Debate Rises Over Expanse of Livermore Airport

With some worried it might scare away businesses and hurt property values, debate is surfacing over just how big an area should be put into a new Livermore Municipal Airport noise and safety zone.

The zone must be created to carry out a new state law requiring sellers of property to disclose potential noise, safety and other airport impacts to buyers.

Ralph Cloud, chairman of the city's Airport Advisory Commission, argues the disclosure law, a sort of "buyer-beware" program, should apply to the vast majority of Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin and Sunol.

"It seems reasonable, based on public meetings over the last year when people from throughout the area said the airport impacts them," Cloud said. "Why don't we require mandatory disclosure (in real estate transactions)?"

But airport critics warn that a valleywide disclosure area would hurt property values and scare away businesses wanting to expand or relocate here but worried they won't be able to find an adequate professional labor pool in an area with known airport impacts.

"It's one of the black marks you can make against a city," said airport critic Wendy Weathers, who lives east of the airport in Livermore and who continues to call for airport operations to be scaled back.

Livermore resident Purnham Sheth agreed, warning that the disclosure requirement is a way to "brush off" even legitimate complaints about noisy aircraft or increased airport operations.

"It's really, I think, to get people to stop complaining by saying, 'You're in the impact area,'" he said.

A state law that went into effect in January 2004, enacted through Assembly Bill 2776, requires anyone trying to sell a property to disclose if it is within a designated "airport influence area," based on flight patterns that generate noise, vibration, safety, dust or other issues.

For now, the area around the Livermore airport subjected to the new disclosure law is relatively small, extending barely into northeastern Pleasanton, northwestern Livermore and southeastern Dublin.

It is the same as the "referral area" where Alameda County's Airport Land Use Commission reviews and makes recommendations on development proposals. And it is only slightly larger than an airport protection zone, extending roughly a mile in each direction from the runways, in which new residential development is prohibited altogether.

But Livermore's Airport Advisory Committee is considering whether to ask the county panel to expand the real estate-disclosure boundaries. Cloud noted that although most people complaining about the airport live nearby, people from Sunol to the eastern end of Livermore have griped about noise from aircraft transitioning for landings and takeoffs.

"If we have a problem, it makes sense to disclose the airport in that same geographic region," Cloud said.

Weathers, however, warned that language in AB 2776 suggests that actual development restrictions can be imposed within a disclosure area. Livermore Airport General Manager Leander Hauri said that is not the intent in considering expansion.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who authored the bill while in the Assembly, said it "is strictly a disclosure law" and is not aimed at controlling development near airports.

Richard Newman, a San Mateo County pilot who helped work on the bill, agreed and said he may ask Simitian to amend some confusing language to make that perfectly clear.

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