Closing Reed-Hillview Airport Will Not Solve County Deficit

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?


  1. Jack:

    Have pigs been spotted flying near the Reed-Hillview Airport?  Are you actually speaking on the side of business interests? Kudos for reaching beyond the short-sighted, money-grab thinking of the County and realizing that there are significant consequences that could come to bear if the airport is closed.

  2. #1- Sounds like there are parents who are knowingly exposing their children to extreme danger by continuing to live near Reid-Hillview.

    Perhaps the County does need to step in and have Child Protective Services take these kids away from these irresponsible, negligent parents!

  3. There’s not much to add to Jack’s excellent piece.  I would just point out, that I find it strange that the people who got us into the mess (Supervisor McHugh) and others, are the ones taking it upon themselves to get us out of the mess.  (At both the city and county government levels, why do we allow the people who “broke it,” to try and “fix it,” when they clearly didn’t know what they were doing in the first place!)

    Pete Campbell

  4. If it is to be developed, don’t make it more McMansions with a hideous soundwall facing Capitol like much of this city has become. Create a mini downtown so that we don’t all have to keep fighting over the one we currently have. I’m sure the club scene will go over much better in these parts. Luxury condo developers can panic less about undesirable demographics foiling their schemes.

  5. I disagree with Jack on some issues, but this is an excellent post about Reid-Hillview Airport. I completely agree with this “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.”

    Not only should the county sell its golf courses, but it should at least consider unloading the fairgrounds.

  6. Some say the Reid-Hillview Airport (RHV) issue has been studied to Death. Yes, studies have been made.  Like so many studies, the facts sometimes are misunderstood or overlooked completely, such as lead in aviation fuel. This was never brought out in the environmental impact study.  Would that have made a difference in the vote?  If the citizens of East San Jose would have had a vote on the expansion of RHV in 1960s, would this even be an issue now?
    Pete McHugh wants a factual study done to find out needed information to form an intelligent decision.
    The County budget crises is not going to get better without looking at all possibilities to fund mandated services.  Our police, fire, and medical services are mandated services that have been under financial attack for the last several years.  Every one in the County benefits from these services.  RHV is a non-mandated service but it benefits from 180 acres of prime real estate.
    Good information is needed now to make plans for the future.
    Just thin, if we had asked the right questions and gotten better information in the past, it might have kept us from getting into this mess.  I guess that’s what we could say the same about Iraq. 

    Ted Johnson

  7. Jack,
      To blame the residents for the problems related to the Reed hillview airport is not fair. Yes they knew when they bought into that mess that it would be difficult, But were they made aware of the toxic lead ladened fuels that would rain down on them every day of the year? I think not! Most readers of this site are aware of the conciquences of this toxic plane exhaust on a baby 6mo, to 6 years old. Yes, Extreme abnormal brain development!
      Multiply that by 600 planes the board of supervisors, the City of San Jose and 200 attorneys. Now that would be a great picnic to watch!
      I could see the county and the city being hit with a class action suit that would make your numbers seem like chicken feed.
      In my mind, the airport has to go to where it cannot continue to expose our Village children to the horrible results of sticking our heads in the sand!

    The Village Black Smith

  8. #3 John Galt,
      I will pardon your ignorance, and to say that most folks living under that hell are not aware of what it is doing to their children. That is the best kepted secret in town.
      I’d put the class action to the test. Is there a law firm that can do a test on this issue? The web is full of cases that have been brought before the courts and setteled. Look them up.
      You do point to a good point . An awareness flyer distributed thru out the flight path. Involving child protective services. Now that makes more sence then telling parents about this insideous toxin, that destroys a child’s mind and it does not even show it’s self, until it has done it’s damage, and not detected until that child trys to keep up with the children that do not live under the weekend jocky’s flight path. There it is folks. Gets a little uneasy doesn’t it.
      Think about what would become of this country if the lead ladened toys had not been caught from china and the toy distributors. They know and understand the toxin. We would have a hole gereration of twisted brains thru out this country. Scary is it not. A country’s brain trust is it’s treasure!
      It starts right her in our little vilage of San Jose de Guadalupe. The Center of Silicon Valley.
        Corporations are spending Billions in third world countries, while we continue to destroy our selves by simply remaining in denial about our Village children’s health..
      Recently a class action was settled in Sal Si Puedes, by the EPA. It took one woman to expose the serious nature of how these serious issues are swept under the political carpet. Her child in now in college with special help!
      Have your babies tested, NOW!!!!! If their blood leads are measurerable, find out how they are comming in contact with lead. It could be paint, toys, pottery, the ground around the home or school. The easy way is to “remove or cover” so that the baby does not come into direct contact with lead. If you are under the flight path of Reed Hillview, talk with your neighbors and find an attorney that works these kinds of cases.
      Look at web sites that are about Babies and toxic lead poison. There are hundreds of them. Protect your baby at all cost, And as Mr, Galt says, write and contact Childhood protective services. Put them on notice what you have found in your babies blood stream.
      The Village Black Smith

