Airports are the lifeblood of aviation. They can also be a community's critical link to the "outside world," even as they embody a little bit of history all their own. So we should all be concerned when an airport — especially a historical one — becomes endangered. AVweb's Brenda Carol recently spent some time visiting California's endangered Carmel Valley Vintage Airpark, which has the distinction of being the first planned airport community in the U.S., and talking to the pilots who use it. Here's her story.
December 6, 2000
|About the Author ...
As a low-time, recently-licensed private pilot, Brenda Carol
has racked up a considerable log of semi-entertaining aviation-related stories
that she will share readily with friends, acquaintances or even perfect
strangers who happen to ask, or not ask.
She's been eye-to-eye with a California
Condor in a Cessna 150 over the Coastal Range, scared senseless more than once
by a snippy controller and subjected to an assortment of training theories from
CFI-rated crop dusters to NASA test pilots. She's no stranger to misunderstood,
intensely regulated fields, having worked as an agricultural writer,
photographer and public relations specialist for the past 16 years.
took a ride on the outside of a crop duster's helicopter, straddling the gas
tank, hanging on with one hand and operating a camera in the other just to get
a good picture. That was before she knew anything about seatbelt regulations.
When she's not flying or writing, she likes to kayak in relatively peaceful
bays, particularly those close to Carmel.
It barely even looks like an airport. There's no fuel
pump. No FBO. And there's certainly no control tower. The asphalt is
crumbling, and there's an inadvertent pothole here, there and yon. Pilots who
land on the runway had better brush up on their short/soft-field landing
skills or risk dinging their prop with loose gravel. But it is nonetheless an
airport and, like any airport, it owns the hearts of a few, die-hard pilots
who want to keep it that way. In another sad story that's becoming far too
common these days, there's a small, very vocal faction on California's
Monterey Peninsula that wants to shut down Carmel Valley Vintage Airpark
(O62). Predictably, they're using all the politically-correct buzzwords to do
their dirty-work: noise, school children, environmental pollution, safety,
etc. It's what they're not saying, however, that's really at the heart of the
issue. Carmel Valley is a small sliver of heaven that connects
Carmel-by-the-Sea to the outside world. Like any slice of heaven, everyone
wants to own a piece of it, and real estate values have skyrocketed in the
area over the past several years. Carmel Valley Vintage Airpark sits on some
29 acres of open land with heart-stopping views of the California coastal
mountain range a real estate developer's dream.
A Little Slice Of History
It's certainly not a new idea. In fact, the founder of the airport had a
similar vision. The only difference was that it included airplanes in harmony
with development. The story began in 1941 when Byington Ford settled on the
Monterey peninsula. Convinced that airplanes would soon be an attainable
pleasure for everyday citizens, he decided to embark on a visionary idea and
bought a corner of the Mexican Rancho Las Laureles with the idea of turning it
into an airpark where owners could live in close proximity to their airplanes.
At the time, it was a revolutionary concept the first of its kind anywhere.
Of course, it was also an idea that has gained a broad appeal since then.
Unfortunately, Ford picked December 7, 1941, as the day to introduce his dream
dubbed "Airway Ranch" to the rest of society. As the bombs
fell that day on Pearl Harbor, the nation turned its attention to more
pressing matters. Ford eventually joined the nation's war effort and his
project languished. After the war ended, it became apparent that Ford's dream
of building an airpark was a little ahead of its time, so he sold some of the
home sites for ordinary residences. Only two hangar-homes were ever built on
the property. One later burned, but another still stands on the north side of
the runway, although the owner has redesigned it for use as other than a
In 1949, the State of California licensed the airport and the current
owner, Peter Delfino, bought the property. For years, the airport has
coexisted peacefully with the local town, serving not only as favorite
destination for pilots, but also as an important part of the town's culture
and an integral part of its emergency and fire safety contingency plans. In
1994, Lars de Jounge moved to Carmel Valley, bought a home alongside the
airport and leased the airport from the Delfinos. De Jounge also dreamed of an
airpark and, with the help of an architect, sought approval from the county
planning commission for ten home sites. Unfortunately, de Jounge's plan was a
little too ambitious for the slow-growth temperament of Monterey County, and
eventually their foot-dragging killed the project. Meanwhile, developers and
so-called environmentalists began eying the property, and their vision did not
Today's Harsh Realities
Going Down Fighting?
Fast forward to the current situation: Peter Delfino's son, Allan, who is
now calling the shots, just wants to sell the property, collect his profits
and get on with his life. The Monterey County Board of Supervisors wants to
shut down the airport, and a handful of Carmel Valley residents want the same
thing. But this little airport is not going down without a fight. A group of
local pilots and concerned citizens formed the Carmel Valley Historic Airpark
Society (CVHAS) in August 2000, grabbed some petitions, started talking to the
neighbors and set out to fight city hall. It may seem pointless to fight city
hall, but what city hall didn't count on was how clever a group of die-hard
pilots could be. In a fitting ironic twist, the CVHAS used one of city hall's
favorite tactics to help get what they want they turned to environmental
protection. It's an oft-employed strategy in the pristine coastal communities
of the Peninsula one that tugs at the heart of environmentalists, residents
and tourists with the common desire of protecting this special piece of
paradise on earth. It's not commonly used to protect an airport, however.
