Friday, March 02, 2018

Pilots and local residents clashed at a meeting to discuss a new business plan for Reid-Hillview Airport (KRHV)

Embedded in a modest neighborhood in East San Jose, Reid-Hillview Airport — a small facility where several hundred pilots house their private aircraft — has triggered a broader debate about the city’s lack of affordable housing and resources for low-income residents, with some accusing the airport of taking from the community and not giving anything in return.

“It feels like the airport is an island and you’re not part of the community,” said Andres Quintero, vice president of the board of trustees for the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District Governing Board and a resident of the area, at a community meeting held recently to discuss a new business plan for the airport.

The remark drew applause from some of the more than 100 people who packed into Donald J. Meyer Elementary School, which sits next to the airport.

While other small airports like the one in San Carlos to the north have cafes and aviation museums that attract people other than pilots, the same isn’t true for Reid-Hillview.

Several community members said they’d like to see a restaurant go in. Harry Freitas, director of airports and roads for Santa Clara County, which owns the airport, said he’s open to the idea but that there’s been little interest from restauranteurs.

Regardless, the new business plan will need to evaluate new revenue sources, whether its from restaurants or elsewhere. The number of planes taking off and landing from the airport has declined in the last several decades, and because of a dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration years ago, the airport hasn’t accepted a federal grant since 2011. And since the airport doesn’t get a subsidy from the county’s general fund, it has to support itself.

That’s become more difficult in recent years, and pilots have noticed. Several complained about poor signage causing confusion on the runways during the meeting.

“It feels like we’re not getting what we pay for,” said Lionel Figueroa, a pilot who stores his plane at the airport. Figueroa said he shares hangar space with another pilot, paying about half of the $600 monthly rent, as well as an annual county fee.

“We’re only fixing things when they break,” Freitas acknowledged, “and that’s no way to run a business.”

The airport currently collects rent from people who store airplanes at the airport and from several office buildings on its land. Those leases are up in 2021 and fees could go up. The airport also owns an empty parcel of land on the northeast corner of Tully Road and Capitol Expressway, and Freitas would like to see a private developer use the space and pay rent.

But Sylvia Alvarez, president of the board of trustees of the Evergreen School District said the community would benefit from putting affordable housing, or a swimming pool or sports fields for local kids on the empty parcel instead.

“I have 17 families living out of cars,” she said.

Former County Supervisor Blanca Alvarado echoed Alvarez, calling the airport a “giveaway of local assets to special interests.” And some people called for getting rid of the airport altogether.

But John Carr, who sits on the county’s Airports Commission, pushed back.

“It’s not a playground for rich people,” he said.

The airport, Carr pointed out, is home to Cal Fire operations and Civil Air Patrol, which help provide disaster relief during emergencies. Pilots offer flying opportunities for children through the Young Eagles program and the airport has open houses.

Reid-Hillview is also home base for San Jose State University’s aviation program, the largest on the west coast, with some 300 students.

“If Reid-Hillview closed,” said Craig Hofstetter, a former professor in the Department of Aviation and Technology, “we wouldn’t have anywhere to go.”

But “there’s a lot of apprehension in the community,” Hofstetter acknowledged.

Figueroa, the pilot, agrees.

“It’s like oil and water,” he said. “We need to do a better job of interacting.”

The issue shouldn’t be framed as pilots versus the community, said Rose Herrera, former vice mayor of San Jose. “I think it’s about a bigger vision for San Jose and this area,” she said.

Candice Nance, another pilot who attended the meeting, wants to see the airport do more to try to attract a restaurant or something else to draw the community in.

“There’s no vision,” she said.

Still, several attendees said the meeting was productive because it was the first time many members of the community and pilots interacted with each other. Freitas will spend the next several months drafting the new business plan and then it will go to the county board of supervisors in June.

“What it should be,” Hofstetter said, “is a consensus between all parties involved.”

Original article can be found here ➤

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