Jeff West, who’s been flying the San Jose skies for more than 10 years, stores his plane at Reid-Hillview Airport. But if the facility closes in 2031, when its federal operating agreement sunsets, he’d be hard-pressed to find a new home for his aircraft.
“I would have to move it somewhere, most likely San Martin,” he said. “But San Martin is not big enough to hold all of the planes based out of Hillview, and San Jose has a problem where they’re pushing general aviation out.”
West was one of several pilots who showed up to Tuesday’s San Jose City Council meeting to speak out against the airport’s potential closure, which has been the subject of impassioned public discussion for the better part of the past year.
Last December, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to take the airport through an 11-step process to analyze its closure—one of those steps being a San Jose council hearing. County officials have previously cited rising costs, declining revenues and growing maintenance problems as reasons to shutter the decades-old airport.
But fans of the historic facility contend that it serves a vital public service. “It’s going to leave a lot of planes and pilots homeless if they close Reid-Hillview,” West lamented.
Granted, the closure wouldn’t occur until at least 2031 when the airport’s grant agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expires.
That gives county leaders plenty of time to address public concerns such as finding an alternate disaster response headquarters, strategizing for a potential increase in air traffic at San Jose Mineta International Airport and mitigating lead levels. The county will also need to find a new home for San Jose State’s aviation program.
Leading up to today’s meeting, Mayor Sam Liccardo and council members Sergio Jimenez, Magdalena Carrasco, Sylvia Arenas and Johnny Khamis submitted a proposal to solve some of those problems. They asked county officials to analyze the navigation capacity at San Martin airport and to find another location for the Civil Air Patrol, Cal Fire and SJSU’s aviation classes.
“We want to ensure that there is a plan in place to ensure that small aircraft are relocated to another airport,” Liccardo told San Jose Inside in an interview. “We know that there can be real safety issues if the smaller aircraft are forced to push their operations into a very busy airport like Mineta.”
“We expect the county is thinking about those things,” the mayor added. “We just want to make sure we call them out to make sure they’re on everyone’s radar.”
Carrasco, who represents the district that encompasses the Reid-Hillview Airport, expressed particular concern with the detectible blood lead levels that have reportedly been identified in children living near the facility. The District 5 councilwoman claimed that’s why she pulled her daughter out of nearby Donald J. Meyer Elementary School.
“I moved her out of that school because she was being sprayed with lead,” Carrasco said. “I understand that this is an inconvenience for those that currently have come to really enjoy the airport where it stands, but for the families that I represent that live there, it’s not an inconvenience to have the planes fly over them. It becomes a health hazard to their children and their families.”
Councilwoman Pam Foley said she’s similarly worried about the lead level tests that would be conducted, saying regulators shouldn’t study just the air but the water table underneath the soil as well.
Foley also urged county officials to think about the state of the roads if an earthquake hit San Jose. Reid-Hillview has been envisioned as a staging ground for groups like the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Without it, officials would make the San Martin airport a potential alternate.
“If we’re landing in San Martin how easy is it going to be for us to come up to San Jose?” Foley asked on Tuesday.
San Jose has no decision-making power over the potential closure of Reid-Hillview, but county Supervisor Cindy Chavez stressed the importance of including the city in the conversation. “(The intent is) to have an open broad conversation with the entire community,” she said. “We want to have a thoughtful conversation with the city and we want to have a thoughtful conversation with the neighbors and the pilots.”