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March 5, 2024

Judge: Watsonville airport must remove barriers

WATSONVILLE—A Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge on Wednesday ruled that Watsonville Municipal Airport officials were in the wrong when they placed barriers at a business nearly three years ago that blocked access to the runways.

The Statement of Decision by Judge Timothy Volkmann means that the airport must remove several barriers at United Flight Services (UFS). 

But it is not clear whether Airport Manager Rayvon Williams will immediately do so, or whether they will remain in place while the airport and the city of Watsonville bring the case to the Sixth District Court of Appeal in San Jose, said attorney Glynn Falconer, who represented UFS. 

“It means they were right,” Falconer said of the decision. “It’s been a long, hard battle and it made no sense why they put up those barriers.”

Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Williams said he is disappointed with the ruling.

“(But) we appreciate the judge’s recognition that we acted in good faith and that our prime concern is safety,” he stated in a text message. “It’s unfortunate airport management was not able to convince the judge otherwise. We expect there will be additional discussions on how and when to move forward toward a mutually beneficial solution with United Flight Services.”

The Watsonville City Council is set to discuss the lawsuit during the closed session of its upcoming July 6 meeting.

Huffaker has told this newspaper that the closure stems from 2019, when airport staff saw UFS customers and employees driving through the ramp instead of using Aviation Way, which he says created a safety issue.

Huffaker says the city has offered to pay for alternative access points, which UFS has rejected. 

UFS, which has provided flight lessons and airplane repair and inspection services since 1966, could also file a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration, which requires that airports treat all tenants with the same rules.

The company sued the city in 2019 after Williams placed the barriers, which blocked their access to one of the ramps that leads to the runway from the business. Owner Terry McKenna says that Williams gave no warning before moving them into place.

McKenna says the barricades have left the business with just one access point to the runway, which affects customer access, employee parking and maintenance services and deliveries. McKenna reckons that the barriers have cost him around $150,000 per week. He says he has spent more than $100,000 in attorney fees.

UFS in 2019 opened its newly rebuilt facility, which cost around $900,000. The company also recently approved a 20-year lease agreement, which did not mention any issues with access to the ramp. If it had, McKenna says he would not have signed the lease.

McKenna says that he wants to stay in Watsonville, but adds that, if the barriers remain, he would consider relocating to Monterey Airport.

Falconer says the company is considering seeking financial damages from the city.

A Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge in February denied a motion by the city to dismiss the case, allowing it to move forward.

Todd Guild
Todd Guild
General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA. https://pajaronian.com/r-p-reporter-honored-by-csba/


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