A new twist in the Palmaz heliport case means voters, not the Board of Supervisors, might have a say on whether the project goes forward.
Christian Palmaz wants to build a personal use heliport on family property on Mount George. He lost his case before the Planning Commission and Airport Land Use Commission in September and is scheduled to have an appeal heard by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s hearing should be only a brief formality. The applicant and county staff will ask the Board of Supervisors to postpone the hearing until July 10, a county report said.
But resident George Caloyannidis has spearheaded a drive to create a ballot measure banning new personal use heliports in the rural county. Supporters recently turned in a petition to qualify the measure for the June 5 ballot.
Caloyannidis on Tuesday raised a point – if the initiative passes on June 5, the Board of Supervisors would no longer be able to approve a Palmaz heliport on July 10, even if it wanted to. The county and Palmaz party have yet to dispute this interpretation.
“We are taking a chance it will not pass,” attorney Brian Russell said Tuesday on behalf of Palmaz.
Yet the question remains why Palmaz wouldn’t seek a Board of Supervisors hearing date before the June elections and possible heliport ban. Russell said only that the July 10th date works for all parties involved.
Caloyannidis wasn’t certain why Palmaz would want to delay the appeals hearing until after the election, though he had some ideas.
“I guess the supervisors decided to leave it up to the people,” he said Tuesday. “I think that’s behind it.”
Perhaps Palmaz hopes the ballot measure will fail to pass and this will give him a better argument before the Board, Caloyannidis added.
It remains to be seen whether Palmaz will mount a campaign against the heliport initiative.
“We’re not sure at this point,” Russell said. “We are keeping all of our options open.”
The initiative has yet to qualify for the ballot. Supporters turned in 6,072 signatures last week and a minimum of about 3,800 must be from registered, local voters. Also, the legal language must pass muster with the County Counsel’s office.
Caloyannidis has touted the benefits of banning new personal use heliports.
“The brief answer is, because it’s the right thing to do in preserving the bucolic ambiance and peace of our national treasure called Napa Valley,” he said.
He can’t see why anyone would support having millionaires flying private helicopters all over the valley, Caloyannidis said when announcing the initiative drive in September.
Russell takes a different view, saying the ban would affect property rights not only for today’s land owners, but owners in future years.
“We don’t know what could happen in 20 or 30 or 50 years,” Russell said. “We don’t know how people are going to get around, what modes of transportation will happen. We think this could impact the future for Napa Valley.”
There might be a better way to craft a law that accomplishes what initiative supporters are trying to achieve, Russell said. Perhaps the size of properties and type of helicopters to be flown could be factors in allowing personal use heliports.
“Obviously, we believe there are properties that are appropriate for heliports and will not have impacts on people’s daily lives,” Russell said.
He puts the Palmaz proposal for the Mount George heliport in this category, pointing out a county environmental impact report concluded there would be no significant impacts. Opponents disagreed with the report, citing noise, safety and other concerns.