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Planning Commission Approves Santa Barbara Airport Master Plan

Extension of airplane taxiway concerns some slough habitat preservationists

The Santa Barbara Municipal Airport plans to extend Airplane Taxiway H to improve safety as part of the the Airport’s 20-Year-Master-Plan update. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara Municipal Airport plans to extend Airplane Taxiway H to improve safety as part of the the Airport’s 20-Year-Master-Plan update. (Josh Molina / Noozhawk Photo)

The Santa Barbara Planning Commission has approved the Airport Master Plan, a document that outlines airport facility improvements for the next 15-20 years.

The vote Thursday was 6-0, with Commissioner Deborah Schwartz absent.

The project and the Environmental Impact Report must still be approved by the City Council.

The proposed changes include an extension of Taxiway H to the west, parallel to the main runway, restriping of existing paved areas, paving light lanes along taxiway edges, and relocating entrances and exits from the taxiway system to comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommendations.

The extension of the taxiway will reduce the need for runway crossings among planes.

The plan also calls for consolidation of general aviation operations to facilitate two Fixed Base Operators, a relocation of the Airport Maintenance Yard, and construction of a new Long Term Parking Lot south of the Airline Terminal to accommodate 1,315 new or relocated parking spaces.

The extension of the airplane taxiway will reach into the Goleta Slough Ecological Reserve boundary, which has raised concerns among some habitat preservationists.

Alex Bennett, policy associate for Heal the Ocean, said the airport remains “ill-prepared” for potential damage from climate change.

“The city of Santa Barbara has not adequately prepared the airport for the reality of sea level rise,” he said.

The Santa Barbara Municipal Airport plans to make improvements to the airport hangars as part of the the Airport’s 20-Year-Master-Plan update. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara Municipal Airport plans to make improvements to the airport hangars as part of the the Airport’s 20-Year-Master-Plan update. (Josh Molina / Noozhawk Photo)

Biologist Mark Holmgren said it’s time for Santa Barbara to realize that the airport was built on a historic estuary.

“The native plants have been more and more squeezed,” he said. “I believe at this point we have exhausted mitigation. We have gone so far and we can’t mitigate any further.”

He said the estuary is home to the Western meadowlark and the horned lark.

Holmgen asked the commission to consider the costs and benefits of maintaining an airport on a slough with sea-level rise.

“What could we gain by reversing the direction we have been going,” Holmgren said.

Planning Commissioner Addison Thompson took the conversation in a different direction, saying that the habitat preservationist need to remember what’s really at stake.

“I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that this is an airport not a wildlife preserve,” Thompson said. “Airplanes and birds don’t mix very well. I want everybody to understand that there are potential unintended consequences by making this an attractive plan for wildlife.”

Thompson, who spent 40 years as a commercial pilot, said he once lost two engines on final approach because the plan hit a bird. Thompson said he was glad that the master plan discussion was finally coming to an end.

Commissioner Sheila Lodge, a former Santa Barbara mayor, acknowledged the oddness of the airport’s location.

“It’s unfortunate that the airport got built in that spot, but it was flat land,” Lodge said.

Commissioner Michael Jordan was also glad to move the document to the City Council

“I hope the document is worthwhile and serves its purpose over the next 20 years,” Jordan said.

The Santa Barbara Airport sits on  948 acres, about seven miles west of downtown Santa Barbara, bordered by the city of Goleta and UCSB.

The Airport was originally developed for private aviation in the 1920s, until it became a commercial airport in 1940, and was annexed into the city of Santa Barbara in 1961.  

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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