Palomar Expansion: A Suggested Letter from Carlsbad to the County, Blog #17

Fiduciary Duties


The County has sent a Palomar Airport related letter to Carlsbad.

The County said: The County has accepted FAA grants and agreed to grant- conditions requiring the County to serve all aircraft.  What is the Carlsbad position on limiting Palomar to a general aviation airport as Conditional Use Permit [CUP] 172 provides?  How should Carlsbad respond?   Perhaps this.

“Dear County: Your letter says that the County can’t curb Palomar aircraft use.  You imply that the County can’t comply with CUP 172’s general aviation limit. 

We see the facts, law, and County obligations differently.

Fiduciary Duties.  Public officials and officers of the FAA, County, and Carlsbad owe fiduciary duties to the public.  A fiduciary duty requires total trust, good faith, honesty, and proper disclosures.  These duties require that we act together to inform and benefit the public as the law requires.

FAA Position.  You suggest that the FAA grant-conditions require Palomar to serve all aircraft.  This statement is incomplete for crucial reasons.

  • The CUP 172 Bargain.  Both the FAA and County agreed to honor the general aviation [GA] limit.  The County applied for and accepted CUP 172.  The FAA approved Palomar grants knowing the GA limit.  To say that neither the FAA nor County need honor the limit suggests that CUP 172 was a sham from day one.  We do not see the FAA taking this position.   Nor a court.
  • Past FAA Settlements.  The FAA has modified its positions in the past as part of lawsuit settlement agreements.  For instance, the FAA made special airport noise concessions to Newport Beach residents when they complained about noise.  We note this case only to highlight that FAA positions are not as inflexible as the County suggests.
  • The Historic Local Land Use v. FAA Aircraft Regulation Distinction.  For decades the FAA has agreed that local entities regulate their own land uses.  This position is consistent with the FAA giving the County-Palomar grants knowing the CUP 172 limit.   We believe the FAA will want to honor it.  Otherwise, the FAA raises FAA credibility issues at airports across the United States.
  • Safety Considerations.  Recall that the FAA announced it has safety concerns related to new air service at Palomar Airport. [See Union Tribune article dated 2/5/13: Carlsbad airline delayed in FAA dispute.]

We understand that the proposed new service would use Category C planes at Palomar, a Category B airport.  Among others, the FAA concerns relate to Palomar serving aircraft with wider wingspans, faster approach speeds, and increased Palomar Runway Safety Area [RSA] requirements from 300 feet to 1,000 feet.  Increasing the RSA would place it over a closed Palomar landfill that has continuing issues that require environmental and safety analysis.

In short, there is no federal mandate to serve all aircraft at Palomar.  To the limited extent that the County has a duty, the duty extends only to serving aircraft that can safely land.    

  • Applying Local Land Use Restrictions Consistently with FAA Regulation of Aircraft.  The County has suggested that FAA grant-conditions require the County to allow all aircraft to use Palomar.  

Even if this were true – and the restrictions noted above were ignored – there is a difference between new aircraft occasionally using Palomar and the County granting land use agreements to new carriers to base operations at Palomar.   

We are aware of no law requiring the County to grant such agreemenrs at Palomar inconsistent with Carlsbad land use restrictions.   Avoiding such agreements would still allow qualifying aircraft to land but avoid County action promoting increased airport operations above general aviation limits.

CEQA & NEPA Obligations.   It has now been six months since the FAA circulated its environmental assessment [EA].  The EA comments of Carlsbad and others show that the EA was seriously flawed.   The County’s failure to note significant EA problems with the EA – including Carlsbad land use limits -was disappointing.

The EA did not discuss the effects of larger planes crashing into the closed Palomar landfill.  Perhaps such crashes would not increase the fire hazards or increase environmental damage from aviation fuel pouring into the landfill that has no liner.

We do not prejudge the environmental issues.  But we know three things.  First, the County has not prepared a CEQA analysis to assess using Palomar at a significantly higher intensity.   Second, there is sufficient community concern that landfill safety and environmental issues cannot be ignored.  Third, the fiduciary duties that bind us all compel a study.

Carlsbad Planning and Zoning Limitations.  Carlsbad has adopted nine key community goals.  The goals allow reasonable growth but also keep Carlsbad as a small community.  Airport growth around cities such as Long Beach and Burbank has created significant airport related noise, traffic, pollution, and safety problems.  Carlsbad wishes to avoid these problems.

If the County wishes to intensity Palomar use, the County needs an amendment to CUP 172.  With its amendment application, the County needs to provide a proper CEQA analysis.   Realistically, an EIR is required.  

Key EIR analysis includes the environmental effects of: (1) granting leases to carriers that would notably increase air traffic, (2) extending the Palomar Runway beyond 4900 feet, (3) using the closed landfill area as a safety area,  and (4) potentially diverting aircraft from San Diego International Airport at Lindbergh field to Palomar.  The most concerning effects relate to noise, air quality, traffic, and safety on Carlsbad and surrounding communities.

This short letter does not address all issues.   Let’s meet to discuss moving forward.   We affirm our desire to promote jobs and economic development so long as environmentally responsible, consistent with Carlsbad planning and zoning laws, and faithful to our mutual fiduciary duties.”















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