SJ Councilwomen Urge County Supes to Close Reid-Hillview Airport Over Lead Concerns

With the sound of plane engines roaring overhead, three San Jose councilwoman called on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Monday to immediately shut down Reid-Hillview Airport over noise and air pollution concerns.

Located in East San Jose, the small Silicon Valley commuter airport started off as a single airstrip back in the 1960s. But over the years, it’s grown to nearly 200 acres and is reserved mainly for private plans, flight training and San Jose State’s aviation program.

The airport has been a subject of debate in the community for many years, with East Side residents long advocating for its closure. In 2018, supervisors finally took the first steps in closing the airport by voting to let the current grant agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration expire in 2031.

On Tuesday, supervisors are set to hear the latest development in the closure plan by reviewing resident feedback from the first phase of the two-year community engagement process, which will help the county decide what to do with the land after 2031.

But for San Jose council women Magdalena Carrasco, Maya Esparza and Sylvia Arenas, 2031 isn’t soon enough, prompting them to hold a news conference Monday to bring to light what’s been long known about the airport: its dangerously high lead levels.

In 2008, a report on lead levels from the Environmental Protection Agency found that Reid-Hillview Airport emitted roughly 1,279 pounds of lead a year—ranking it 25th out of 3,414 airports for the worst lead levels.

Studies show that exposure to excess levels of lead can cause a myriad of health problems. But for children, the effects are even more detrimental as lead exposure can have damaging effects on the brain and nervous systems and lead to slower development, as well as learning and behavioral issues.

“We’re asking that [the supervisors] commit to a new plan that allows how we’re going to use and benefit from this land next to us and that includes all of the community and not to poison it,” Arenas said. “Our message to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is simple: stop lead poisoning East San Jose kids and families and don’t wait until official closure. Reduce activity, shut down this airport and commit to a new future.”

Esparza said supervisors have an “opportunity to right a historic wrong.”

“The city and the county leaders disregarded the pleas from the East Side community, which was still redlined and many neighborhoods actually lived without amenities the rest of the city took for granted at that time, including roads and sidewalks, not to mention libraries and community centers,” she said of the airport’s origin.

The councilwoman, who represents District 7, noted that at the time, the city didn’t have district elections and the council was mostly made up of residents from San Jose’s wealthier neighbors—leaving minority voices who’d be impacted the greatest by the airport out of the conversation entirely.

Carrasco, whose East Side district encompasses Reid-Hillview Airport, echoed her colleague’s comments before offering suggestions to how the land should be used once the airport closes. “The time is now to close and relocate this airport,” she said. “It’s also time to reimagine what we can do with 180 acres. It’s an economic engine. It’s a place where we can house people during a housing crisis. It’s a place where we can continue to have open space, imagine soccer fields, a regional park. Just imagine what this little corner of the East Side could be for the entire region of the Bay Area.”

Proponents of keeping the airport open have said that closing it would force them to relocate to the San Martin Airport, which they argue isn’t large enough to accommodate all of the planes from Reid-Hillview. Others say the airport’s closure could pose problems for disaster relief efforts as the airport is used as an emergency operations base.

The Board of Supervisors convenes virtually at 9:30am Tuesday. The Reid-Hillview Airport items will not be held before 5:30pm. Click here to read the entire agenda, here to join the Zoom meeting and here to tune in on YouTube. 


  1. > Studies show that exposure to excess levels of lead can cause a myriad of health problems. But for children, the effects are even more detrimental as lead exposure can have damaging effects on the brain and nervous systems and lead to slower development, as well as learning and behavioral issues.


    If we were trying to be science based and data driven, we would have reported what the actual measured lead levels at the airport are.

    Instead, all we learn from this narrative is that “the bogeyman might get you!”

  2. Recycled claim linking the airport to the poor school performance of the area’s Hispanic children, problem being that their poor performance is mirrored elsewhere in the city by Hispanic children living under the flight path of birds, bees, and blowhards.

  3. As long as we’re selling off peoples’ careers and vital infrastructure to developers may I suggest that we also sell off the fairgrounds, parks, schools, and the county jail while we’re at it?

    Maybe we can turn 101 into low income housing, nobody likes it!

  4. Carrasco, Esparza, and Arenas are so full of it. I’m sorry, if they have a family member, a close friend, or extended relatives training to there at Reid-Hillview to become a private or commerical pilot, would they still insist on closing down the historic and useful facility? Every airport pollutes, every gas station pollutes, all the cars on the road pollute, major airliners pollute. Why don’t they try to shut all of those down? Why don’t they assign resources to clean out the filth in our streams, creeks, and Brooks left by the homeless encampments? The homelessness problem was not created by the Reid-Hillview private airport. It was created as a result of greedy bankers and financial institutions and of which, their greeds are still resonating till this day through what people see out their under every freeway overpass and shoulders. Clean up our city and worry about Reid-Hillview later when it’s their time to close. Reid-Hillview is a treasure and pride of the city of San Jose. It is a historic landmark as well. Leave it alone. There are plenty if other problems to tackle councilwomen!

  5. Consider the Corona Virus. Airborn particulate – residue apparently coalescesing within its means. Let’s expand and offer Amazon and BART hub space.

  6. This sounds like a quick cash grab to me. Very little facts and just an urgency to do something quick. What’s the driving element? A developer with a bag of cash who wants to quickly build something they can make money with? What will they build? Another office building? High end apartments? Who will benefit? Just the developer! Just look at many projects in Cupertino. Shane on the three council women. You are failing your voters!

  7. Small aircraft have to use leaded gas due in my opinion bad engine design but their excuse is it prevents knocking and explosions in the engine that could damage it. Plus as of this moment there is no apparent alternative to lead and with only around 200,000 small aircraft it isn’t a market many people develop for.

    That being said from a personal perspective I would really wish that we could keep the airport since it is the only one of it’s kind in the area. The only alternative requires at least an hour drive south to the outskirts of Gilroy. This airport was also an integral part of the support network needed to fight fires as well as transport resources and personnel. This airport is also a good source of training to get into aerospace engineering and flight training, it would be problematic for San Jose State to try to find an alternative. With 160,000 flights a year and on the rise it certainly seems to be a popular service for the area.

    I will admit though lead is scary but this article hasn’t given us enough scientific evidence such as safe levels and parts per million found in soil and air and such to back up the claim of rampant pollution.

  8. The lead in the airplane exhaust is of such tiny amount that is measurably insignificant. As a heated vapor, it rises above the flight path of the aircraft and only a fraction of the remaining tetraethyl lead actually descends to the ground.
    These are facts ignored by the screeching psychopaths who imagine nonexistent hazards and refuse to cooperate withe the local aviation community to recognize the positive economic impact of a thriving airport in an urban area.
    No person has ever been harmed by an airplane dropping on their head in the many decades the airport has existed.
    This is simply a conspiracy to gain access to land for development of housing that will become a run down ghetto in record time, due to the demographics of the East SJ tax racket. It’s pure BS…

  9. Their new conference was just them and their news staffers. It was a grandstanding opportunity. Hanging their opposition on Lead is just a grab at something to close the airport. There’s more lead in the air from guns shot around REID Hillview then released from planes. Why don’t they tackle that problem? They cite maybe how nice soccer fields would be. The City can’t even maintain local school playgrounds anymore how would they maintain a soccer field. These council people that get elected are the bottom of the barrel, Who else would run for office anymore. Local government has become so corrupt, why do you voters keep sending these people back in office?

    Ps. Ben the poster in this thread near the top, you do sound like you are nuts and you should not be able to see your kids unsupervised.

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