The Bruce Curtis take on regional issues — County Perspective
Terminal Velocity: I usually fly my plane on shorter hops, flying the airlines on longer runs, but I’m rethinking that.
After delivering a four-seat prop plane to its new owner in Peoria, Illinois, in less time than the flight home, the airline equation has reached a tipping point for me. If I can fly myself from California to Illinois in eight and a half hours, and the return trip takes 11 hours in three different sardine-packed jets, for a lot more money… why do I need to ride the kerosene queen at all?
The cherry on top was the San Luis Obispo arrival; warm, bumpy, Santa Ana breeze, the pilot waiting too long to descend, landing hard, halfway down the runway, rattling passengers with maximum braking — eye opening even to this grizzled pilot. Captain Thrill Ride then proceeded to taxi over to the new terminal — whose promenade and glass-lined jetways were brightly lit but empty — and powered down.
Apparently he hadn’t heard that San Luis Obispo’s new $40 million passenger terminal wasn’t open yet. We sat there for five minutes before the airline’s ground crew succeeded in waking our pilot so he could taxi to the old terminal.
For you 99-percenters without a plane, the new 56,000-square-foot terminal opened officially on November 1. Construction crews managed to beat their deadline by opening the terminal well in time to meet crowds of holiday travelers, queuing to pack themselves in like self-loading baggage.
The success of KSBP airport as a regional terminal may not have been noticed by most folks, although behind the scenes, lobbying by airport and county officials paid off: ridership rose 21% over 2016, up a whopping 40% over just two years ago. And airport officials aren’t resting, they hope to add direct service to Dallas and Portland in 2018.
San Luis Obispo’s airport renaissance has come at a cost to nearby airports. Santa Barbara has lost flights, although that city is served by airplanes larger than KSBP’s 90-seat Bombardier CRJ’s. That plane mercifully lacks the dreaded middle seat.
The new terminal, festooned with wing pieces and a 747 engine cowl, labeled art, is three times bigger than the old terminal, heck, the baggage claim area is larger than the old terminal.
Flights now leave more than 85% full; tight for you and me, but spacious for airline bottom lines, with room to expand to bigger planes and more destinations. San Luis Obispo airport is now gateway direct to Seattle, Phoenix and Denver, as well as San Francisco and Los Angeles. And with county officials inking a contract with First Class Concessions, you’ll have access to the same kind of post-security gift shop trinkets and head pillows you’ll find at Phoenix or Los Angeles.
Here, Kitty, no, Here Kitty… We recently brought you the animal shelter tussle, Paso Robles and Atascadero opting out of the county’s $14 million joint animal shelter. Both city councils barked the loudest over the cost, but now San Luis Obispo County supervisors are on a PR stump tour to woo them back into the litter. The board voted to send Debbie Arnold and John Peschong on the road, promising to only charge the cities for their actual shelter use. Both mayors, however, aren’t likely to overlook the fact that cities are being asked to shoulder 95% of the shelter’s cost. If North SLO County doesn’t participate, cities like Arroyo Grande would have to pick up the slack, measured in millions of dollars. Probably explains why Arroyo Grande sent a letter to both Paso Robles and Atascadero asking them to reconsider…
Pot Pout: Blazers and boutiques alike blasted a county proposal to ban pot shops in SLO County. In a non-binding test vote, three of five county supervisors voted in early October to deny licenses to both medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries — the sanitized word advocates use for cannabis stores, which can begin selling legally in 2018.
Predictably, pot cultivators and marketing representatives called the decision shocking, accusing the board of ignoring industry safeguards.
Board Chair John Peschong, back from a visit to pot-legal Colorado, spoke about a child who ended up in the hospital after eating a pot-laced brownie. He didn’t mention a decline in motorist behavior and awareness like I’ve seen on recent trips to pot-legal Oregon and Washington.
In the end, he and the board voted to allow marijuana cultivation in Carrizo Plain, ban sales of edible pot products and prohibit retail sales in unincorporated areas. Board member Adam Hill, visibly frustrated, suggested the vote represented an abuse of the democratic process.
Future issue: State officials are still developing rules regulating packaging, sale and strength of marijuana in ways that may favor large producers over smaller local growers.
Meet the New Boss: We extend a greeting to the county’s new chief officer, Wade Horton. Most of San Luis Obispo County’s past County Administrative Officers were hired from outside the county but Horton’s an insider, vacating San Luis Obispo County’s Public Works department, where he’d been since 2014.
If you’re wondering what he does, well, if the board of supervisors is like Congress, then Horton is like the President, without, uhh, the vote part. The CAO oversees budgets, employees and just about everything else a well oiled county machine needs to run. Like his predecessors, Horton serves at the board’s pleasure, a fancy way of saying they can fire him whenever they like, but we hope he will have a long and calm career.
Browsing airline pricing…hmm, still cheaper for me to fly myself to Washington for Thanksgiving. Guess I won’t be visiting the new terminal quite yet.