Coastal Commission Warns Navy Base on Beach Flight Proposal


The California Coastal Commission has warned the Navy that a plan to fly jets toward Silver Strand beach as low as 100 feet from the surface would harm endangered species and conflict with state law.

In a Sept. 8 letter to the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Port Hueneme, commission officials said the low-flying jets would alter shipping traffic, bother sea mammals and strike birds such as the endangered brown pelican.

The Navy must show the commission that its proposal conforms with coastal zoning regulations, the letter said, along with obtaining approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.


The letter also claims that the Navy violated the California Coastal Act by failing to submit any environmental documents to the commission in 1978, when it unveiled plans to build a ship-simulation laboratory at the tip of Silver Strand. The sophisticated, $100-million facility, which contains radars and other sensory equipment to simulate a ship’s hull, was built in 1985.

“This just validates what we’ve been thinking all along,” said Vickie Finan, the founder of Beacon, a Silver Strand residents’ group that is fighting the jet flyover proposal. “The Navy needs to hold public meetings on this and explain what is going on.”

Under the flight plan, the jets would dart toward the five-story laboratory at speeds up to 375 m.p.h. to simulate missile strikes on a warship.

Many of the beach area’s 6,000 residents have complained that the simulations will endanger their lives, lower their property values and subject them to unpleasant levels of noise.


The Navy has argued that the testing must occur at Silver Strand because the building is a huge investment and the fragile equipment it contains would cost too much to move.

Navy officials say they made major concessions last month to ensure that the simulations would harm neither animals nor humans.


Test flights would be made entirely by Lear jets--not a mixture of Lear jets and fighter planes as originally planned. Furthermore, the planes would never travel within six miles of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary or within a mile of Silver Strand.

“We’re trying to answer people’s legitimate concerns,” said Pete Becker, the Navy official overseeing the flight project. “We’re finding out that a lot of people have concerns that are not backed up by anything.”

Becker added that the simulations have been going on sporadically for years with special flight waivers from the FAA.

The only current difference, he said, is that the Navy is trying to obtain approval for a special FAA airspace permit to perform the tests more frequently and with better warning to local pilots and boaters.

The Coastal Commission originally determined that the Navy’s plan to conduct military exercises in the area was consistent with state law.

But it reversed its position after receiving opposition letters from the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Department of Commerce, which wrote on behalf of the marine sanctuary.


If the Navy and Coastal Commission fail to resolve their differences, the dispute could end up in court, said Mark Delaplaine, a Coastal Commission official who works to ensure that federal agencies comply with state law. However, he said such a dispute would probably be resolved through mediation.

The FAA is currently considering whether to grant the Navy the special airspace permit. FAA officials said Monday that they will consider the Coastal Commission’s letter in their decision.

“We want to make sure the FAA doesn’t sign off on this unless we have had our questions resolved,” Delaplaine said. “And the FAA feels the same way--they don’t want to issue approval until they are sure the project does not adversely affect the coastal zone.”


The period for the public to comment on the proposal to the FAA ends Friday.

In a June memorandum, FAA officials said that although the Navy’s own environmental review of the flight project indicated no impact to the surrounding areas, the FAA had a number of concerns.

The Navy held no public meetings on the proposed air strike simulations, and did not thoroughly discuss the plan with other governmental agencies it would affect, according to the memo.

The FAA held its own public meeting on the flight plan in June at Port Hueneme City Hall, and public comments were “substantially negative from a safety standpoint,” the memo said.


Citing those reasons, the FAA asked the Navy to prepare a supplemental environmental report. As of Monday, the FAA had not received the report, according to Alton Scott of the agency’s regional office.

County Supervisor John K. Flynn, who participated in a series of meetings between Navy officials and Beacon members to resolve differences, said the concessions made by the Navy should take care of most residents’ concerns. He has written a letter to the FAA supporting the plan.

“I really don’t know what the significance of this Coastal Commission letter is at this time,” Flynn said. “It’s really a late hit.”

U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) has also come out in support of the plan, writing in a letter to Beacon members, “In my many years of public service, this is perhaps the most responsive I have seen any government agency, particularly an arm of the Department of Defense, [be] on any issue.”


For the residents as well as the elected board of the Channel Islands Beach Community Services District, which governs the beach area, the air-strike proposal has proven to be an extremely divisive issue.

Three district board members have chosen to oppose the plan, while two have sided with the Navy.


“You can’t imagine what I’ve been through on this,” said longtime board member Patrick Forrest. “I’ve been yelled at, ‘Try and get elected again!’ And my daughter was exercising at the Pierpont Racquet Club and some guy said, ‘We’re going to sue your father.’ I don’t think this is justified.”