San Jose residents weigh proposed closure of Reid-Hillview Airport
Viola Corona looks in the direction of the Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

    Planes have flown daily out of Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose since the mid-twentieth century. But 2020 could be the last decade in which the roar of these engines is heard, and as ideas to repurpose the airport are discussed, residents are speaking out.

    Santa Clara County officials just finished gathering public input about the airport’s potential closure in preparation for discussing the issue again later this year.

    “The airport doesn’t bother anybody,” said Jerry Aguirre, who’s lived near the airport for more than 20 years.

    Greg Hobbs, operations manager for Trade Winds Aviation at Reid-Hillview Airport, stands near a plane outside the airport runway. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

    Last year, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted against accepting anymore federal funding that would have required them to keep the airport running until 2051.

    San Jose Councilmember Sylvia Arenas, whose district encompasses the airport, told San José Spotlight that closing the airport could allow for new development and services in the area.

    “Neighbors living close to the airport have shared their hopes for a variety of community resources — a job training center, retail and restaurants and housing,” Arenas said.

    The Board of Supervisors last discussed the airport in March, following the release of an EPA study that found unsafe levels of lead in the air above its southeastern side. The board voted unanimously to bar visitor access to that end of the airport and will discuss an additional study on lead concentration in late September.

    But Fred Barez, chair of San Jose State’s Aviation and Technology program, said there is no evidence that the toxins produced by planes were dangerous to the surrounding community, and that relocating the classes to San Martin would be unnecessarily burdensome to aviation students.

    Closing the airport means diverting planes to the Mineta San Jose International Airport, which some say could put a strain on that airport.

    “Nothing’s going to happen to the airport, because this issue has come up over and over again,” Barez said. He noted that in 2031, when the current airport use term expires, there will likely be a new Board of Supervisors in place. “I’m optimistic that the airport will stay as-is.”

    The push to close the airport landed the county in court.

    In December, prominent San Jose attorney Jim McManis sued the county to halt the airport closure, arguing that the airport is needed for emergency operations and grants awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration require keeping it open.

    “When the grants say, here’s your money, you’ve got to keep the airport open… and the county takes the money, and the county decides they’re gonna close the airport, that’s in our mind a violation of the grant,” McManis said.

    The judge in June approved the county’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, but McManis filed an amended complaint Friday and hopes to move the case forward. The lawsuit claims the county is wasting $400,000 in taxpayer dollars on a consultant to study alternative uses of the property, and that the county unlawfully allowed parts of the airport to deteriorate.

    “That’s a waste of a valuable asset, it raises safety concerns,” McManis said. “I’m very confident that our case is a solid case.”

    Meanwhile, some residents living near the airport said they don’t notice the planes or the airport’s effect on the quality of living. However, they were skeptical about the prospect of new housing in the area.

    “We would rather have the airport than any housing there, just because we’re overcrowded,” said Viola Corona, who lives near Ocala Avenue, gesturing toward Capitol Expressway. “As you can see, this street is a very busy street.”

    Jerry Aguirre stands outside his home near Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

    Aguirre said he’s also concerned about overcrowding, and wonders what could happen if the San Jose’s downtown airport shut down unexpectedly.

    “I think it’s a wise idea to keep it in case of any emergencies,” Aguirre said.

    Until the Board of Supervisors officially decides to close Reid-Hillview, the Federal Aviation Administration will continue accepting applications for funding.

    “An airport operator that is not in violation of its grant assurances can apply for a grant every year,” said Ian Gregor, spokesman for the FAA’s Pacific division. Such grants can help pay for improvements to runways, taxiways, airfield signs and lighting, according to Gregor.

    The FAA is also opposes closing the airport.

    In its latest letter to the county, FAA regional director Mark McClardy restated the agency’s opposition to the closure of Reid-Hillview, noting that the number of flights from the airport had increased 14% in the last fiscal year.

    “The FAA is interested in reviewing the Board’s analysis showing how the 197,215 aircraft operations currently at RHV will be accommodated if RHV were to close,” McClardy said in the letter.

    County officials are preparing a report with community input that will be presented to the Board of Supervisors in the next few months. Residents of Santa Clara County District 2, which includes neighborhoods around Reid-Hillview Airport, can send their comments to Supervisor Cindy Chavez at [email protected]

    Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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