On Tuesday, November 17th, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to begin the process for a community engagement plan that could result in closing all or part of the county-owned Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose and reusing the land.
Green Foothills strongly supported this possible re-envisioning process and, at the invitation of the local community, we mobilized, co-authored and co-signed a letter with over 40 other community leaders supporting moving forward, as well as providing public comment at the Board hearing. The vast majority of 150 people commenting at the hearing was also in support of continuing the process.
The 180-acre Reid-Hillview parcel could include significant open space, parks, and nature components along with affordable housing while also addressing environmental justice issues in an area with lower-than average incomes and with a predominantly Vietnamese and Latinx population.
Long-Running Environmental Problems With Reid-Hillview Airport
Reid-Hillview is one of three general-aviation airports for small planes like Cessnas in Santa Clara County (the other two are in Palo Alto and San Martin).Small planes like those at Reid-Hillview generally use a fuel called aviation gas, which contains lead that is dangerous to breathe but prevents engine problems in flight. The airport and surrounding residences have been there for decades, long before people understood the health problems from lead, and airborne lead contamination from the airport has now increased in relative importance to other lead sources. It now ranks 25th out of 3400 general aviation airports in the United States in high levels of airborne lead emissions.
Moreover, the surrounding community must endure noise and safety concerns as several small planes have crashed in residential neighborhoods. Because of these issues and the potential for more fitting and optimal uses of the land, the community in Evergreen – East San Jose has fought to close the airport for years. In 2018, County Supervisors voted to stop accepting federal grants that mandate further extensions of the airport’s operation, but no decision has yet been made whether to close it.
Community Invites Green Foothills to Help
Reid-Hillview is bounded by Eastridge Mall, Thompson Creek and Lake Cunnigham, and dense residential development. It is also bordered by Capitol Expressway with a light-rail extension scheduled to run alongside it, making the airport an attractive area for redevelopment. By contrast, the other local airports in Palo Alto and San Martin are much further away from dense residential concentrations.
East San Jose residents, including former Supervisor Blanca Alvarado, invited us to support their request that the Supervisors move to a next step in consideration of new potential uses of the airport land. We partnered with environmental, environmental justice, and social justice organizations to co-author a letter supporting continuing the visioning process for Reid-Hillview. Forty-three community and organizational leaders signed the letter, written in English and Spanish, describing how environmental justice, open space needs, and smart infill meant the process for reconsidering the land use at the airport must continue.
The county’s preliminary Vision Plan process with the community over the last year showed strong interest in using some of the land for open space, parkland, and a Nature Park. Part of the property also lies within the 100-year floodplain of Thompson Creek, encouraging open space uses as means to reduce flood risk. The open space possibilities, the urgent environmental justice issue of reducing lead contamination in disadvantaged communities, and infill potential for affordable housing and jobs makes potential reuse a compelling issue.
The completed Vision Plan was Phase 1, showing strong community desire to consider closing the airport and reusing the land. Phase 2 will be a community engagement that entails engaging the community once again in designing how a master planning process would move forward. If Phase 2 is considered successful, Supervisors could vote to initiate Phase 3, the subsequent implementation of the master planning process. Only at the end of Phase 3 would Supervisors make the final decision whether to close the airport and reuse the land.
We are thankful for the outpouring of community support for environmental justice, open space, and smart infill potential on the airport land. We look forward to additional opportunities to cooperate on these issues.