Monday, June 4, 2007 | As most people know, Sunroad built an office tower in Kearny Mesa next to Montgomery Field. The Federal Aviation Administration determined, before the office tower was completed, that the height of the building exceeded safety standards and would be a hazard to air navigation. Sunroad ignored the FAA’s hazard notice and continued building.

On April 3, 2007, I joined with the Community Airfields Association and many other pilot organizations in urging Mayor Jerry Sanders to enforce the October 2006 stop work notice that had been issued to Sunroad.

Unfortunately, the mayor’s response to our urgent request was that he was “not sufficiently aware of the details of the project to respond.” This comment was unsettling for a number of reasons:

  • Sunroad’s office tower had been the subject of numerous news stories;
  • The mayor’s own staff in Development Services had issued two “stop work” notices — one in October 2006, and another in December 2006;
  • There had been ongoing communications between the mayor’s staff and the Sunroad developer and lobbyists.

I also stated that it was time for Sunroad to be a good corporate citizen, remove the portion of its building that was determined by the FAA to be a hazard and put public safety ahead of private profit. Sunroad’s response was that the company complied with all city regulations and it kept working on the office tower.

Finally, on May 17, 2007, Mayor Sanders held a press conference to announce that he was issuing yet another stop work notice. It is still unclear why the first two were not enforced or why seven months elapsed between the issuance of the first stop work notice and this one.

Mayor Sanders also announced that he had written a letter to the FAA and California Department of Transportation acknowledging their concerns. However, he proposed a “solution” that would allow Sunroad to exceed a building height of 160 feet by “working with the FAA to discontinue circling instrument approaches north of the field and allowing aircraft to circle to the south.” Simply put, Mayor Sanders proposed changing the flight approach used by the pilots to accommodate Sunroad.

As the elected official representing the district in which the Sunroad office tower is located, I am requesting that the mayor change course and support the following actions:

First, protect the public and require Sunroad to remove that portion of its building that exceeds 160 feet.

The FAA has determined that the portion of the Sunroad office tower above 160 feet is a hazard to air navigation. I oppose the mayor’s proposal to the FAA allowing Sunroad to exceed a building height of 160 feet and modifying the approach used by airplanes landing at Montgomery Field. The mayor’s proposal — to require the pilots using Montgomery Field to change their flight approaches to accommodate a developer that ignored the law — makes no sense.

Second, put public safety first and do not allow people in the building to work on tenant improvements. Enforce a complete stop work notice.

Third, do not allow the city’s Development Services Department to issue any occupancy permits nor allow Sunroad to make interior improvements to the building. No one should be allowed in the building until the matter is resolved.

Fourth, require that Development Services not approve any further Sunroad office towers under Substantial Conformance Review (SCR). Instead, require Development Services to prepare an amendment to the Sunroad Master Plan and a supplemental Environmental Impact Report for the project. If Sunroad still wishes to proceed with the project, the subsequent review will result in a true public vetting of the project and the ability of all agencies, including the FAA, to comment before issuing any building permits.

Finally, the mayor must include the public, the city attorney and the City Council in any proposals he makes to the FAA and/or Sunroad. Neither he nor his staff should be unilaterally negotiating any proposals, especially if they include allowing Sunroad to benefit from not following the law. The public has a right to expect that their safety will have priority over developer profits, and that Sunroad will be required to comply with the law.

Donna Frye represents District 6 on the San Diego City Council. Do you agree with her? Disagree? Have some proposals of your own? Start your own debate with a letter here.

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