The Tracy City Council took steps Tuesday, Oct. 15, toward solidifying the Tracy Municipal Airport’s runway length at 4,002 feet and overriding a county advisory commission’s recommendation to stop the construction of homes in the airport’s departure and takeoff zone.
During their June 18 meeting, council members voted to have the city staff begin finalizing an update to the Tracy Municipal Airport Layout Plan with the runway designated at 3,997 feet.
The runway’s length, as established in the 2001 Airport Layout Plan on file with the Federal Aviation Administration, is 4,002 feet, the city staff told council members Tuesday.
Ed Lovell, management analyst for the Tracy Public Works Department, told the council that since the June 18 meeting, the city has received an email from the Federal Aviation Administration advising the city of Tracy that the runway length needed to be maintained at 4,002 feet.
During his report to the council, Lovell relayed the FAA’s warning that shortening the runway could jeopardize federal funding to have the runway repaved. The project is slated to cost $15.5 million, $13.2 million of which is FAA grant money. Tracy contributes $2.3 million.
City Manager Leon Churchill Jr. told the council that the FAA email was "definitive feedback that the runway length needs to be as it is currently."
The council’s 5-0 vote to maintain the runway at 4,002 feet was made in time for the FAA funding cycle application process that ends in October 2014.
The second — and more controversial vote — regarded the override of a 10-0 vote earlier on Tuesday by the San Joaquin Council of Governments that declared that a development amendment to the Ellis project by The Surland Cos. was inconsistent with the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan. The compatibility plan restricts housing in the safety zone around the airport to one house per five acres — a total of four or five houses.
The council voted 4-1 to begin a three-step process toward an override. Councilman Robert Rickman voted against the motion. Mayor Brent Ives voted in favor after voting against the motion as a SJCOG member earlier in the day.
The amendment requests a higher-density zoning that allows four to nine houses per acre. The size of the safety zone is unclear.
Dave Anderson, president of Tracy Airport Association, showed the council 45 slides — many containing pictures and reports of aircraft crashing into homes built in the safety zones of various airports.
Anderson contested that a proposed aquatics center is planned in an area near the airport where 23 percent of aircraft crashes occur during departure and landing. He said planes would be "turning at low altitude and speeds" just 260 feet above Ellis homes.
"If something happens, they won’t have any room to recover," Anderson said.
Les Serpa of The Surland Cos. attended the meeting with three lawyers and two airport consultants, each of whom claimed that the amendment complied with the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan.
Anderson, an airport advocate, presented his familiar argument that the airport will lose its economic viability if safety zones aren’t strictly enforced.
However, Ives was skeptical that such crashes would occur. He also spoke directly to the airport advocates and claimed that the airport had not shown its worth. About 20 airport supporters attended the meeting.
"Twenty years and Ellis hasn’t been there," he said. "It’s still a loser, it’s not a winner. Y’all keep talking about how great the airport is, but I’m not seeing it. You’ve had a lot of time to prove that."
Councilman Charles Manne, who later voted to override the SJCOG vote, said he questioned whether residents in the safety zone would be safe.
"I question whether or not I can live comfortably with myself … and say, "Yeah, I approved a housing development there and a plane may never crash there," he said. "Lord willing, I hope that never happens. Even 30 years from now, am I going to feel comfortable with that? No."
• Contact Joel Danoy at 830-4229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.