The Costa Mesa City Council agreed Tuesday to give the Harbor Soaring Society another year to fly the skies over Fairview Park.
The caveat, however, is that city staff will conduct a comprehensive review of the model aircraft hobbyist group during that period and examine how its activities fit in the 208-acre park, where some people have argued that rules are not strictly enforced and noisy airplanes disrupt the peace and harm the environment.
The society’s renewed agreement, which lasts through June 30, 2020, and the study were approved on a 5-2 vote, with Councilwomen Sandy Genis and Andrea Marr dissenting.
Councilman Allan Mansoor said the club is a boon to Fairview. The park, he added, doesn’t have to offer only passive activities like walking.
“Let’s have an honest assessment, get some enforcement of the bad apples and get everybody some good training,” he said.
The council-approved study will look at “the value of the partnership” between the Harbor Soaring Society and the city and evaluate “the compatibility of all flying activity” with the park’s master plan and Measure AA, a 2016 voter-approved law that requires residents to sign off on changes that could affect Fairview’s open, passive nature.
Genis requested that the study period be shortened to six months, which she felt would be advantageous so it could be completed before the bird-nesting season. City staff, however, noted that the narrower time frame would place additional strains on its Fairview Park priorities, which include addressing mosquito problems affecting an adjacent neighborhood.
Marr said she doesn’t think aviation “is the best fit” in the park. She said she saw a contradiction between restoring sensitive habitat near the Soaring Society’s runway and keeping its agreement alive.
“As much as I love aviation, I’m just not convinced that oil and water can mix here,” she said.
Harbor Soaring Society Vice President Henry Smith said the group has been at the park since 1963. It currently has a roster of 70 people of all ages, though an additional 100 or so non-members use its runway.
He said the remote-controlled airplanes flying there today tend to be quieter than the noisy gas-powered ones of yesteryear.
“We really are willing and anxious to work with the city and improve the situation out here,” he added. “It could stand some improvement.”
Justin Tam, a high school-age member of the society, credited the group with getting him outside to enjoy nature. He praised the camaraderie members feel when flying their aircraft.
“In the field, you feel welcome by everyone, regardless of your age and your background,” he said.
Bradley Zint is a contributor to Times Community News.