City of Carlsbad’s Role in Airport Master Plan Discussed


McClellan-Palomar Airport is operated by the County of San Diego and offers commercial flights, executive/private jet services and general aviation services. The county is in the process of updating the 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. The city has a team of staff analyzing the master plan and draft environmental impact report and will present proposed comments to the City Council for consideration. This has tentatively been scheduled for the March 13, 2018, City Council meeting. The city has also retained the services of Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell, a law firm specializing in airports, land use and other infrastructure projects, to review the plan and environmental documents, and to advise on legal issues related to the airport. Attorneys from Kaplan Kirsch made a presentation at the Feb. 20, 2018, City Council meeting, which can be viewed on the city website.

Does the city have a position on the master plan?

Individual City Council members may have expressed positions on the master plan, but the City Council has not taken a position. City staff will present a draft comment letter for the City Council’s consideration at its March 13, 2018, meeting.

Do Carlsbad residents get to vote on the master plan?

The proposed master plan would only trigger a vote if it meets the criteria in the city’s municipal code, CMC 21.53.015. One criteria is if the master plan requires the City of Carlsbad to approve any zone change, general plan amendment or other legislative action. The other criteria is if the master plan includes an expansion of the airport. The city’s outside legal counsel does not believe the master plan meets these criteria. Because many community members continue to express an interest in voting on the master plan, the City Council has asked city staff to research 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. City staff will return to the City Council with this information at an upcoming meeting.

Why aren’t the actions in the proposed master plan considered 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 fenceline of the existing airport. This opinion is based on the need to interpret the term to preserve the legal validity of Section 21.53.015, historical context, legislative history and other factors. Nevertheless, regardless of the meaning of the term expansion, the city has not identified any general plan amendment, zone change or other legislative enactment necessary to implement the master plan or any of its components.

What is being proposed in the master plan?

In a nutshell, the draft master plan includes three main changes. One is adding safety features at each end of the runway to slow down planes and help prevent them from going off the end of the runway in an emergency. 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 draft 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.)

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

In 1980, as a result of a proposed citizens initiative, the Carlsbad City Council adopted an ordinance that prevents 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.

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 a “conditional use permit” 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 voluntarily agreed to 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. The city is analyzing the recently released documents to determine whether a CUP amendment would be necessary. 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?

The county, like any other entity proposing a major project, must analyze the potential effects of the project and commit to a mitigation plan for all identified significant impacts. The Draft Environmental Impact Report currently out for public review includes this information. With the assistance of outside legal counsel, the city will be providing comments on the DEIR, including the mitigation plan. As part of this process, the city can request additional mitigation measures if needed to protect the city’s quality of life. The city also is working to ensure that the Carlsbad community has ample opportunity to weigh in on the proposed changes and that community needs and concerns are addressed.

How can residents get involved?

Residents can provide comments directly to the County of San Diego by March 19, 2018.
County of San Diego
Department of Public Works
Attn: Cynthia Curtis
5510 Overland Avenue, Suite 410
San Diego, CA 92123

The County of San Diego held two meetings to update the public about the proposed master plan collect feedback. Both meetings included the same materials.

Jan. 30 and Feb. 13
6 to 8:30 p.m.
Holiday Inn Carlsbad
2725 Palomar Airport Road
Carlsbad CA 92009.

The Carlsbad City Council is scheduled to discuss its official comments on the master plan at its March 13 meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. The city requested a 30-day extension of time for city staff and members of the public to review the draft documents. The county granted a 14-day day extension.

City Council meetings are held at City Hall in the City Council Chamber, 1200 Carlsbad Village Drive, and can be watched on the city’s cable channel and website. To be notified when the agendas and staff reports for these meetings are available, please sign up for through city’s e-notification system.

Source documents
County of San Diego Jan. 30, 2018, public meeting presentation
Jan. 30, 2018, presentation with narration
Draft master plan document
Draft environmental impact report (scroll to middle of the page)

More information

For more information about the city’s role in the airport master plan, please contact Jason Haber at 760-434-2958 or


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