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Questions & Answers

McClellan-Palomar Airport is operated by the County of San Diego and offers commercial flights, executive/private jet general aviation services. In 2018, the County of San Diego approved an updated airport master plan, which provides a blueprint for development of the airport over the next 20 years. Watch the county's video about the master plan.

What is the city's role in the airport master plan?

Even though the airport is located in Carlsbad, the airport is under the jurisdiction of the County of San Diego and the FAA. In 1980, the Carlsbad City Council passed an ordinance (city law) requiring a public vote before the City Council takes any legislative action necessary for the expansion of the airport. This law is contained in the city’s municipal code, CMC 21.53.015

What would trigger a vote?

To trigger a public vote, the master plan would need to do two things:

  • Result in an expansion of the airport.
  • Require the City Council to approve a zone change, general plan amendment or other legislative action necessary for the expansion. (The city has not identified any aspect of the master plan or its implementation that would require this kind of legislative action.) 

Some people believe the city would need to amend the existing conditional use permit, sometimes called a CUP, which was granted to the County for the airport.  The city’s legal team believes that a conditional use permit amendment is considered an administrative action, not a legislative action. On May 7, 2019, the City Council directed staff to bring an agenda item back at a future meeting so the City Council could discuss its interpretation of the Carlsbad Municipal Code section regarding airport expansion.

Does the city have a position on the master plan?

Yes. On May 7, 2019, the Carlsbad City Council voted to oppose the San Diego County Board of Supervisors decision to approve the "D-III Alternative" of the airport master plan. 

In the master planning process, the county identified and evaluated a number of options to improve the safety and efficiency of the airport (a discussion of the alternatives begins on page 152 of the master plan).

Could the City Council call for an advisory vote?

Yes. The City Council has the ability to call for an advisory vote. An advisory vote is not binding. At its April 10, 2018, meeting, the City Council was presented with options related to a vote, including when a vote could occur, even if it were advisory and not binding, the cost, and the legal and financial implications. At its May 7, 2019 meeting, the City Council requested staff to return to discuss placing an advisory vote on the March 2020 ballot.

Why does the city's legal team believe the actions in the master plan are not an expansion?

The city’s outside counsel believes that expansion refers to enlargement of the airport’s physical boundaries, not an extension of the runway or other changes within the fence line of the existing airport. This opinion is based on concerns regarding federal preemption, historical context, legislative history and other factors related to the legal definition of the term “expansion.” 

What was the 1980 Carlsbad citizens’ initiative on the airport about?

In 1980, Carlsbad voters gathered enough signatures on an initiative to quality for a public vote. The goal of the initiative was to prevent the City Council from approving a zone change, general plan amendment or any other legislative action necessary to authorize airport expansion without a public vote.  The City Council had two options when presented with the qualified initiative: put the issue to a public vote or adopt an ordinance to make the initiative into law without a public vote. The City Council chose the latter.  

What specifically does the ordinance say? 

Carlsbad Municipal Code section 21.53.015: Voter authorization required for airport expansion.

(a)  The city council shall not approve any zone change, general plan amendment or any other legislative enactment necessary to authorize expansion of any airport in the city nor shall the city commence any action or spend any funds preparatory to or in anticipation of such approvals without having been first authorized to do so by a majority vote of the qualified electors of the city voting at an election for such purposes.

(b)  This section was proposed by initiative petition and adopted by the vote of the city council without submission to the voters and it shall not be repealed or amended except by a vote of the people. (Ord. 9804 § 5, 1986; Ord. 9558 § 1, 1980)  

Why did the city issue two "conditional use permits" if it doesn't have jurisdiction over the airport? 

In 1980, the City of Carlsbad Planning Commission granted permission, called a “conditional use permit,” or CUP, for the county to make various improvements to the airport and placed conditions on those improvements. At the time, the county policy was that it would voluntarily comply with the conditional use permit terms. The county has taken the position that the proposed master plan and the anticipated improvements are consistent with the existing CUP. Even if a CUP amendment were deemed necessary, the permit may not be legally binding. Ultimately, this would need to be determined by the courts. 

How can the city protect its quality of life in light of the proposed airport improvements?

On March 27, 2019, the Carlsbad City Council and County of San Diego Board of Supervisors announced a 20-year agreement to work collaboratively to address community impacts from airport operations.

What does the master plan do?

In a nutshell, the master plan includes three main changes. One is adding safety features at each end of the runway to slow down planes and help safely stop a plane that overruns the runway.  The second is shifting the runway to the north to increase the separation distance between the runway and the taxiway. The third is to extend the runway to the east end of the property, near the corner of El Camino Real and Palomar Airport Road.  

When would the improvements happen?

The county currently doesn’t have funding allocated to make the improvements in the plan, and there’s no timeline for completing the improvements at this time.  The master plan divides the proposed projects into three phases: near term (0-7 years), intermediate term (8-12 years) and long-term (13-20 years.)