  9. #1 and 11 Gil

    Thanks so much for weighing in on this matter.

    You bring up some very interesting points concerning the effects of lead on children. If Supervisor McHugh was making his proposal based on results of an evaluation of dangerously elevated lead blood levels in the area, then it might be a different story. However, his aim is development of the area and increasing our population without regard to the agreements to keep the airport where it is for 20 years.

    Can you provide our readers with data on this lead issue, specifially related to Reid-Hillview? The airport is a typial urban one that you find all over the country. If what you are saying is true and the situation is very dangerous, then we have a major national problem that would involve the FAA and EPA. (Of course, if that is the case, you know good and well that the current administration would sweep it under the carpet.)

    For the time being, however, I have to stay with the opinion presented in my column that the airport should remain open at least for the duration of the agreement with the FAA. I might change my mind, though, if it can be shown that lead pollution from planes located at Reid-Hillview is an overriding problem.

    #2 Mark

    I don’t know about flying pigs, but I have heard that frogs have sprouted wings in downtown SJ and icicles were recently spotted in hell.

  10. Can you provide our readers with data on this lead issue, specifially related to Reid-Hillview?

    Please visit:

    I also have recent EPA research in regard to a study of this issue at two Southern CA general aviation airports which shows airborne lead levels are 2-3 times higher in communities adjacent to the airports than in communities further away.  However, I have not yet added it to the website.

    I will try to do that tonight, after the Shark’s game, but, especially if it is a good game, I might not get to it until the weekend.  Now I am off to work.  Late already.

    One final item.  Look at

    to see the development, and schools, around this airport.  Increase the image size to 150% for a good view.

  11. #12

    If what you are saying is true and the situation is very dangerous, then we have a major national problem that would involve the FAA and EPA. (Of course, if that is the case, you know good and well that the current administration would sweep it under the carpet.)

    “This is not the first time that the Bush administration has hindered lead poisoning prevention efforts.

    In 2002, in a move that catered to the interests of the lead industry, the Bush Administration shuffled the appointments to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention, replacing reputable public health and pediatric lead experts with panelists with a history of defending the lead industry in the courts.”

  12. Well Jack, You did not have to wait long as presented by # 13 Bud Beahham and # 14 Not a Novice.  I will provide your readers with the true results that have been covered over or swepted under the Political Rug in the East side. 
      The important note is that even some clinics in the east are selling the notion that it takes a fair amount of lead in a babies blood to have horific results. NOT SO!!!! As II wil demonstrate.
              The Village Black Smith

  13. I am glad to see that this conversation has become a bit more sophisticated.  Just a few points that I think need mentioning.  Mr. Van Zandt’s headline is quite misleading.  Supervisor McHugh is neither trying to solve the $220 million deficit that the County is projected to have in FY09 by closing the airport and developing it, nor is he delusional enough to think if, by some miracle, the county were able to do both those things within the next year, that it would even come close to producing $220 million.  The most likely scenario, if the Supes decide to close the airport, is that the county will fulfill its commitment to the feds and close it in 20 years (or whatever is left on that “tab”), and immediately begin developing the areas of the airport that the pilots don’t use. 

    As many of you know, the county has been getting less and less revenue from the state and feds.  This is because of policies such as prop. 13 and Republican Presidents and lapdog Senators and Representatives diverting funds that are supposed to be used for domestic priorities to international “priorities”.  Supervisor McHugh correctly assumes these trends will not be changing at any point in the future.  Thus, he knows the county must come up with “creative” ways to produce its own revenue.  He is thinking long term, and unfortunately Mr. Van Zandt failed to recognize the long term impacts in his shortsighted entry. 

