open.

Jennifer Imhoff  is chair of Libertarian Party of Santa Clara County. To contact her, go to www.scclp.org or email [email protected] Opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].

8 Comments

  1. There is a legitimate conflict of interest here between low income families and general aviation enthusiasts, most of whom enjoy a much greater income. I can see strong arguments on both sides. I am a bit surprised to see Ms Inhoff arguing for a continued government subsidy of general aviation. I would have expected the libertarian position would be for local government to sell the asset at fair market value and cut taxes. If the market decides that the best use for the land is to run a small airport then so be it.

    Having said all that the final line of Inhoff’s piece redeems it. Shiny!

    • I thought her point, around money, was that they removed funds, then claimed that it was underfunded. That was a dirty political trick. Regardless of her political position, that is worth highlighting here. Also, Libertarians call for local control, when a local community wants something, where the tax can be voluntary, not the ownership of land. As long as local people and business finance the airport, it does not matter if the County owns the land.

      • Providing use of the land without charging market rent is a subsidy. I am not opposed to government subsidies in general nor subsidies of general aviation specifically. I am also not a Libertarian.

  2. I agree! Keep Reid Hillview open!

    > Jennifer Imhoff is chair of Libertarian Party of Santa Clara County.

    I don’t always vote for Libertarian candidates, especially in “top two primary situations”, because too many candidates on the NON-progressive side just hands the election to the two hand-picked stooges of the progressive machine.

    But I ALWAYS read the Libertarian arguments for ballot propositions. Libertarians have a lot more influence than their number of elected candidates would suggest.

  3. “Affordable housing inventory is a concern shared by our community…” Wrong.

    I am not concerned about perpetuating the hoax of “Affordable Housing” at all.

    Nor do I support “Government Subsidized Housing” either.

    I am researching the possibility of learning how to fly helicopters. Reid-Hillview is convenient place to land.

    David S. Wall

  4. What a great article! Jennifer, thank you so much for doing you research and realizing what an asset Reid-Hillview airport is to the community and highlighting how politicians can muddy the water to make unrealistic promises to miss informed voters. The only people who will benefit from the development of the land which Reid-Hillview airport sits on are the politicians making deals behind closed doors with construction companies. There is no such thing as affordable housing in the Bay Area, and there definitely won’t be by the time the airport is potentially shut down in a minimum of 10 years. Keep Reid-Hillview open and save San Jose State’s aviation program, the only public 4 year aviation degree program in the state!

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