Pilots alarmed by plans to close L52

A series of meetings to study the feasibility of redeveloping Oceano Airport (L52) in California has trigged a backlash from pilots.

Jeff Edwards, a developer from Los Osos, Calif., says the airport, which sits on approximately 58 acres in San Luis Osbispo, has outlived its usefulness. “It’s time to reconsider redeveloping the land so that it better serves the community,” he said. “Oceano is a recreational airport. There are 10 fixed wing aircraft and two ultralights there. That is it. It is functionally obsolete.”

Edwards suggests that if Oceano is closed, operations could move to San Luis Obispo Regional Airport (SBP). “San Luis Obispo Airport is just eight nautical miles away,” he argued. “It’s a real airport. It has a control tower. Oceano does not. San Luis Obispo has several business there. At Oceano they have self-serve fuel that is always locked up.”

Edwards stresses that he’s just in the fact-finding stage, but when the local pilot community got wind of his idea, they “e-mailed the heck out of the county board of supervisors” prior to a March 2 supervisors meeting. “You push one button and all the pilots react,” he said.

At that meeting the board of supervisors told him that the land is not for sale, and the county is not interested in closing the airport or leasing the land to him, reported Mitch Latting, a local pilot is helping spearhead the airport defense effort. “The supervisors were shocked at his proposal. Despite the supervisors position, we noted that he has attracted a law firm as a business partner. The firm, Chevalte, Alan and Lickman, are experts in aviation development law. They may have big financial backing. Although the supervisors said no to him, we’re not taking any chances.”

Edwards counters that he is not in partnership with the law firm, but he did obtain a feasibility study from the firm in regard to the liabilities and process for closing the Oceano Airport.

Edwards added he has planned five more meetings designed to gather information. He plans to conclude the meetings in August.

According to Latting, pilots were alarmed when, during a radio interview prior to a March 17 meeting, Edwards allegedly stated that he wanted to keep pilots out of the public meeting.

“You can’t discriminate about who you let in and call it a public meeting,” said Latting, who noted that so many pilots turned out for the meeting that was held at a bank because city fire code laws on room occupancy would have been broken had all the pilots piled into the regular county supervisor’s meeting room. “Edwards was told that he needed to find a bigger venue.”

Edwards has a different memory of what transpired.

“To say that pilots were intentionally kept out of the meeting is poppycock! We had limited seating. The pilots were aware there was limited seating and they chose to show up en masse. Of the 22 people who were allowed into the meeting room, 14 were pilots. There were people there from different aviation organizations, such as the Ninety-nines and AOPA. Pilots flew in from all over the country for the meeting but, interesting enough, they all flew into San Luis Obispo Airport rather than Oceano and rented cars and drove to the meeting.”

According to Edwards, he’s “a long way” from “putting something before the county board of supervisors,” adding that he believes the pilots need to get more information before they react.

“They need to keep the emotion out of it,” he said. “Not every airport will be maintained in perpetuity. The pilots need to determine what is best for the community. Oceano Airport is not self-supporting or an economic engine. I don’t think it’s really worth fighting for — there are less than 1,000 operations a year there.”

According to AirNav.com, there are 13 aircraft based at the airport and it averages 27 operations per day. Most of the operations come from transient aircraft. Because of its beach location, the airport is popular with pilots who fly in for the day with their families and picnic on the beach.

“The pilots talked about the beach picnics, saying that this airport is one of the only places that they can fly to and picnic with their families,” said Edwards. “But does that really serve the community?”

One of the pilots who did get to speak at the March 17 meeting was Bill Dunn, vice president of airport advocacy for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

According to the local newspaper ,Dunn said to Edwards, “I can assure you that we’ll be at these meetings and we’ll oppose you all the way.”

The whole process is confusing to pilots, says Latting, because Edwards has allegedly stated that he will drop the issue if there is public outcry against it.

“At that first meeting Edwards claimed that he had invited a geologist and a ecologist and an economist and a climate change specialist and a coastal access specialist,” Latting mused. “He is using the six meetings to try to convince the local community that tearing down the airport and developing the property is in the best interest of the community. We feel it is quite possible that he could sway public opinion, so we will continue our efforts.”