    I think it’s time to stop the BS “catastrophe scenarios” scare tactic.  If a catastrophe like the airport supporters describe happens (one that makes SJC, Moffet Field, our freesways, etc inoperable), Reid Hillview will most likely suffer the same catastrophic result.  But let’s be real—this scenario that they describe is incredibly unlikely.

    In regards to moving planes—if one is able to afford a six-figure aeronautical machine, I can’t imagine that it would be that inconvenient for him/her to land or take off in San Martin, Palo Alto, or San Carlos.  These airports are placed much farther from neighborhoods than RH.  And given the airport will most likely be kept open for at least several more years, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the pilots to find a new home airport.

  14. Both Reid-Hillview and Mineta are in ridiculous places, given the growth of the City of San Jose.  Huge swaths of potentially great land are wasted because of SJInternational flight paths, whole neighborhoods have been wiped out,  and downtown upwards growth is sorely limited.

    If we were to build an airport today, no sane person would put it where it is now.

    Similarly, Reid Hillview makes no sense in the middle of the East Side. Good planning requires serious measures to relocate both airports, and arguments which say ‘the neighbors shoulda known’ are not serious, because they don’t take into account the fact that the airports are in bad places, regardless, and I’m sure the people complaining are finding the noise and air pollution alot worse than they originally assumed.

    Needless to say, if either airport was a private business they’d be closed down under nuisance ordinances.

  15. Here’s an idea.  The city of SJ and County should consider a major land swap: Reid-Hillview and Fairgrounds for Coyote Valley.  A new general aviation airport could be built in the Coyote Valley, as well as a new Fairground and 20k seat outdoor amphitheater (money generators for the Co!).  This type of development would also be more conducive to the bucolic nature of the valley.  Reid-Hillview could then be developed by the city as a mixed-use transit, with a new light-rail line down Capitol Expwy to Eastridge.  A similar development could also be undertaken at the Fairgrounds site.

  16. I have lived in East San Jose for 47 years, less than .5 mile from Reid Hillview Airport (RHV). I see the disaster this airport has inflected on our community.
    When we moved here, RHV was a small single dirt runway located between Tully Road and Cunningham Ave.
    A few years later RHV was expanded into our neighborhood without any consultation with the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. Most of the homes in the area had either been built or were on the planning boards when this expansion took place.
    In 1988 the County offered three other locations to relocate the RHV because of the local resident’s complaints. The pilots rejected each one.                    In 1996 we lost the vote to close RHV by one vote.
    Ever since the expansion of RHV the residents have suffered both economically and physically.
    These are some of the big things that have happened due to RHV being in our community:
    1. The Hank Lopez Community Center had to return a $1,600,000.00 grant because it would have expanded into a part of the airport safety zone.
    2. The Hillview Library had to relocate to Fischer Middle School property for the same reason, taking valuable recreational space from our children.
    3. The Acardia Property is still undeveloped after an extensive study program by the Mercury News and residents. 
    4.  Eastridge Shopping Center expansion was also down-sized because of RHV and safety zone problems.
    5. A radio station which wanted to put up a radio tower south of the airport outside of the flight path gave up after trying to compromise with RHV.
    Each of the above items would have happened and enhanced the quality of life,jobs, the tax base for our schools and given us a first class shopping center.
    Lead pollution has been covered extensively and is of great concern especially for the children who can suffer the most nerve damage. We have 8 schools within 1/2 mile of RHV.
    Other issues such as noise pollution which interrupts school classes and homeowners’ outside activities are still a major concern. Safety issues about pilots flying excessively low, crashes, and formation flying over residential areas are potential problems waiting to happen.
    Getting back to the main topic—The Reid Hillview property needs to be developed to bring in tax revenue to pay for services the County is obligated to maintain. We have slashed the mandated public services such as health care to the bone. 
    Let’s get proactive in finding solutions! Study RHV now!

    Ted Johnson

  17. #18

    Of course you are right. There is a contingent of general aviation planes using the west side of SJC. However, SJC is first and foremost a commercial airport, fees are expensive, and they cannot accommodate the 600 planes and businesses (including elementary flight instruction which SJC is much too busy and dangerous for)from Reid-Hillview. So it is beside the point.

