Napa County supervisors went from having pilot Christian Palmaz as the lone candidate for the Airport Land Use Commission to needing to sift through 13 applications.
It’s the latest turn in a saga of a usually low-profile commission and an appointment that usually would be routine. But Palmaz’s application drew fire from opponents of his controversial, now-dead proposal for a personal-use heliport.
The Board of Supervisors on Oct. 23 decided to readvertise for the position after critics said the original notice of a vacancy received too little publicity. On Tuesday, supervisors voted to deal with the 13 applications by seeking some advice.
Supervisors voted to let the Airport Advisory Commission screen candidates for the Airport Land Use Commission. And if those two commissions sound similar, they are very different.
The Airport Land Use Commission weighs whether development near local airports is appropriate, given airport flight paths. This state-required commission in Napa County has the five county planning commissioners and must have two members with aviation experience.
Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said the commission tries to protect airports from having too much development nearby. Too much adjacent development can lead to noise complaints from neighbors about airport operations.
“I’ve been hearing about other airports that are closing because there’s too much development around them,” Wagenknecht said.
Although usually low-profile, the Airport Land Use Commission was in the spotlight in 2017 when it ruled against Palmaz’s proposed, personal-use heliport on Mount George. Controversy over Palmaz’s efforts to secure a personal-use heliport spilled over to his application to be on the Airport Land Use Commission.
In June 2018, county voters passed Measure D banning new personal-use heliports.
Palmaz told the Napa Valley Register in October that he is no longer seeking a personal-use heliport. He accepts that private heliports are not right for Napa Valley and that there’s nothing more to discuss. He instead will continue flying his helicopter out of Napa County Airport, he said.
“I am all about the airport,” Palmaz said. “The airport is my home. I have to protect the airport now …. I am going to be a feature at Napa County Airport the rest of my life.”
If anything, the Airport Advisory Commission has an even lower profile than the Airport Land Use Commission.
The Airport Advisory Commission advises the Board on airport policies at the county-owned Napa County Airport. It has seven members from the general public, one representative each from the Napa Chamber of Commerce, the Napa Airport Pilots Association and a local commercial aviation operator and a Planning Commission liaison.
Supervisors are asking the Airport Advisory Commission to choose its top three candidates among the 13 applicants for the Airport Land Use Commission. Supervisor Belia Ramos said she wants to use of advisory commissioners’ expertise.
“That is, in fact, why we have them,” Ramos said. “We do not know it all here.”
Supervisor Diane Dillon stressed that the Board is asking the Airport Advisory Commission for recommendations only. The Board will decide which of the 13 candidates is most qualified.
The 13 candidates are Palmaz, Kirsten Bartok Touw, Thomas Benvenuto, Michael Harms, John Kingery, Charles Koch, Stephen Kreps, Bruce McLean, Yuka Moore, Earle Presten, Michael Rupprecht, Alan Shepp and David Timm.