California News

Watsonville Pilots Association Sues City Over Housing Project

Lawsuit claims the City undercut California Environmental Quality Act guidelines, the State Aeronautics Act and a court order involving zoning changes

The Watsonville Municipal Airport is shown in an aerial photo in 2018. — Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian file

WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville Pilots Association (WPA) has filed a lawsuit against the city of Watsonville over the City Council’s recent approval of a proposed 21-condo development across the street from Watsonville Municipal Airport.

The lawsuit (case number 21CV02343) claims the City undercut California Environmental Quality Act guidelines, the State Aeronautics Act and a court order stemming from previous litigation to make various zoning changes in order to push the project at 547 Airport Blvd. forward.

According to the suit, the City has failed to follow a court order from a previous lawsuit between the two parties some 10 years ago that said the municipality must incorporate the California Division of Aeronautics (CDOA) handbook into its general plan.

“[The City’s] repeated failure to comply with the State Aeronautics Act and incorporate the CDOA Handbook is a failure to proceed in a manner required by law and a failure to follow a mandatory duty,” the lawsuit states.

This failure, WPA has argued in court and at public meetings, poses a risk for both the pilots that fly to and from the airport and those that would eventually live in the proposed homes.

The City has not filed a response to the lawsuit, but Watsonville officials were scheduled to meet with the WPA and their lawyers in a settlement meeting on Wednesday.

City Attorney Alan Smith declined to comment on the meeting.

The Watsonville City Council approved the project 5-1 in August despite the threat of litigation from the WPA. Mayor Jimmy Dutra was the lone “no” vote. He said he was worried the developers—a family that has owned the property and the steel fabrication business there for at least two decades—were getting into an overwhelming legal battle against the WPA, which has several times successfully challenged the City in court.

That includes the aforementioned litigation from the last decade that nullified the City’s general plan update. In two rulings, a judge found that, among other things, Watsonville failed to adequately project population growth, provide mitigation measures for Highway 1 traffic and incorporate airport land use documents into the general plan, then called Watsonville Vista 2030.

Although the City has not yet updated its general plan with the needed handbooks, City staff said at the August meeting that the project does indeed meet the requirements in those documents.

But, City Attorney Smith explained at that meeting, the pilots contend that the court decision against the City’s 2030 general plan is retroactive, and that if the City continues to operate under the 2005 general plan, that it must be updated with the handbook requirements before the City can approve any construction around the airport.

The Watsonville City Council last month approved the use of $1.1 million in federal funding to update its general plan and other land use documents around the airport. That work is expected to get underway early next year.

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