.Runway Closing at Watsonville Airport

More Room for Houses

The Watsonville City Council on Tuesday voted to close the crosswind runway at the airport, a move city officials say will open up more of the city for development of housing and commercial space.

Airport Director Rayvon Williams told the council that closing the shorter runway—officially called deactivating it—will take about four years, and will involve numerous steps. 

This includes coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration, amending the Airport Master Plan, conducting environmental review and studying the potential impact on the pilot community, among other things.

After that, he said, it can still be used for purposes such as staging emergency services during disasters such as earthquakes and fires. But pilots will be prohibited from using it for takeoff and landing.

Future plans for the airport include lengthening the main runway, which among other things will allow larger aircraft to land. Moreover, the closure will have a “marginal” overall effect on the airport, Williams said. 

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Still, the 4-3 vote—with council members Ari Parker, Jimmy Dutra and Casey Clark dissenting—was an unwelcome decision for many in the crowd of more than 50 people who packed the Council Chambers, most of them pilots and others who spoke against closing the runway.

Justin White, who owns K&D landscaping, said he recently received his pilot’s license and frequently flies to meetings. 

White acknowledged that the city needs to find space to develop housing and commercial space, but said he wants to see more investment in Watsonville Airport.

“The airport has been an asset to myself, to my business, to the community, and I think we should be investing into that community, not taking away from it,” he said. 

Malcom Jack, Chief Information Officer at Granite Construction, said the airport could one day be a tech hub for companies such as Joby Aviation to offer air taxi services.

He warned that taking away the runway could diminish the future potential of the airport.

“We’re on the precipice of self-flying  electric  automated aviation,” he said. “Is Watsonville going to be in a place to support that as it comes, or are you going to take those opportunities off the table for future generations?”

Pilot Ryan Ramirez, who serves as president of the Watsonville Pilots Association, said that the crosswind runway was built to give pilots a safe option when the marine layer rolls in.

“When you’re coming in for a landing and you see that marine layer there, if the crosswind runway was not there. you’re landing into the marine layer, and if anything happens and you have to go around, or you can’t land, you’re basically flying into the clouds, and that’s instant death.”

That happened in 2011, he said, when a family of four was killed when their plane crashed into Watsonville Community Hospital. 

But the council seemed to agree with the handful of other speakers who urged them to close the runway, nearly eliminating the airport safety zones that lie on either end and opening up more development potential in the Buena Vista and North Freedom areas.

According to Community Development Director Suzi Merriam, closing the runway will allow for anywhere from 2,745 to 3,534 new homes to be built and from 80,000 to 540,000 square feet of commercial space.

Community Bridges spokesman and Pajaro Valley Health Care District Board President Tony Nuñez said that the city is on an upswing, with the hospital set to be expanded and the levee system about to receive a major upgrade.

He said that the decision will still preserve the airport while balancing future housing needs.

“When you look at the future, if they move forward with deactivation, it’s going to open up potential for housing that this city desperately needs,” he said. 

Councilman Eduardo Montesino said his vote in favor of deactivation came because the city needs housing options for low-income residents.

“They deserve options for housing and commercial,” he said. “Currently they have none.”

Councilwoman Kristal Salcedo said she has seen instances of multiple families living in garages, which points to a need for more housing options. 

“It’s one of the only areas of land that we have to develop potentially multi-family attached homes, or any type of housing, and we have to give ourselves the opportunities,” she said.

Dutra said the decision will be irrevocable, and could limit future potential at the airport for businesses and for people who want to learn to fly.

“If we start closing down the airport, we are really going to take away an opportunity for the future here in this community,” he said. “This airport is an opportunity for everybody.”

Mayor Vanessa Quiroz-Carter said that the city is already landlocked in its development potential, using its infill and constrained by Measure Q, which restricts farmland from being used.

“To me this is an opportunity,” she said. “I am so tired of being in a scarcity mindset. I am so tired of getting the scraps of everything from the county. I am so tired of scrimping and saving and not investing. and to me this is an investment.”

The question of shortening the runway arose in 2018, when the Federal Aviation Administration told Airport Director Rayvon Williams that a row of hangars hinder the ability of pilots using the opposing runways to see each other.

Since the airport does not have a control tower to direct operations, the intersecting runways require visual line of sight for takeoffs and landings to ensure safety. 

The solution, they said, was a “threshold relocation,” or a shortening of the usable portion of the runway.

The FAA denied Williams’ request for an exception, but agreed to fund $500,000 to help the airport shorten the threshold.

The federal agency later pulled the funding for economic reasons, leaving Watsonville with the responsibility of fixing the visibility problem.


  1. Millions of people are coming to California illegally to make the housing situation much worse. Time to say we are full. destroying the airport is really a bad idea. You know the new people that will move into the new housing will sue because of aircraft noise.

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  2. This is why people are leaving Commiefornia because the powers at be have the people coming in illegally in mind instead of the tax payers. My advice if you have children leave the state now it’s not a place to raise a family anymore.

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