Santa to keep sleigh, but not helicopter

It is well known that Santa Claus uses a sled, but in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, the jolly old elf got used to traveling by helicopter.

Except this holiday season. Santa, like nearly everyone else, is facing budget cuts.

For years, the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa Police departments took on the cost of the annual arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus, said Tim Starn, commander of the AirBorne Law Enforcement Services (ABLE), which serves Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, among other Orange County cities.

For the past 40 years, the Clauses landed at many of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District's elementary schools in the second week of December, greeted the students and handed out candy.

"It goes hand in hand with our DARE program," said Sgt. Steve Burdette, the public information officer for the Newport Beach Police Department. "It's independent of DARE, but it was something we did on the school sites, and we've been doing it for years. Unfortunately, with budget issues and the economy, we just couldn't do it this year."

The helicopter landed on the schools' playgrounds, making the landing safe for everyone around, Burdette said.

Some elementary schools did not get the visit because landing at their location would have been difficult and was not approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, Starn said.

It cost at least $255 an hour to fly Santa and Mrs. Claus to the schools, Starn said.

The ABLE budget has been slashed in half and the helicopter no longer has normal flight hours during the day, Starn said.

The decision to cut the program was made in November and the schools were notified then, Burdette said.

"It's something we'd like to bring back in the future," he said.

Harbor View Elementary School Principal Charlene Metoyer said the kids loved having Santa visit each year.

"He's just so busy this year that he had to stay at the North Pole to help out the elves to make presents for the good boys and girls," she said. "We love having Santa visit us and hope he can make it next year."

This story was first reported by Amy Senk at Corona del Mar Today.

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