Barragan: Bringing resident voices to our airport commissions
The Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

The last few months have been an interesting time for both aviation and community advocates related to aviation issues in Santa Clara County.

The county Board of Supervisors has authorized work to close Reid-Hillview Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration is demanding the removal of a homeless encampment underneath the Mineta San Jose International Airport’s flight path, all while the San Jose Airport Commission has requested the city to stop with its plan to place digital billboards around the airport.

These airport-related issues have an immense impact on our way of life and to the future of South Bay’s aviation, yet does the public know who sits on our airport commissions?

As I am about to conclude a second term on the Santa Clara County Airport Land Use Commission, I have witnessed the need to reform the recruitment and selection process of commissioners. If anyone were to analyze the make-up of the three main airport committees in our county—the Airport Land Use Commission and both airport commissions for Santa Clara County and San Jose—one will see all three committees lack diversity and/or regional representation.

For instance, on the Airport Land Use Commission women and minority representation make up less than 30% of the board, while only one board member resides within the vicinity of either Reid-Hillview Airport or Mineta San Jose International Airport. Yet, the board is making land use decisions impacting neighborhoods within the influence area of both airports.

Who represents a majority of the commission seats on these boards? It’s largely aviation advocates who are predominately male. They occupy a majority of the seats to protect general aviation interests. A few commissioners will go as far as to serve on multiple airport commissions to uphold the majority.

It is this strong hold of influence that has neglected for years to address the lead issues surrounding Reid-Hillview Airport until the East San Jose community found its voice by bringing it to the Board of Supervisors. Or is taking advantage of the District 3 and 5 vacancies on the San Jose Airport Commission and making statements that all communities surrounding SJC are opposed to digital billboards.

Our elected officials need to ensure there is community representation on these boards. Let’s start by filling the District 3 and 5 seats of the San Jose Airport Commission with community voices. Why not start by inviting the community leaders who brought attention to the Reid-Hillview lead issue to serve? There are several individuals in both District 3 and 5 that can bring neighborhood perspective to the board. Until this happens these commissions will be misrepresented by aviation advocates, who will continue to influence the process to protect general aviation rights at the expense of neighborhoods.

Diego Barragan is a commissioner for the Santa Clara County Airport Land Use Commission and a former president of the Spartan-Keyes Neighborhood Advisory Committee.

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