Note: Rick Beach hosted the Café San Diego on Wednesday.

Saturday, May 26, 2007 | What should Ronne Froman say about the Sunroad controversy?

Last week, the mayor of San Diego took “responsibility” for the Sunroad controversy and directed his COO, Ronne Froman, to investigate. He also proposed a “solution” to the FAA and the Caltrans Division of Aeronautics.

As a pilot and aviation advocate, I wonder what that all means. Why the turn-around?

Only a month ago, the mayor was blaming the FAA. On April 10, the mayor said on TV that the “FAA never said a word until August of last year.” That was wrong. His staff was aware of the FAA concerns as early as April 3, 2006 and corresponded with the FAA in June 2006 when Sunroad misled everyone about the height they were going to build.

My impression then was that the mayor was supporting the developer Sunroad by attacking the FAA.

Now he is proposing a “solution” to the FAA that lets the developer keep all 12 stories, all rentable square footage, involves minimal cosmetic changes, and keeps the elevator shaft and equipment on the roof in place. In exchange, he forces pilots to give up procedures that ensure safe landings in bad weather and causes low-flying planes to circle over our neighbors in Serra Mesa and Royal Highlands.

Instead of eliminating a hazard to air navigation, Sanders wants the “building reduced in size.” Reduce the roofline by six feet, remove the sloping roof feature, and keep the equipment penthouse at 180 feet. He tells the FAA that “The equipment enclosure room constitutes only 15 percent of the overall roofline.”

What a crock!

Didn’t he know that the FAA determined in April 2006 that any height above 160 feet “will result in a substantial adverse effect” on air navigation? Like the slogan, “It’s the height, stupid!” In August 2006, the FAA was sufficiently concerned that it was the Washington national office, not the region folks, that issued the determination of a hazard to air navigation. Think they would be okay with 15 percent?

I’m sure it was his staff that put this “solution” together. Soon after the first stop work order, Jim Warning was emailing with Steve Strauss, the Sunroad attorney from Cooley Godward, trying to work out an earlier compromise. That led to the “weatherizing” stop work order, which didn’t stop much. I flew over the building on Friday and saw big ventilation equipment installed. Creative interpretation of weatherizing!

So, Froman has her work cut out for her.

How can the mayor reward a campaign contributor, the city continue to enable developers to do what they want, and still appear to the voters that all is under control?

Did you know that Sunroad sold most of their land in the New Century Center to residential developers? Then they were left with fewer acres and wanted to build the same 1,000,000 square feet of office space. Having made a handsome profit on the land sale, they now changed their plans from low-rise offices to three high-rise 12, 14, and 16-story offices. Back in early 2005, their architects were careful to check that the zoning limits in Kearny Mesa of 45 feet would not interfere with their high-rise plans. Hope Ronne can explain how did all that happen?

(By the way, the same architects for Sunroad have admitted that they knew nothing of the federal regulations that govern height of obstacles around airports. They do now. The two photographs below were taken on Monday and reveal that Sunroad has installed ventilation equipment on the roof. Some work never stops!)

And closer:

And did you know that the city operates Montgomery Field and hence promises the FAA and Caltrans for each grant received that they protect the airspace around the airport? Yet, when the 2004 land use plan came out, they did nothing. And when a subsequent draft plan came out in 2005, the city wrote 93 pages in opposition to protecting airspace and safety around airports! So instead, Sunroad got to use the 1996 land use plan that stops on the same street that the Sunroad building sits. No restrictions by the city. Even though they promised the FAA.

Hopefully, Froman’s investigation can shed some light on the skewed value system that allows all of this to happen. That value system has encouraged city staff to placate and accommodate the developers. And it restricts limitations on development due to safety considerations or environmental impacts or sound fiscal management.

The saga continues. I’m looking forward to the next installment!

Rick Beach is an aviation activist in San Diego. Agree? Disagree? Send a letter to the editor.

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