Reader Christopher Hall wrote:

Dear Jim, why didn’t you write these important and informational essays while you still worked for the city? You have a keen ability to communicate well, and it seems like this information would have been more helpful then compared to now. // My other question is: why was Sunroad allowed to exceed the legal permissible floor area and the 45′ height limit, which is the legal permissible height in the entire area Sunroad is constructing buildings? Typically, in areas such as downtown, the developer may make short, squat buildings on one block, or squeeze their building into a skinny tower — either way, the floor area is the same and does not exceed the legal limit for floor area. What allowed Sunroad to both exceed the 45′ height limit AND the floor area ratio in the Kearney Mesa community? Thank you.

And reader Omni-Potent wrote:

What’s next- the City Attorney is responsible for the holocaust? Jim, why the heck were you lobbying for Sunroad to begin with? And isn’t part of the City Permit process to make sure the project has all clearances/permits? Did the Mayor have someone fly to Texas to ask the FAA to change the flight plan? The Mayor’s only flaw is “too little communication?” More like too much interest. Like my previous post, the perception appears to be your job was to make decisions, as opposed to make recommendations to the Council. And during a permit process, you should be Joe Friday- follow the law to a fault. Not bend the rules, then bend over backwards to cover your tuckus. Very nice though- you can still be on my Board.

Let me be clear. While I have had many disagreements with the city attorney on many issues, Mike did not cause the Sunroad problem. Sunroad did. My criticism, which may be a reflection of my personal “file a lawsuit as a last resort, not first action” belief and practice, is that Mike did not work to resolve or minimize the problem that both he and the mayor inherited. I believe that as a result, the cost and risk to the city became much greater than necessary. The distinction is important.  

Christopher. I know this answer will not be answer your question, but I don’t know the details of how the permit was issued. I started at the city on January 23, 2006. The permit application had been in the system for years, been through many public hearings, etc. before being issued in March 2006. I had no involvement with the permit application or issuance, or what variances were granted or why. Since the subsequent focus was on FAA issues, I never had occasion to look into the issues you raise.   

But I can answer how the FAA part 77 rules were missed. For years, SANDAG, and then the airport authority, prepared maps for all airports in the city that defined the Airport Influence Area (AIA). If any property was outside of the AIA, the city historically processed applications without aviation concerns. The Sunroad property was outside of the Montgomery Field AIA. 

We now know that the 10,000 feet in all directions FAA Part 77 area exceeded the AIA. The city, the Kearny Mesa Planning Group and the Airport Advisory Board all missed the Part 77 issue as part of the permit review. Sunroad was the first high rise in Kearny Mesa. But regardless of why, we missed the issue. All the airport maps have now been redone to reflect the full Part 77 standards.  

The Texas meeting was to explore options that could solve the issue for the city and FAA, not Sunroad. One option was to modify the flight plan to a “circle south” verses the current “circle north”. A test flight was flown, and when it was reported to the mayor by the pilots that a “circle south” would increase air traffic over some residences, he rejected the option out of hand. The FAA was never asked to adopt a “circle south” protocol. 

I never considered myself “lobbying for Sunroad.” I couldn’t have cared less about Sunroad. But I really did want to find a solution that eliminated the cost and liability of the lawsuit to the city. All my years of experience told me there had to be a way to settle this case. Inevitably, that would mean each party in interest would “give a little” and “get a little.” If the right balances can be achieved between the competing parties, conflicts settle. If not, they don’t.

In this process, the lawsuit and the escalating rhetoric helped to strengthened the city’s bargaining position. It is my personal belief that we missed a great chance to put this behind us, learn from it and move forward.

As for not communicating earlier, suffice it to say that if it had been up to me, we would have reported each step and idea, the reasons and the outcomes. I still do not believe there was anything to hide.  

Let me explain what I mean about “making decisions,” using Sunroad as an example. If it had been up to me (subject of course to the mayor’s approval), I would have “made the decision” to try hard to get FAA approval of the settlement I outlined in my piece. If successful with the FAA, I would have tired equally hard to obtain council consent. But the ultimate authority to settle or not settle the case would rest with the council, in a public vote after a public hearing. 


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