George Caloyannidis is trying to ensure the controversial Palmaz application for a personal use heliport will be the last of its type in Napa County.
The resident of Diamond Mountain has filed paperwork with the county Election Division to create a ballot measure. He wants voters in the June 5, 2018 election to ban new personal-use heliports.
He recently stated why he would go through the trouble of trying to gather 3,700 or so signatures from county registered voters by Dec. 5 to qualify a ballot measure. Making the job even more imposing, Registrar of Voters John Tuteur recommends collecting 6,000 signatures to have a cushion, given signatures can be invalid.
“The brief answer is, because it’s the right thing to do in preserving the bucolic ambience and peace of our national treasure called Napa Valley,” Caloyannidis said.
Caloyannidis acknowledged that a successful ballot measure wouldn’t affect the Palmaz proposal, given it is already undergoing county hearings. Christian Palmaz wants to fly a helicopter to and from Mount George near the family home several miles east of the city of Napa.
A county report says the Palmaz heliport wouldn’t have significant environmental impacts. Opponents disagree and fear a successful Palmaz application would encourage others with wealth to seek private heliports, bringing unwanted noise to agricultural areas.
The county Airport Land Use Commission and Planning Commission will on Wednesday hold the latest Palmaz hearings, with a decision possible. Meetings begin at 9 a.m. at the county administration building, 1195 Third St.
Caloyannidis lives about 25 miles from the Palmaz property. Yet he is no stranger to helicopter battles, having participated in one involving a winery on Diamond Mountain near his own home more than a decade ago.
He and his wife Christine Tittel and neighbors collected signatures opposing helicopter landings at wineries. The Board of Supervisors in 2004 agreed that helicopters shouldn’t bring visitors to wineries, but didn’t ban personal use heliports.
The opposition by neighbors to the proposed Palmaz personal use heliport resonated with Caloyannidis.
“When I see the amount of effort and anguish the community had to suffer and the expenses the applicants had to occur, we thought this is something that ought not to be happening,” he said.
His proposed ballot measure would also tighten rules for helicopter landings and take-offs at sites other than public airports for agricultural purposes such as spraying. Among other things, people engaged in such activities would file reports with the county and say why the take-off or landing was “unavoidable.”
Emergency medical helicopter landing sites could still be established.
Caloyannidis said he and others could begin collecting signatures by mid-September to qualify the ballot measure. He plans to hire a professional signature-gathering company to help with the effort.
“We’re going to also get a bunch of volunteers to help out,” Caloyannidis said.
Whether any organized opposition will arise remains to be seen.
“I have no clue,” Caloyannidis said. “And I don’t see who would be supporting having private millionaires flying all over the valley.”
This is only the latest effort on the personal use heliports front.
Frank Farella in late 2015 filed an application with the county seeking a zoning code amendment to ban new personal use heliports. He wrote a letter at the time saying the effort was sparked by the Palmaz case.
Napa County in an April 2017 letter classified the effort as “abandoned.” County officials said an additional $5,000 beyond the initial $3,000 filing fee hadn’t been paid to cover staff time needed to prepare for a Planning Commission hearing.
Farella on Thursday said flight laws are extremely complex and that county staff turned down the original draft. In the end, he decided to pass on the zoning text change effort through county hearings with the knowledge a ballot measure is possible.
The county has had a least 12 applications for helipads and airplane landing strips since 1965, according to the county. It approved six of them – two for St. Helena Hospital – as well as two for limited periods. It denied two requests and two were withdrawn.
One of the higher-profile cases took place in 2005. Developer and San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos and his son-in-law, Ronald Berberian, proposed building a helipad on Pritchard Hill near Lake Hennessey. Berberian withdrew the application after neighbors protested.