ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — From the ground, you can see how these model airplane enthusiasts take pride in getting their remote-control planes wheels up. One enthusiasts is Mike Costello, who’s been flying models since the 60s and is president of the Costa Mesa-based Harbor Soaring Society.
“My dad was a full-size pilot and flew models before WWII. So it was kind of ingrained…it’s just in my DNA," Costello said. "I love airplanes of all kinds. I enjoy being outside. I enjoy the skill it takes to fly one of these."
He and a few of his fellow club members, Henry Smith III and Jordan Lapin, were in Laguna Niguel recently flying their electric park flyers and motorized glider because for over a year flying at their home field, Fairview Park in Costa Mesa, has been grounded.
The club has been flying planes in Fairview since the 60s, but that was before it was even a city park. Recently, the city has been evaluating the flying of planes at this location.
“The pandemic has been brutal because the park has been closed, our regular monthly meeting venue has been closed and in fact is now out of business so now we have a new one," Costello said. "The other challenge has been working out a compromise solution with the city of Costa Mesa to coexist with the endangered species at Fairview Park."
That challenge has been a complex one for the Society and Fairview Park Steering Committee. It’s been up to people like Park Administrator Cynthia D’Agosta to balance the needs of the 210-acre park with the needs of residents who want to use its space.
The club’s Fly Field is located on the west side of the park. The main problem is that this field sits in the middle of the park’s vernal pool complex which is home to two endangered species of fairy shrimp which provide food to migratory birds. There are a total of five endangered plant and animal species, numerous special species and over 130 documented bird species at the park.
“This spot helps drain all that rain into those pools and because we get it so rarely, it is important to preserve that,” D’Agosta said pointing to the complex.
D'Agosta says it’s not just officials that feel these environmental concerns. It’s voters too. They passed Measure AA in 2016 — which further reflects the community’s desire to protect Fairview Park. As someone who’s worked in park planning for 30 years, she says she understands where they’re coming from.
“I resonate, I connect with people who also in their communities appreciate the last little bits of open space that we have left like this,” D’Agosta said.
Both sides say they want to find a compromise.
The Harbor Soaring Society is advocating to stay put on the west side with modified use; like the hours and days they can fly. The other option is building a new runway and relocating to the park’s east side. Costello and club haven’t landed on that idea just yet.
“Do I think it’s possible? Yeah I think it’s possible," Costello said. "Do I think it’s the best decision? We don’t think so."
The city council vote to determine flying planes in Fairview Park will take place on July 20.
Here’s a recent timeline of the Agreement between the city and the club:
- June 25, 2019: the Use Agreement between the city and HSS was approved by City Council on for a one year (1) period, ending June 30, 2020
- In approving the Agreement, the City Council directed staff to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the value of the partnership between HSS and the city, and to assess the compatibility of all flying activity with the Master Plan for Fairview Park and Measure AA, as recommended by the Fairview Park Steering Committee (FVP SC) and the Parks, Arts and Community Services Commission (PACS), within a one-year period (July 2019-June 2020)
- March 2020: the evaluation report was completed and presented the night before COVID shut down the park and fly field.
- June 2020: the city council extended the agreement till December 2020 with the stipulation that HSS present a proposal in September; field/park remained closed
- February and May of 2021: the HSS Proposal is taken up again by FVP Steering Committee and Parks Commission with recommendations for modifications to the field and potential to investigate moving the fly field to another area of the park
- July 2021: the city council will consider a new agreement, new rules and possible re-location of the fly field