Thursday June 21, 2007 | On Wednesday, a lawyer for Sunroad Enterprises spoke.
That’s right. The 180-foot tower in the room finally spoke.
Steven Strauss, the attorney, made a point that has been floating around quite a bit lately: That the Centrum tower everyone is talking about isn’t a safety problem. If it were, then the city, state and everyone with any power at all would be clamoring to close the airport right next door. After all, if there is an untenable danger to pilots and planes and the people in buildings, then you should stop flying planes — at least until the risk is eliminated.
And he’s got a point. The landing path that takes planes over the Sunroad tower is only used when the wind is blowing in a specific direction. And this affects only a small fraction of the plane landings that take place at Montgomery Field. If the tower was dangerous, they should either simply close the airport when the wind is blowing like that or alter the flight path.
They altered the flight path.
To some, the issue dies there. What’s the big deal? If you fly into San Diego on a commercial jetliner and you look to your left, you fly so close to the city’s urban core that you can practically see what workers are typing on their computer screens in the upper levels of the office towers downtown. If jetliners can come that close to such big buildings downtown, why are we so worried about tiny planes coming close to isolated towers comparatively far away from a small airport?
It’s not safety issues that have made Sunroad the talk of the town. We can change things to make sure that Sunroad’s building doesn’t create a risk to safety. And the Federal Aviation Administration has done that.
But the problem with what happened near Montgomery Field is that Sunroad forced that change to happen. The community could very well have come to the point where we believe that Kearny Mesa should be a University City-like urban center — a place where people ride elevators to their offices. The community, however, had not formally decided it wanted to change the flight path for planes landing at Montgomery Field.
“Even though we don’t like it, we can adapt and make it work,” Buzz Gibbs told me. Gibbs is the owner of Gibbs’ Flying Service.
If you want to know why this Sunroad controversy is such a big deal, all you really need to read is that. The city didn’t know or couldn’t handle what it did know about how tall a building can be that close to Montgomery Field. So a developer got to decide. The city’s pilots, and the community in general, had to “adapt and make it work.”
It may very well have been time for San Diego to re-configure the landing patterns for planes coming into Montgomery Field. It may very well be a good decision to allow for dense urban high-rises in that part of town. But it’s not up to one developer to make that choice for the entire city.
It’d be as if I built a small hut in a drainage ditch. The drainage ditch only fills with water when there is a mass flood. So, I could live there for months without worry. But it’s still a hazard. Now, the city could put in a more technologically advanced flood control system that makes my drainage ditch obsolete. The city could also just dig a ditch right next to mine just in case it floods.
But could I really expect them to do that? No. I would probably expect them to send a truck and some pleasantly uncaring men to my ditch with a sledge hammer.
No way I could convince the mayor to let me stay there.
And this is why the mayor has had so much trouble with this lately. If he let me stay in my hut in the drainage ditch and proposed digging a new ditch instead, people might wonder what kind of influence I have with him.
The mayor has assured us all that he wants nothing more than to lower the tower by the 20 feet that would make it acceptable to the FAA. But then we found out he was working on a way to accommodate the tower — to find a way for the airport could exist with it.
This may have been a good solution to the problem at hand: A building that will be extremely expensive to try to deconstruct but that is a hazard unless the city and pilots change their ways.
In order to function, however, a city simply cannot find itself setting policy as a reaction to a unilateral flouting of regulations by a single developer. That’s just not healthy. I might think it’s a better idea for the city to control its floods with a different technology or even just a different drainage ditch. But that doesn’t mean I have the right to force it to by building a hut in the middle of the current drainage ditch.