by Martha Sadler
Several community groups converged at the Santa Maria Public Airport District on Thursday, July 13, united in opposition to the plan to replace the Airport Mobile Home Park with a golf course. Although they were unsuccessful in persuading the district to abandon the plan altogether, district boardmembers did agree to change the rules in their search for a new property manager. The job description will no longer include the responsibility of closing the park and relocating its current residents; the board will also delay the hiring process until an ad hoc committee thoroughly examines biological issues associated with such a change in the property’s use, including its potential affect on the endangered tiger salamander and one variety of fairy shrimp.
Ninety-six low-income families live in the park, which current Airport District Manager Gary Rice described as a “strong, traditional community” that he hopes to keep intact during relocation. “I personally think it is the right thing to do,” Rice said, “and I’ve said it at Rotary Clubs, I’ve said it at City Council.” In December 2005, Rice began meeting with PUEBLO (People United for Economic Justice Building Leadership Through Organizing), which has been advocating to save the park since it recently expanded its operations to the North County. However, Rice said he will no longer meet with the organization because they continually attack his integrity. This week, a PUEBLO newsletter accused the airport district of using “trickery” to prevent the public from commenting on the plan to replace the park with a golf course, specifically charging the district with removing the item from the main agenda and “tucking it into the consent agenda with an obscure name.” Rice confirmed that the item was indeed on the main preliminary agenda, but the final agenda — and the only one to be made public — had it on the consent calendar, the usual place for notification that contracts are going out to bid. The proposed golf course is part of a general expansion plan for the airport district, which includes enlarging the airport and business park.