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Oxnard Move to Restrict Airport Use Stymied

Aviation: Council debate over seeking limits on new flights to Phoenix lasts into the night. But attorneys for the city and county say the issue is moot.


OXNARD — Faced with legal opinions that said the city of Oxnard has limited authority to change how the Oxnard Airport operates, Mayor Manuel Lopez sought Tuesday to restrict the types of aircraft an airline may use for flights to Phoenix.

Lopez called upon the City Council to ask the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to change the airport's lease with Phoenix-based Mesa Airlines to request that the airline voluntarily agree to fly only turboprop or piston-driven planes into the airport.

Tuesday's meeting went late into the night, and the council's position was still unknown by 10 p.m.

But regardless of what Oxnard's elected officials say, they have little authority to enforce changes, attorneys for the city and county said. The authority lies with the county, they said, and it has already acted.

Mesa, a subsidiary of America West Airlines, will fly two flights a day from Oxnard to Phoenix. That is in addition to six daily flights by United Express from Oxnard Airport to Los Angeles International Airport.

Residents of neighborhoods near the airport, however, have complained about the flights and the related noise, and some city officials, primarily Lopez, have sought to close the airport.

County Counsel Jim McBride said Oxnard's action means nothing. The county owns and operates the airport--the only one in Ventura County with commercial flights--and it has final say over any leases.

Lopez put the matter on the City Council's agenda as a last-minute addition to vent frustration about how airport decisions are made.

Oxnard officials question the 50-year agreement between the city and the county over how the airport is governed. Oxnard City Atty. Gary Gillig said the 1980 document could be interpreted to mean the city and county have joint jurisdiction.

The Airport Authority, an advisory group to the Board of Supervisors, Gillig said, was supposed to set up operating standards within six months of the agreement but never did. If it had, the operating standards--once approved by the City Council--might have ensured the city an equal say in running the airport. But since there are no standards, authority over the airport defaulted to the county.

"So the proper governing body for the airport right now is the county Board of Supervisors," Gillig said. "And they took action already."

Still, Gillig said, there is some room to interpret the document that the city and county could have shared authority.

"The agreement is not crystal clear," Gillig said. "[But] since there's no operating standards, there's nothing we can do."

Others read the agreement differently. Scott Smith, the county's interim director of airports, said it gives the county authority on airport operation issues and the city authority over land use around the airport.

Despite the confusion, McBride said, county and city officials reviewed the agreement and concluded the county has the ultimate say on airport operations.

Last week, county supervisors approved Mesa's lease agreement after determining they were unable to deny it based on Federal Aviation Administration regulations. Phoenix is the airline's hub, and the flights would enable Ventura County travelers to avoid LAX when flying to other parts of the country.

The Board of Supervisors also agreed to work toward a voluntary curfew--no flights before 6 a.m. or after 11 p.m.--for the Mesa Airlines service, set to start Nov. 17.

At that meeting, some residents of Oxnard--which has grown to surround the once-rural airport--complained about the lease, saying the flights would bring more pollution and congestion.

Lopez told the supervisors that the airport is incompatible with a city that desperately needs new school sites and that it should be relocated.

Others supported the airport and the extra flights.

Gillig said that while Tuesday's discussion could not alter the supervisors' decision, there are still questions about the city's role in airport operations.

"This isn't going away," he said.

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