Safe Landing

The redevelopment of the light industrial area on the northeast side of the Monterey Regional Airport’s property, which was built by the military, remains on the table.

Controversy surrounding the Monterey Regional Airport’s master plan, which envisions a transformation and potential expansion of the airport through the year 2035, has abated. For now, at least.

On April 25, the city of Monterey and the Monterey Peninsula Airport District inked a legal settlement in which the district pledged that no future development on the airport’s north side would increase traffic on Airport Road. That corridor provides access to industrial businesses located on the airport’s northwest side through Monterey’s residential Casanova Oak Knolls neighborhood.

At issue was a potential road in the plan’s environmental impact report that would provide another point of access to the potentially expanded commercial operations on the north side of the airport’s property that would spur off of Del Rey Gardens Drive in Del Rey Oaks. The problem was, many Del Rey Oaks residents were vehemently opposed to the road, and its very existence was precluded by the city’s general plan. Then airport board member Mary Ann Leffel said at a March 2020 Del Rey Oaks City Council meeting that the airport had no intention of ever building that road.

The city of Monterey sued in response – the potential road through Del Rey Oaks was a mitigation to alleviate traffic on Airport Road in Monterey, in the event of commercial expansion – and prevailed. Per a court order issued in January, the district approved an addendum to the master plan’s EIR in March, emphasizing that a road on the north side of the airport was a long-term plan that might not be feasible, and that the airport would conduct further environmental review if it ever proposed to build the road.

On a recent afternoon at the airport, inside the district’s board room, Mike La Pier, the airport’s executive director, seems exasperated by the whole ordeal. The main thrust of the master plan, he stresses, was to bring the airport into compliance with safety standards set by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA has been supportive throughout the process, he adds.

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Also in the room is Chris Morello, the airport’s deputy director of strategy and development, who notes that potential long-term plans within the master plan have no environmental approvals.

What is approved, and is set to happen, is relocating hangars to the north side of the airport so that private airplanes can be housed next to the the runway they take off from. Even more critical – per FAA safety regulations – is the planned relocation of the terminal building, which would increase its setback from the taxiway so that planes backing out from the terminal don’t block it, which creates a bottleneck and puts airport crew members on the taxiway to manage it.

“The entire program is a safety enhancement program,” La Pier says. “That is ultimately what this is about.”

Any expansion of non-aviation-related commercial operations, such as a potential office park on the north side of the airport, Morello says, would require subsequent environmental review. La Pier adds the whole point of doing such an expansion – if it were to ever happen – would be so that the airport could comply with another FAA mandate: working toward financial self-sufficiency.

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