A new San Jose survey has revealed stark division among residents about the closure of Reid-Hillview Airport — just ahead of a forthcoming study on lead levels of residents who live beneath the flight path of airplanes.
“Everyone tries to make data-driven decisions when possible,” said Juan Estrada, founder of the community organization District 5 United. “This is providing data that they can choose to make those decisions.”
The survey, which was sponsored by District 5 United and has attracted 1,300 responses as of Wednesday, asked residents across the city about the closure of Reid-Hillview Airport, the COVID-19 vaccine and Opportunity Housing, an initiative that would increase the number of homes that could be built across San Jose.
The airport was the topic of passionate discussion at a community meeting Wednesday to present the initial survey results. Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, San Jose Planning Commission Vice Chair Rolando Bonilla and San Jose Police Department Captain Todd Trayer each presented separate topics and answered questions during the meeting.
Scott Strickland, Chavez’s chief of staff, revealed the county has commissioned a study by a “world-famous” epidemiologist to measure the blood lead levels of residents living near the airport to establish whether or not there’s a causal connection. Strickland said the results will be published sometime in April.
Santa Clara County lawmakers are pushing to close the airport, saying the land in East San Jose could be used for affordable housing and other critical needs. Opponents of the closure say the airport is used for emergency operations and its removal would put a strain on San Jose’s downtown airport.
“There really is no acceptable level of lead,” Chavez said during the meeting.
Residents were asked whether or not Santa Clara County should close Reid-Hillview Airport, a question that garnered one of the highest number of responses. Out of 1,290 responses, 866 opposed the closure, 180 favored the closure and 244 said more information was needed.
But it’s unclear how many responses came from which San Jose ZIP codes, and Estrada noted that responses from ZIP codes closest to Reid-Hillview Airport — 95116 and 95122 — had a much narrower majority. Responses from these ZIP codes showed 39.1% participants oppose the closure, 34.8% support the closure and 26.1% need more information.
Some residents said city and county leaders must prioritize residents’ health, safety and quality of life over the interests of businesses operating at the airport.
Andres Quintero, vice president of the Alum Rock Union School District school board, said he is worried the survey overrepresented people from outside East San Jose, and that airport interests could have organized to overwhelm survey results.
Quintero said the Alum Rock Union School District board passed a formal resolution calling for the closure of the airport, and that people need more information about the health risks posed by lead-polluting aircraft to fully understand the stakes.
“There’s a lot of folks in the other side of the valley,” Quintero said. “It’s none of their concern.”
Danny Garza, a District 5 resident, said the survey results likely don’t reflect the East San Jose community, particularly since many residents in the area have trouble connecting to the internet.
Residents who attended the meeting also had questions about COVID-19 outreach, especially on the vaccine. Out of 1,290 responses, 1,019 said they have taken or would take the coronavirus vaccine, 123 said they would not and 148 said they were not sure.
In addition, 361 out of 1,279 respondents said they’d like more information about how to obtain a COVID-19 test — a figure that Estrada says shows more outreach needs to be done to inform residents of available resources.
Resident Guadalupe Gonzalez asked whether the county would help seniors remain in their cars while getting vaccinated. Chavez said the county is working to offer drive-up vaccinations, in addition to walk-up vaccinations.
Chavez said the county has about 120 workers canvassing the hardest-hit neighborhoods in San Jose and Gilroy to offer COVID-19 testing and information about vaccines. The workers are also equipped with tablets to help sign people up for testing appointments. The 95122 ZIP code in East San Jose has the highest rate of cases in the county.
The survey will remain open until Feb. 9. Participants were asked to list their names and ZIP codes. Estrada said duplicate responses were deleted, and that organizers made an effort to verify the residency of participants.
The initial survey results and videos of Wednesday’s meeting will be posted on the District 5 United Facebook page.
Estrada, who helped organize the survey, said including such a broad variety of topics enables city and county leaders to hear the concerns of people who aren’t wedded to specific agendas.
“Because there’s a variety of topics, people with different interests are responding,” Estrada said. “That provides a broader perspective.”
Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.