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A battle of letters: San Luis Obispo and Caltrans square off over airport development plans 

In the battle over the future of southern San Luis Obispo development, officials from the city and Caltrans seem to be setting up defense in the early stages of an expected lawsuit, but for now both have kept their arguments contained to a few letters.

At issue is the city’s recently approved Land Use and Circulation Update of the General Plan, with the largest point of controversy lying in plans to add development around the SLO County Regional Airport—and more closely than Caltrans thinks is appropriate. In order to move forward with those rough development plans (city officials have not yet approved any specific projects in the area, which will require individual applications and reviews), the City Council voted 4-1 on Dec. 9 to overrule the SLO County Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC), which has argued that new development would bring with it safety and noise issues. SLO contends that the problems have been overblown and a city-hired consultant found that the planned development and airport operations can coexist.

It’s difficult to say exactly when the clock started ticking on a lawsuit and when it will be too late for the Caltrans Division of Aeronautics to take its case to court. And City Attorney Christine Dietrick isn’t showing her hand as to what window of time the city believes Caltrans can file a lawsuit.

“I can tell you as of this moment in time if they were to sue us regarding the complete package of actions, our first reaction would be to file a demurer on statute of limitations grounds,” she told New Times.

On March 20, Caltrans Deputy Attorney Raiyn Bain sent a letter to the city outlining the agency’s opposition to the new development plans around the airport.

“The result of the overrule allows the city to rescind significant portions of the ALUC’s airport land use compatibility plan in regards to height, use, noise, safety, and density criteria,” she wrote in that letter.

Bain could not be reached for comment before press time.

City officials took in similar comments during public City Council meetings, but the council members decided not to revisit the issue. Dietrick highlighted that fact in a response letter on April 10, in which she said the city disagreed with Caltrans’ arguments.

“The city sincerely wishes to work productively, effectively, and collaboratively with Caltrans and the ALUC,” Dietrick wrote, “… the city is very much committed to the vitality of the regional airport. Continued mischaracterizations of the city’s actions and intent, as well as veiled threats of legal action do not support a productive or collaborative work environment and make it much more difficult to find the positive outcomes that both the city and the state want.”

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