Thursday, August 8, 2002
Douglas Fay, rancher and community activist, worries that a future development may squash the Salinas Airshow''s headlining military jet teams-the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds.
The land in question belongs to the Sconberg and the Bengard families, and is commonly referred to as the Mountain Valley development-a proposed 853-home project on some 675 acres in East Salinas.
"Number one, it is ag land and it is productive," Fay says. "And number two...we could lose the Airshow. We would lose the jets which are a big draw for the Airshow and a big source of revenue for the city."
But Fay''s protests weren''t enough to stop the Salinas area citizen''s panel that Fay sits on from endorsing the Mountain Valley proposal last week.
At a July 31 meeting, the Greater Salinas Land Use Advisory Committee voted 7-1 to change zoning on the 675 aces on East Alisal bordering the airport. Committee member Fay cast the only vote against the proposal.
If the County Supervisors and the Salinas City Council agree with the land use panel''s recommendation to build houses on the farmland, Fay and others say, new homes and offices could kill the Airshow.
Brian Finnegan, the property owners'' attorney, did not return phone calls.
To host a military jet team, the FAA requires the airfield to have a "clear, sterile flying zone" of one mile in each direction from the center of the show, and a clear zone of 1,500 feet in front of the crowd. Some of the Mountain Valley property lies within the Airshow''s one-mile clear zone.
What this means, says Land Watch''s Chris Fitz, is that "if the City of Salinas does what it wants to do with Mountain Valley-develops that land-they could bring about the cancellation of the Airshow."
Harry Wardwell, executive director of the California International Airshow, admits that while encroaching buildings "could possibly" hurt the show, "it certainly would only affect jet aircraft."
"It looks like one corner of the Mountain Valley project could be in the aerobatics box-we have to have a sterile area one mile from the show center," he says. Wardwell does say that while the Airshow could go on without the jet teams, the event would draw less attendees, and pump less money into the city.
Military jets were grounded at last year''s show because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The event only saw about one-fourth of the usual turnout.
"But as long as the community is supportive of the Airshow, our hope is that they would work with the Airshow and vacate those buildings for one weekend."
Or, he says, the fancy fliers could adjust their flight line.
"Because of the history of the Airshow, and its 23 years being a significant economic vital force for the community, as well as it''s cultural and charitable side, I think that city and government officials are going to want to work with the Airshow."
But as both the city and the county develop their 20-year growth plans for the future, Wardwell and other business owners and pilots say that new plans for roads, buildings and homes adjacent to the airport will limit its expansion over the next two decades.
"The airport is concerned because part of the [Mountain Valley] property is located in the airport''s area of influence," says Lori Atkinson, who owns Cal-Pacific Airmotive, an airplane maintenance and warbird restoration company at the airport. "The Salinas Airport Business Association would like to see no new development" within the unincorporated county land that would allow the airport to expand, add business and house additional airplanes in the future.
Currently, 17 businesses are located at the airport, from agricultural companies and crop dusters to aircraft maintenance and paint shops. These companies employ more than 150 people, and generate about $20 million annually.
Less airport business translates into less revenue for the city.
"The airport should be part of the overall economic plan for the city-especially with our agricultural base," Wardwell says. "It doesn''t make any sense to me to limit our expansion opportunities. We need to make sure we have enough room around the airport to expand. It just makes sense that they think all of that out, and do not encroach on airport land, because once you''ve done that, it''s done."