    #16 Joe

    If, as you say, McHugh is indeed conducting a study as to what should be done with the airport in 20 years, then he really is wasting money we could better use elsewhere right now. Who knows what will happen in 20 years. With the Bush administration mortgaging our future to finance wars of aggression and bail out George W’s Wall Street pals, the Chinese and other foreign creditors who keep us afloat may foreclose and own our airports along with everything else by then! Also, with the price of fuel continuing to rise as it has, it will probably mean the end of general aviation well before then. Who will be able to afford it except the wealthy? Why are we paying million-dollar consultants to come up with a plan when there are way too many unknowables at this point.

    Thanks Bud and Gil for the information regarding lead pollution around the airport. This appears to be a much more serious problem than I was aware of—-not just here but all over the country. Does this mean that those of us who live around SJC also have the same level of exposure?

  18. Jack,

    You will find these sites of interest, relative to Reid Hillview and those affected by these student pilots, which comprise 80 to 90 persent of all the flights occuring at th Reid Hillview Airport.

    What might be of interest is the dirt in communities south, west, east and north of the airport be tested for lead and other chemical that are additives to airplane fuel.
    The results of past and future blood samples taken from babies in that vicinity be collected and analyzed by a lawfirm, expert in E.P.A. regulations.
    Here are but a few site that your readers will find very knowledgeable and helpfull.

    Look forward to a comment period simular to the Little Saigon uprising. You think?
                    The Village Black Smith

  19. Jack writes: “San Jose Airport is only for much bigger and faster commercial and corporate jets and turboprops.”

    Not true. There is, and always has been, General Aviation at SJC.

    Lord, please save us from the misinformation spewed by bloggers.

  20. As mentioned in #13 above, I added the recent EPA research to the website.  Also, it was a great Shark game last night.  Beating the Ducks two Fridays in a row is sweet.


    “In October 2007, the EPA released preliminary results of a study measuring the pollution levels at, and adjacent to, the Van Nuys and Santa Monica general aviation airports.  The Santa Monica Mirror reported, “The study found elevated levels of lead near runway sites and surrounding communities, but the levels found were “below federal and state standards.” “

    The results (slide 18) show the lead level around the Van Nuys airport is approximately 2-3 times higher than the overall area average.  For comparison purposes, I would think the Van Nuys airport area is more similar to Reid-Hillview than is the Santa Monica airport, so the Van Nuys results are probably more applicable to Reid-Hillview. But both airports show elevated lead levels at and near the airport.

    In regard to the results being below federal and state levels, those level values have a political component, as well as a scientific component.  Lead does not care what the federal and state level is.  If lead is inhaled it can be absorbed into the blood (see below).  The more lead an individual inhales, the better the chance lead will be absorbed into their blood.  Research (below) is showing that any amount of lead in the blood of a child, 6 and younger, can result in permanent, measurable, cognitive impairment. “

    Santa Monica Mirror:

    EPA Slides:

    Van Nuys Airport:;=-118.4899722&scale=13&theme=Image&width=4&height=4&dot=Yes

  21. Jack,
      Yesterday as our morning group walked to the San Jose airport from the athletic club a distance of four + miles, It occurred to me that we were breathing the exhaust from the constant fly overs of most airlines almost tree top high. We do this 4 days week. This is suppose to be a health walk.Not so according to all of the information that has been brought forth of late on this blog site. I am thinking of walking east, to get away from the auto emissions and airplane exhaust along that route.
      The idea occurred to me that the real issue at the Hillview community airport is an easy one to solve and would satisfy all the contracts etc and not create a tangle of on going law suits, which will surely be comming.
      Since 80 percent of all the out and in flights are student pilots, practicing their expensive hobby, at the expence of the neighbor’s health of their babies and pregnant mothers.
      Move the training facilities to Morgan Hill! End of problem. There semms to me,to be a definate liability where these instructional school are concerned.
      As I’m typing out this post, I’m visualizing a lot of Ostrage butts with their heads all in the sand. Do I really belive that anything will come of this ? Yes! Perhaps not this instant, but after the neighbors are alerted and they begin to test them selves for what is raining down on them daily, there will be hell to pay. Rest assured!
      Our National Treasue is our Children’s Brain Trust.
      We are all responsible for not breaking that trust!
      Have your grand children, pregnant wife,1/2 year to 6 year old, tested for any lead in their blood and find the cause, if there is, NOW! Tomorrow it will be to late.
          The Village black Smith