San Jose lawmakers to discuss Reid-Hillview Airport closure
Santa Clara County lawmakers are pushing to close the Reid-Hillview Airport, saying the land in East San Jose could be used for affordable housing and other critical needs. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County.

    After months of delay, the San Jose City Council on Tuesday will discuss a report on the possible closure of Reid-Hillview Airport, a move many opponents said will burden the city’s downtown airport and shrink city resources in the case of an emergency.

    In December, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors took a big leap forward in closing the airport, voting 3-2 against taking federal grant money from the Federal Aviation Administration to maintain it. But its potential closure won’t come for at least ten years — as of now, 2031. Accepting the money would have kept the airport open for another 20 years.

    In a memo to city lawmakers, Director of Economic Development Kim Walesh outlined concerns with the airport’s closure including a potential increase in delays and congestion at the Mineta San Jose International Airport and a potential loss of disaster relief resources. Walesh also referenced a county report that warned children who live near the airport could have “detectible lead blood levels.”

    “Reid-Hillview is used heavily for flight training, with a number of fixed-base operators providing aircraft services, flight training and aircraft rentals,” wrote Walesh.

    The county is considering transferring these small plane operations to another county airport in San Martin, but its closure could mean those planes go to SJC instead, causing additional traffic and delays.

    In addition, during an emergency, the airport could be used for “humanitarian aid, medical evacuations, and Red Cross flights by private pilots,” and as “a base of operations for aerial damage surveys, fire watch, med-evacuation and other disaster services needed in emergency response and immediate recovery.”

    Yet many supporters of the closure and airport neighbors say the space can be used for building more housing or public amenities, such as a park or public swimming pool. For years, residents living in the East Side have complained about noise and safety concerns due to plane crashes, as well as high airborne lead levels as a result of airplane gas and emissions.

    Mayor Sam Liccardo, Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez, Magdalena Carrasco, Sylvia Arenas and Johnny Khamis expressed support in a joint memo, saying the potential closure offers a “dual opportunity to improve neighborhood safety, and to explore the creation of much needed mixed-income housing and expanded economic development, for a region of the city that has often suffered from underinvestment.”

    The councilmembers will discuss relocating airplane operations and emergency services such as the Civil Air Patrol and Cal Fire to suitable alternative sites, as well as strategies to prevent an increase in traffic flow and develop stronger safety measures.

    Also at Tuesday’s meeting, San Jose lawmakers will vote on adopting an ordinance that establishes a new impact fee to support the construction of vital public services for the Diridon Station area.

    City officials said implementing the fee is “the first step” in establishing a financing plan for the ambitious transformation of the Diridon Station area.

    In a study requested by the city, engineers identified $75 million worth in initial basic infrastructure for the massive project. The infrastructure includes transportation, streets, sanitary sewers, storm drainage and flood control, plazas and open space.

    An impact fee is a one-time charge imposed on a property developer to build new public facilities, services or infrastructure, but does not pay for maintenance of new developments. The fees vary by the type of infrastructure being built. According to the report, the “maximum fee amounts are calculated so that revenue generated from the fees does not exceed the cost of providing the improvements needed.”

    “The city has existing municipal fees and taxes on new development that would be charged in addition to the new impact fees proposed for the Diridon Station area,” Walesh and assistant budget director Jim Shannon wrote in a memo.

    The city officials said existing fees vary for residential and commercial developments.

    “For residential prototypes, existing fees include inclusionary housing requirements, park fees, construction taxes, permitting fees, and the existing citywide storm drainage and sanitary sewer connection fees,” they added. “Municipal charges for commercial prototypes include construction taxes and the existing citywide storm drainage and sanitary sewer connection fees.”

    According to Walesh and Shannon, the new fees aren’t expected to affect total development costs by much and will be adjusted annually based on inflation. If adopted by the City Council Tuesday, the ordinance would go into effect in 60 days.

    The City Council meets at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday inside the council chamber at City Hall, 200 East Santa Clara Street in San Jose.

    Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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