Pro-airport signs and a tailgate party marked the second of six public meetings to gather information about the possible closure and redevelopment of Oceano Airport (L52) in San Luis Obispo County, Calif.
The second meeting was held April 21 at the Filipino Community Center in Grover Beach. According to Mitch Latting, one of the pilots leading the defense campaign, approximately 50 pilots attended the meeting, some carrying signs to show their support of the airport.
The information gathering meetings are being organized by Jeff Edwards, a developer from Los Osos, Calif. The meetings take the form of a one-hour presentation from a guest speaker followed by a question and answer period. Speakers include aviation law experts, geologists, and coastal experts.
The county-run airport, which sits on approximately 58 acres within walking distance of the beach, has a 2,325-foot runway.
Edwards says the airport, which bisects the community, has outlived its usefulness.
In a story after the March 17 meeting, Edwards stated, “It’s time to reconsider redeveloping the land so that it better serves the community. Oceano is a recreational airport. There are 10 fixed-wing aircraft and two ultralights there. That is it. It has outlived its usefulness. It is functionally obsolete.”
According to Latting, the airport is much busier than Edwards asserts, noting there are several businesses there and the airport does significant transient traffic because of its beach location.
Edwards counters that the land, if redeveloped to commercial and residential use, would likely bring in more revenue for the city. “There are airports that are economic engines,” he concedes. “But Oceano isn’t one of them.”
Edwards suggests that if Oceano is closed, pilots could move operations to San Luis Obispo Regional Airport (SBP), which is eight nautical miles away and has a control tower.
Pilots and other airport supporters say that L52 it is a necessary life-line for the beach community when the roads are impassable due to weather or congestion. In addition, the airport allows for beach access for recreational opportunities as well as a landing area for medical and law enforcement flights.
A point of contention among the pilots is that the first meeting was held in a conference room at a local bank. Because the room was small, only a few pilots were allowed in because of the room capacity enforced by the fire department, according to Edwards. The pilots counter that Edwards tried to keep them away. “There was more room at the April 21st meeting,” said Edwards.
The guest speaker at that meeting was geologist Dennis Schalenberger, president of Earth Systems Pacific. He spoke about the impact an earthquake could have on the airport. “He certainly debunked the notion that the Oceano airport would be used for emergencies or disasters,” said Edwards. “The reality is if an earthquake hit the area, the runway would be cracked to pieces as it was in 2003 when the San Simeon quake hit 45 miles to the north. He also noted that the nuclear power plant is upwind of the airport and it would not be wise to send people into the radiation plume to use that airport for evacuations.”
Although pilots were allowed into the April meeting, Matting noted that during the question portion of the event, “If the question strayed from geology, Edwards quickly shut us down.”
Matting added pilots are confused because Edwards has stated that if there was opposition to the closure and redevelopment of the airport, he would abandon the project, yet he continues to hold the information meetings. “He’s been told no by the FAA, AOPA, our elected officials,”said Matting. “We are at a loss as to why he persists.”
Edwards notes that while the pilots are vocal, they don’t speak for everyone in the community. “There were a handful of people in the audience who support the idea (of redevelopment) and there were others, primarily pilots who don’t live in Oceano, who don’t,” he said. Edwards predicts that, as the discussions continue, the involvement of the non-flying community will increase.
The pilots have organized into the Friends of Oceano Airport to continue their defense campaign. They’ve set up a page on the social networking site Facebook to keep the public informed.
The next meeting, slated for May 19 at the Filipino Community Center in Grover Beach, will focus on the ecology of the area.
For more information: FriendsOfOceanoAirport.com