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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Turbulence Over Oxnard Airport Intensifies

Aviation: Mayor backs move to close the federally controlled facility. Neighbors are concerned about noise, traffic and safety.

September 10, 2000|CATHERINE BLAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OXNARD — The debate over the future of Oxnard Airport has grown increasingly heated in recent weeks, with the city's mayor joining critics in calling for its closure.

"I think the airport is incompatible with this city," said Mayor Manuel Lopez. "I don't know what the value of the airport is, but I do know its downsides."

Two key decisions on the airport's future will come before city and county officials this week, including whether to follow the recommendation of a citizens' advisory group to shut down the facility by August 2005.

Federal Aviation Administration rules are so strict, however, it would be nearly impossible for the county to close the airport, officials said. The federal agency oversees airline operations and has ultimate say over its rules and regulations.

"There is no flexibility," Supervisor John Flynn said of the county's influence over airport operations. "We own and operate an airport that we don't have any authority over."

The 65-year-old airport, bordered by Victoria Avenue on the west and Ventura Road on the east, has drawn criticism for years from homeowners concerned about noise, traffic and public safety. Noise complaints in particular have skyrocketed, despite a relative decrease in the number of flights at the airport compared to three years ago.

Residents' concerns were highlighted in April when the citizens' advisory group recommended in a split vote to shut down the airport. The committee's intent was to reach a consensus that would lead to completion of the long-stalled airport master plan.

Adding to the facility's troubles, airport administrator Rod Murphy resigned this month amid controversy over his management style.

Last week, the Oxnard City Council split, 2 to 2, on whether to support America West Express' request to add two flights from Oxnard to Phoenix. United Express, another carrier, operates six daily shuttle flights from Oxnard to Los Angeles International Airport.

The Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on whether to approve a lease agreement with America West for the Phoenix flights. On Thursday, the Oxnard Airport Authority--a five-member board of local and county officials--will review the recommendation to close the facility. They will also decide whether to forward the request to county supervisors.

County and airport officials said they are unlikely to support closing the facility. Officials acknowledge, however, that the recommendation by the citizens' panel represents the most serious challenge against the airport.

"That committee's decision made a significant statement and that means something has to happen . . . like steps to make the airport more compatible or move it," said Flynn, whose district includes Oxnard. "Airports have defeated and elected people before."

The Oxnard Airport is the only facility in the county that offers commercial flights, something many business leaders and residents say is essential. The 650-acre Camarillo Airport, the other county-run airfield, would be unlikely to accommodate commercial flights largely because of public and political opposition.

The Camarillo site is three times the size of the Oxnard facility and twice as busy. This year, it expects to handle 190,000 takeoffs and landings. If Oxnard Airport closed, Camarillo could be forced to absorb some of its 90,000 annual takeoffs and landings and provide storage space for about 150 small aircraft.

But officials are staunchly against merging the two airports, saying Camarillo is not suited for commercial airlines.

"We have a large general aviation airport and we will not sacrifice that for commercial aviation," said Camarillo Councilman Mike Morgan. "I'm not in favor of any transfer of that airport to Camarillo."

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Commercial flights have become the lightning rod in discussions about Oxnard Airport because some residents fear the city could become home to a regional airport, ruining the quality of life and causing property values to plummet.

Residents complain that adding the Phoenix flights might open the floodgates to more commercial air traffic.

"Those LAX [Los Angeles International Airport] flights disturb all the residents and they're a nuisance," said Tim Riley, a member of the Oxnard Mission Statement Committee. "That airport has no business in our present or future."

But airport administrators point out that earlier this year there were eight daily commercial flights from Oxnard to Los Angeles and that America West's service would just bring it back to the same level of operation.

In addition to United Express' shuttle service, Oxnard Airport handles flights for 75 private businesses.

"If we want industry to come in here, we have to have the airport," said David Ousley, president of the Oxnard Airport Assn. "There are a lot of CEOs of companies that come here by corporate jet. They need us."

As part of his job as a service manager for Aspen Helicopters, Ousley has begun to greet deplaning passengers and ask them who they work for.

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