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.