The board last week proposed to split the land use duties from the county Airport Advisory Committee in order to facilitate a more streamlined and efficient review process for persons or entities seeking review on development projects .
The county formed the Airport Advisory Committee in 1981 to advise the board on airport operations. The group of 12 to 20 people, mostly pilots, have also performed the duties of the Land Use Commission since 1987, said County Counsel Marcus Kroph.
“An Airport Land Use Commission is basically mandated by law,” Kroph said. “The Airport Land Use Commission’s mission performs an important land use function, almost akin to a Planning Commission.”
Although the Airport Advisory Committee was intended to be subject to the Brown Act, and requires seven members to form a quorum, the committee has functioned largely as an informal group without bylaws. The group has also performed its duties without an agenda, has had difficulty getting a quorum, and is somewhat inconsistent in how they review matters, said Kroph, who has been working with the committee the past year.
“It’s been a little bit unwieldy,” Kroph told the Board of Supervisors at their June 2 regular meeting.
Although the board took no formal action last week to establish a Airport Land Use Commission that would be independent of the Advisory Committee, it would be a solution, Kroph said. The ALUC would largely be responsible for ensuring that new land uses around the Colusa County Airport, located off Highway 20 in Colusa, do not create excessive noise and safety hazards for the public.
Mary Winters, a member of the advisory committee since the 1990s, opposes the split, especially since County officials have worked with the group to develop more formal and streamlined procedures.
“It seems to me that the county is trying to remove this volunteer organization and take control of it,” Winters said.
Winters said she was very happy that Kroph and County Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler got involved to help the group operate in a more formal manner, but said she does not like the direction it is now going.
“This next step seems to mean eliminating this nice group of good ole’ boys and girls who just want to do their aviation thing and just advise the ag commissioner. I don’t see really any reason why they just can’t just go on as an advisory committee, going along with an agenda and the formality that has now been put in place. The commission’s goals all these years is to make sure we have an airport. It’s very important to the ongoing health of our community.”
Randy Johnson said he first became involved in the group in the 1970s to help the county out when it was undergoing financial hardship.
Johnson said it was the pilots, over the years, who worked to clean up the airport, and they spent countless hours keeping the airport financially feasible when county department heads did not have time to deal with airport matters. They also invested a great deal of their own money to keep the airport operational for future generation of pilots.
“We know in other areas, rents are much higher, fuel prices are much higher, so we’ve managed – with the help of everyone,” Johnson said.
While county officials said they would like to see a paring down of the organization, more procedures put into place, and members adopt the county’s conflict of interest code, Tyler said the county’s intent was not to have county staff take over the decision making process.
“It’s still going to be an appointed committee of the board,” Tyler said. “It is no way our intention to have the new committee be formed of county staff.”
The Colusa County Board of Supervisors intend to discuss the reformation of the Airport Advisory Committee again, as well as the development of a corresponding Airport Land Use Commission, which would be comprised of seven members appointed by the board, similar to the Planning Commission.
“Where I see it, and particularly with the land use issues that have been coming up lately, you do need more expertise to get through all of this,” said Chairwoman Denise Carter. “And by limiting it to a smaller group, who are those decision makers, that makes it a little easier. It will be a smaller group that is really charged with looking at the land use issues around the airport.”
Carter said the formation of the ALUC would not necessitate the elimination of the advisory committee, and that the advisory committee would continue to function as they have always done, as well as be able to provide input to the new commission.
The ALUC would deal specifically with the land use issues before them, have a streamlined process for giving all potential developers the same consideration, and be able to offer a more timely review, officials said.
Members of the advisory committee could also be appointed to the ALUC.
Richard Selover, a longtime member of the advisory committee, said it was important for the ALUC, like the advisory committee, to be comprised of people in the local aviation community.
“We see airports all over the United States get shut down because of development, and usually, when one gets brought back to life, it’s because the aviation community rallies to bring it back to life,” Selover said. “Had the aviation community been involved with the land use planning originally, they would never have allowed the encroachment to occur.”
Selover agreed with the county that the ALUC should be streamlined to a seven-member board, and include people from the city of Williams, but that four members should be from the Airport Advisory Committee.
Committee member Mike West said he understands the need to streamline the process to become efficient and consistent, but believes that the ALUC should be at least a nine-member board due to the complexity of the issues.
Kroph said he would bring the issue back to the Board of Supervisors for a final decision after he circulates draft bylaws to the advisory committee members and gets their feedback. ■