On Friday, November 3, 2000, the California Historical Resources Commission
voted unanimously to nominate Carmel Valley Vintage Airpark (CVVA) as a State
Historic Resource. The Commission found that the development of CVVA by
Byington Ford in 1941 was significant in that it represented the first airpark
in the United States and the world. The designation doesn't actually buy them
much, but it does grant them a little more time and makes it just a little
more difficult for the Board of Supervisors to shut down the airport. The
historical designation triggers the California Environmental Quality Act
process and means that an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) will have to be
completed before the airport can be closed. It also means substantial savings
in tax breaks and the added bonus of monetary incentives allocated by the
state for improvements should a prospective buyer decide to purchase the
property and maintain the airport.
CVHAS managed to secure this designation over the unanimous objection of
the Monterey County Supervisors, elected officials who are supposed to
represent the best interests of the citizens of Monterey County. Whether or
not that is actually happening is a matter of some local debate.
Interestingly, the Carmel Valley Vintage Airpark resides in Supervisor Dave
Potter's municipal district and, according to de Jounge and Ray O'Neal
with CVHAS, approximately 85 percent of the residents and businesspeople in
the area support the airport and want to keep it open. CVHAS has already
collected more than 1,500 signatures in support of the airport. It's not
exactly clear why Supervisor Potter is so opposed to the airport. He has a
voting record that suggests he opposes most projects designed to further
growth in the area but not all projects. He courts the environmental set
and reportedly has his sights set on higher political office. Perhaps he feels
that politically the airport would make a better park. Perhaps he has another
motive. Attempts by AVweb to contact Potter for clarification have been
unsuccessful so far.
...Amid Strong Local Support
Despite the overwhelming local support, the supervisors remain adamant
about closing the airport. Part of their objection to the airport may stem
from their failure to enact a comprehensive land-use plan for all public-use
airports in the county as required by the State legislature since 1973.
According to de Jounge, that responsibility has never been fulfilled, in spite
of repeated requests to do so by the County Airport Land Use Commission.
Closing the airport is potentially an easy way for the supervisors to tidy up
a situation they've failed to address. Perhaps to facilitate the closure and
to "fix" that oversight, County Counsel Adrienne Grover has drafted
an amortization ordinance that could eventually lead to the airport's demise.
Through the draft ordinance, the County could set a future date by which all
otherwise legal but "non-conforming" (read: unwanted) land use must end. Such an ordinance would have the effect of setting in
motion a process by which CVVA and, perhaps, other public airports in the
county would be forced to close once the owners have recovered their
investment in their airport facilities. The Delfinos who own the airport do
not object specifically to the airport, but understandably wish to cash in on
their investment that they've held since 1949.
Regardless of the supervisors' objections, the majority of residents in the
area seemingly do not want to see the airport die. Whether or not that means
anything remains to be seen. However, there seem to be other factors the supervisors
are obviously dismissing or simply ignoring. According to Jeff Hand, a local
pilot and member of CVHAS, there are fire and emergency implications to
shutting down the airport. "There was a big fire that swept up the Valley
many years ago and the sheriff evacuated everyone and had them all congregate
at the airport because it was a natural fire break," Hand told AVweb.
"As far as the public is concerned, the best reasons to keep the airport
viable are the open space it provides with the trail for pedestrians, and then
the emergency role it plays. People forget about the emergency role because
emergencies are far and few between. Still, between the fire threat, the
potential for flooding of the nearby river, and the occasional road closures
due to landslides, the [airport's] emergency role is quite valid."
Almost on cue last year, a wildfire at nearby Big Sur demonstrated the
strategic importance of the Carmel Valley Vintage Airpark. The California
Department of Forestry used the
airport as a staging area to refuel firefighting helicopters at the field.
"The Carmel Valley Fire Protection District has come out publicly in
support of the airport because of these reasons and because of the role it
plays in emergency preparedness," Hand told AVweb. "In
addition, the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services considers it a
useful landing zone for small fixed wing planes and all sized rotary wing
aircraft for many disaster scenarios. The head of OES (the Office of Emergency
Services) has assured me of this,
but we are still waiting for a letter of public support."
Hope For The Future
Today, de Jounge and his group are fighting against time. Ideally, they are
looking for a buyer or a small group of buyers to purchase the airport with
the idea of preserving it for public use. There are currently three lots of
record on the property in addition to the runway. A trail runs along the
property's edges where local residents walk their dogs or simply walk
themselves. This Saturday, Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive via airplane for
the 41st Annual Santa's Fly-In. Don't miss it if you're in the area. It could
be the last flight for Carmel Valley's beloved Santa. At AVweb, we
certainly hope not.
continue to monitor and report on the fate of the historic Carmel
Valley Vintage Airpark.