Santa Paula Times

Proposed helipad has hard
landing with Planning Commission rejection

June 27, 2014
Santa Paula News

A proposal for a private helipad at a manufacturing firm in a primarily residential area had a hard landing Tuesday night when it was rejected 3-1 by the Santa Paula Planning Commission.

Many area residents and school representatives spoke out against the plan to construct a 1,440 square foot, 14-foot high helipad at Spears Manufacturing Co., located in the 100 block of West Santa Barbara Street.

Spears manufactures plastic pipes, valves and fittings; the landing pad would have been used by Wayne Spears for flights to and from his company’s Sylmar headquarters.

City planning staff recommended commissioners approve the landing pad, saying it would not have a significantly bad effect on the environment.

Deputy Planner Stratis Perros said Spears, who has three different types of helicopters, owns 19 manufacturing facilities; since the Santa Paula location was approved the property has been undergoing some additions and demolition.

That Spears wanted a helipad has been on the table since the company purchased the former International Paper facility.

Perros said the company shared their interest in the helipad with the city manager and council and its addition had even been mentioned in a State of the City address.

Other agencies such as the Ventura Counwy Transportation Commission had no concerns with the proposal, which would have more review by various entities before final approval.

Santa Paula Housing Authority Executive Ramsey Jay, which owns the nearby Orchards senior housing project, and Bernardo Perez, a project manager with Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation, located next to Spears, also did “Not have any concerns... “

An open house was held for nearby residents for outreach on the plan.

Usage would not be expected daily said Perros, although the CUP was asking for one landing/takeoff a day.

Commissioner John Wisda asked some technical flight questions before asking, “Why not put a second helipad at the airport,” that could be leased directly to Spears, a move that Wisda said would probably be a cost savings.

“I see no reason why the city would not be in support of such a request,” said Perros.

Several representatives of Spears answered questions and stressed the safety and efficiency of the Euro Copters that would be used.

Local pilot Bruce Dickenson said Spears, who owns Aqua Dulce Airport, is a friend and noted, “Wayne is a busy man,” who has created an enterprise that will benefit Santa Paula.

His commute via helicopter said Dickenson, “is a means of efficiency for the man... “

Dickenson also addressed safety issues including the potential for collisions although he stressed helicopters and fixed wing aircraft fly at different altitudes and patterns.

Although pleased that Spears has opened a plant locally, “Safety,” said Commissioner Ike Ikerd, “is paramount in my mind... “

Michelle Kolbeck said she was not speaking as a Santa Paula Unified School District Trustee but did want to address the number of schools that potentially would be affected.

“... just one mishap,” could mean tragedy.

“We’re trying to be good partners with the city,” but Kolbeck said she was unsure if the city’s endorsement of the plan would demonstrate being a good partner with the school district and the community.

“We don’t need a tragedy,” said Blanca Castillo, who with her husband Jim Castillo told commissioners they could probably “touch the helicopter” from their residence across the street; they also questioned impacts on property values.

Robert Borrego said, “It took me exactly three minutes and 50 seconds to drive from the airport to the plant... even with stops at traffic lights.”

He asked that commissioners “Be honest with yourselves and the residents you represent... would any of you want this to take off and land next to your house?”

Other neighbors noted noise and dust from helicopter flights, the latter that would aggravate respiratory illnesses. 

“If you approve this,” a man who said he has serious asthma told the commission, “you’re approving my death warrant... “

Mark Andrizzi was representing Vista Cove, a 99-bed skilled nursing facility with 100 employees located two blocks from Spears.

Residents are primarily elderly and many have dementia and a helipad would “be a huge impact on our residents... “

To approve the project, he told commissioners, would “be a dereliction of your duty... “

Among the speakers supporting the plan was Tim Mason, who said the helicopter has an excellent safety record and questioned if the Santa Paula Airport could have been built if neighbors objected.

The project, said Wisda, is “an accident waiting to happen... “

Commissioner John Demers also worried about safety, saying although he had been inclined to be supportive he now questioned the plan.

Said Ikerd, “Accidents do happen that you least expect, and lives can be lost.”

Commission Chairman Michael Sommer asked that fellow commissioners hold off on taking action to explore alternatives but Wisda said they should just vote on the proposal before them.

He noted that when the company first came to Santa Paula, “They wanted us to increase the height,” of silos to 48-feet each with a variance among other requests.

Although a request known in advance by council and the city manager, “... I wish we had known about this,” from the beginning, said Wisda.

Commissioner Fred Robinson was absent from the meeting and the vote was 3-1, with Sommer casting the only vote to allow the proposed helipad.

Perros said Spears has 10 days to appeal the commission’s decision to the City Council.