Small planes on the tarmac of Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose
Planes at Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose are pictured in this file photo.

Starting in 1986, there have been periodic attempts by some elected officials to close Reid-Hillview Airport (RHV). In 2018, Santa Clara County voted to stop accepting Federal Aviation Administration funds for airport safety improvements, in an attempt to angle for a possible 2031 closure.

Pursuant to that, in 2020, the county commissioned a lead study of the area around the airport. The study found slightly elevated levels of lead in the blood of children living within half a mile of the airport.

Proponents of the airport closure are quick to say the airport is poisoning the children. But what they dont say is that the lead levels around RHV are typical of those found across the state. There are other studies that show lead levels are worse in county ZIP codes that are nowhere near the airport. Those advocating for the closure also doesn’t say that the worst lead levels around RHV are to the north and west, when the county’s own study stated that the highest lead levels would be to the southeast.

The closure proponents also do not say that the pilots brought unleaded fuel to RHV after years of inaction by the county. The county passed a resolution that by Jan. 1, 2022 only unleaded fuel can be sold. Currently, 80% of operations at RHV use unleaded fuel. According to the countys own lead study, given that level of operations using unleaded fuel, it is no more hazardous to live close to the airport than farther away. That same study also showed that 89% of the lead exposure comes from other sources such as paint dust and chips, plumbing, imported ceramics, candy and certain cosmetics, not lead from airplanes.

The county is eager to state the study was peer reviewed. What they do not say is that only one peer reviewer was a medical doctor and epidemiologist (at Stanford) and he said, This is not a health crisis.”

A subsequent county study of aerially deposited lead in the soil found that, of 32 samples taken at RHV, none of them violated regional, state or federal standards for lead.

Proponents of closure have also cited safety concerns saying that airplanes can fall out of the skies on their homes. A study conducted by SRI International determined the safest use of the land was continued use as an airport. It found if the land was repurposed as residential or light commercial, a person would be 11-18 times more likely to die in a car crash than as a ground-based fatality of an airplane crash. Indeed, for the period 2017-19, 20 people were killed in car crashes within 1.5 miles of RHV. No one on the ground near RHV has ever been killed by an airplane crash.

Closure proponents have also said that airports do not belong in densely populated areas. They fail to mention that dozens of other airports are located in densely populated areas, including Montgomery and Gillespie fields (San Diego), Dallas Love Field, Chicago’s Midway, Van Nuys, Long Beach and many others.

Proponents have also cited the need for more affordable housing. RHV cannot be closed until 2031 and it would probably be another three to four years before any housing could be built. Meanwhile, a nearby golf course could be developed into affordable housing today.

And two competing polls, one for closure and one opposed, show citizens favor keeping the airport open by over a 6-to-1 margin.

So, lets start being honest with the citizens of Santa Clara County and tell the whole truth about Reid-Hillview Airport.

Stephen McHenry is president of San Martin Neighborhood Association.

Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

Leave a Reply