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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | THE BUSINESS BEAT

Airport Poses Wake-Up Call for Economy, Neighbors

September 05, 2000|ROSEMARY CLANDOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ventura County businesses have long sought more commercial flights at Oxnard Airport, and more flights are coming. But what relieves businesspeople tired of driving to Los Angeles International Airport aggravates some airport neighbors.

Empty land, not homes, surrounded Oxnard's airport for years as the county's economy revolved around agriculture and the military. Now, however, growth has pushed around the airport, and much of that growth has come from businesses that want better and faster air travel.

Such a link between airline connections and economic growth was highlighted in a recent study by Cal Lutheran University that was co-sponsored by the Ventura County Economic Development Assn. and the Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County. Their analysis concluded that insufficient airline service turned off the kind of businesses county residents said they want.

Companies with sales forces that must travel the nation don't like it that their people often have to leave the county to catch a convenient flight, said Steven Kinney, president of the nonprofit Greater Oxnard Development Corp.

America West Airlines, however, noticed the demand and will start flights from Oxnard to its Phoenix hub Nov. 17.

"We did a market analysis and looked at the customer base and found the [Ventura County] area is growing," said Janice Monahan, an America West spokeswoman.

Some of the growth, however, surrounds the Oxnard Airport, and residents there don't care for America West or any other air traffic. They want the noise--or, failing that, the airport--to go away.

"If you have 30 people on an airplane coming in after 10 p.m. and that disturbs the sleep of 500 people, that makes a difference," said John Flynn, county supervisor for the 5th District, which includes Oxnard. "You have the convenience of 30 people making it inconvenient for a few hundred people because of the possible disturbance of the aircraft."

Some residents, Flynn said, want the airport to close at 10 p.m. and open at 6 a.m. That requires approval by the Federal Aviation Administration, and "I am making arrangements to visit with the FAA to determine the possibility of that," said Flynn, whose son lives under the airport's flight path.

Any kind of interference with the airport might jeopardize the ability to attract more clean or high-tech businesses that maintain the high quality of life, said Charles Maxey, dean of Cal Lutheran's business school.

Sustaining that kind of business growth may be difficult, Maxey said, if the airport isn't there. "We have to be competitive with other communities that want the same type of business growth. You have to have the tools: the airport."

*

The lack of adequate flights has sent some established and growing businesses out of Ventura County, officials said. And potential new businesses have stayed away. German auto maker BMW wanted to build a training facility here, company sources said, but the inability to handle flights for people arriving from all over the country led BMW to pick Ontario instead.

Many area businesses report that they would use the airport more often if there were additional connecting flights.

At Verizon in Thousand Oaks, spokesman Jonathan Davies said, "We don't use the airport a lot, except for the corporate jet. We tend to use routes that aren't served by the airport."

In the meantime, residents are more than edgy. Timothy Flynn, the supervisor's son, said about 10 homeowners in the immediate area are passionate about the issue.

Steve Buratti, who also lives under the flight path, said he wants the airport to shut down if airport authorities do not compromise and stop the noise by 10 p.m. each night. In addition, restrictions on building an elementary school in the area near the airport have compounded the problem.

"Both sides need to end this personality conflict and have a facilitator get them to agree on something," said Timothy Flynn, a high school teacher in Camarillo.

Some of the residents are part of an ad hoc committee organized to solve the problem.

On the opposite side are members of the Airport Authority and those with interests in additional commercial flights. The 10-member ad hoc committee is evenly divided between pro and con groups, with five people on each side. Both sides, said Buratti, are "emotional and have dug in their heels." Those who are directly affected monetarily are very passionate, he said.

On July 13, the committee, which has no legal authority, voted to close the airport. However, one member of the pro-airport faction was absent, and the group, which had not previously discussed the use of a substitute vote, did not permit an alternate to vote. Another member of the group left the meeting without voting.

Ultimately, the decision is in the hands of the county Board of Supervisors.

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