Kat, Mike coalition extends through community (Opinion) | SierraSun.com

Kat, Mike coalition extends through community (Opinion)

Jeff Brown and Russell Hamby / Guest column

The Airport Board election is highly contentious and consequential for our community; whether you are an active user of the airport or not. We would like to explain the differences in candidates from our perspective at Friends of the Truckee Tahoe Airport, an organization comprised entirely of locally-owned businesses and vested community members.  

At risk is the health of an entity providing critical infrastructure and support to our community in the form of safety (think air support for fire prevention), health (CareFlight) and transportation. All candidates have stated that they will put their energy into a well-run airport that prioritizes issues of noise and safety. From here, the slate diverges sharply between those seeking to redirect resources away from the airport (Mary Hetherington and Chris Henderson) and those looking to responsibly manage this critical community resource (Kat Rohlf and Mike Daniel).  

The mission of the Truckee Airport is to provide safe and high-quality services and facilities, to reduce the airport’s impact on the environment and to invest by providing sustained benefit to our region. Kat Rohlf has dutifully served this mission as Chair of the Airport Board for the last several years, and Mike Daniel has pledged to similarly uphold these values. Kat and Mike have earned the endorsement of FOTTA and well-respected local organizations. 

What we like: 

  • Kat and Mike see the airport not as benefiting a select few, but as a broader force for good in the community. In addition, they seek to make a positive community impact via airport public event space, STEM initiatives and non-profit support (e.g. the Truckee Roundhouse, Tahoe Food Hub, KidZone Museum).  
  • They are engaged in common-sense solutions to mitigate environmental and noise reduction impacts of the airport. This stands in stark contrast to scorched earth tactics to defund and disempower the entire agency. 
  • They recognize that local pilots and aviation nonprofits are a distinctly different group from the commercial operators. They do not pander to the private jet crowd. They do support a facility that supports STEM, local aviation, first responders and law enforcement.   

Mary and Chris have been attempting to position Kat and Mike as servants to an elite group of pilots subsidized by the community. This thinking is out of touch, misleading, and misguided.  

  • Out of touch: As local employers and community leaders, we do not understand the “benefitting the select few” narrative. We see the benefit first hand throughout our service-based economy, selling meals, bicycles, ski equipment, and real estate services. We see benefits firsthand via CareFlight, emergency fire response and Cal Fire staging. We see benefit firsthand in the community engagement and STEM learning; Mary voted against the airshow and has been attempting to shutter aviation nonprofits. This tone of the “airport as a nuisance” has hurt morale at the airport with two top staff members, friends of ours, resigning this year.   
  • Misleading: Their campaigns are misleading due to a false but politically compelling narrative about the airport’s “subsidization” of wealthy users. This happens by citing property tax funding while disregarding any offsetting benefit, whether economic (which is at least 10x, according to an independent third party analysis and available on the TTAD website), EMS / fire response, or community engagement / STEM.
  • Misguided: Mary and Chris mistakenly believe that raising prices and restricting resources will reduce commercial usage. The unintended consequence of this view is a gentrified airport with ineffective policies for noise and safety. They equate pilots flying small aircraft, whose flight activity has significantly decreased, with transient jet and commercial operations such as NetJets, whose flight operations have markedly increased over time. Because the airport cannot control planes in the sky, compliance with noise abatement is voluntary. We should be leveraging local pilots as an aligned ally to help mitigate the annoyance of increased commercial traffic.

Simply put, starving the airport of investment does not reduce traffic or mitigate impact. Instead, doing so renders the airport impotent to address the stated goal of addressing noise and safety.   

In short, we are faced with a stark choice: One slate of candidates is pursuing initiatives that degrade the airport at the expense of safety and noise, and propose to repurpose its funds to board members’ own social and political priorities.   

Kat and Mike will advance the airport’s stated mission, address safety and noise by harnessing the local community as part of the solution and in the process rebuild pride in the airport as a community asset with clear benefit.

Jeff Brown is owner Tahoe Mountain Realty and Russell Hamby is owner of Paco’s.

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