Latting noted that the airport is important to the community because it provides emergency access to the city if the roads become blocked. “The airport is used all the time for emergency airlifts,” he said.

Latting adds that they have created an Oceano Airport page on Facebook and are using that to keep the public informed.

In the meantime, Edwards plans to continue with his public information meetings. The dates and locations for the meetings have not been determined yet.

“I won’t be making an internal feasibility towards the end of the year, fall of 2010,” he said.

For more information: OceanoAirport.com, SLOCounty.ca.gov.

Comments

  1. Kerry Fores says

    Somebody needs to put a copy of the movie “One Six Right’ into Mr. Edwards’ hands and educate him on the positive financial impact those people that fly in for a day at the beach have on the community.

    As the pilot of a recreational airplane these are EXACTLY the kinds of airports I seek for fuel, food, recreation, and overnight tie-downs.

    Ya know, there are a lot of little towns out there that aren’t along an Interstate – no BP gas station, no McDonald’s at the top of an off ramp, no Holiday Inn. Guess they’ve outlived their usefulness.

  2. Ross Mayfield says

    Jeff Edwards states that Oceano airport is ‘funtionally obsolete’.
    It appears to me that Oceano Airport is functioning just fine, thank you. It is serving it’s purpose as designed, as a fully-functioning airport. I see planes landing and departing from Oceano all the time.
    He is also under the mis-understanding that because Oceano has no control tower, that it is not a real airport. According to the FAA, and not counting the military, there are 19,820 airports in the U.S. (as of Feb. 10, 2006) of which only 118 have operating control towers. This means that Mr. Edwards is of the opinion that 14,532 public and private use airports in the U.S. are not real airports. Oceano looks pretty real to me.
    Counting only public use airports, there are 5,208 non-towered airports in the U.S. that, according to Mr. Edwards, aren’t real.
    The following states are listed by the FAA as each having only 1 airport with operating control towers: Connecticut, Deleware, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, plus Washington D.C., San Juan, the Virgin Islands and the Marshall Islands.
    I hope Mr. Edwards never needs to travel by air to any of these states and territories. He’s going to have a hard time finding a place to land.

  3. Mike says

    Here’s one pilot at least who flew in to Oceano for that meeting. It is well known that there were at least six open seats in the meeting room. Mr Edwards stood at the door and asked those remaining whether they were pilots, and refused entry to those who said yes. He’s not much of a developer if he didn’t anticipate the size of the opposition.

  4. 201 Pilot says

    “Pilots flew in from all over the country for the meeting but, interesting enough, they all flew into San Luis Obispo Airport rather than Oceano and rented cars and drove to the meeting.” -Jeff Edwards

    This statement by Edwards is completely inaccurate– many pilots (including myself) flew directly into Oceano airport before being barred from entering the “public” meeting. This type of deception is standard Edwards rhetoric.

  5. Mary Troup says

    Please do not let Oceano Airport be dropped off the map. It’s a famous place for years to fly in for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
    I have been to several picnics at the park next door which is nicely kept and has a small pond. I have gone to the dunes for riding on the 4-wheelers. All these activities were possible and within walking distance because the airport was there.

    Pilots love the challenge of the small airport, plus the feeling of rural atmosphere that comes with an uncontrolled airport. This airport offers the pilot the delight of a relaxed atmosphere, along with the small beach community. The other aiports within the area are not that close to the ocean as Oceano. Keep the airport.

  6. says

    It is interesting that Mr. Edwards keeps talking about what is good for the community when he doesn’t live there. He also isn’t talking about the huge amount of profit that he will be making as a result of this project, because according to him, it is about the community.

    California has lost too many of its airports to developers suggesting they are doing it for the “community”. The last thing this state needs is more development eliminating the small amount of beach access remaining. Make no mistake, this project is what all commercial development projects are about, making money for the developer.

    Ed Rosiak
    President – California Pilots Association

  7. Paul Peterson says

    Nice job of covering the entire story. I plan to attend the next meeting. There is an open house fly-in scheduled for May 8th that intend to attend as well.

    Thanks for helping to get this story out to other pilots.

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