AOPA, San Diego Join Forces In Suit Against Construction
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has joined forces
with the City of San Diego in a lawsuit against California
construction outfit Sunroad Enterprises to force the company to
tear down the top two floors of a new office tower near Montgomery
The FAA says the 180-foot-tall building is a hazard to small
planes because it exceeds height limits by 20 feet, according to
San Diego's Union Tribune.
Sunroad Enterprises then countersued for $40 million,
complaining the city issued them permits for a 180-foot-tall
building. As Aero-News reported, the
company was ordered by the city to halt construction in November
until the dispute with the FAA could be resolved.
Three weeks later,
Sunroad's vice president of development, Tom Story, applied for
permission to construct a roof and a room on the roof to protect
elevator equipment. The city authorized Sunroad to install a
"weatherproof covering" on December 21.
In the agreement, the city approved nine specific construction
tasks, including framing, plastering and fireproofing the elevator
structure and other work to make the roof watertight -- but made no
mention of walls.
City attorney investigators discovered Tuesday that exterior
walls were also being placed on the building. City Attorney Michael
Aguirre immediately sent a letter revoking weatherproofing
permission on the top floors of the $45 million building.
"If it is not already clear, no work of any kind is to be
conducted on the top 20 feet of the Centrum I structure," the
letter said. The last part of the sentence was underlined for
The city's director of Development Services, Marcela
Escobar-Eck, said Aguirre and his staff "don't understand the
intricacies of the construction."
Escobar-Eck added she has "no problem" with the walls, as the
building's construction exposes the lower floors are subject to
weather-related damage if the top floors aren't enclosed. "It's a
complicated building with the floors structurally interconnected,"
The city is walking a "fine line" with this issue. If some
construction is not allowed to proceed, the city may be held
financially liable for an extended delay.
"I know people are saying you are letting them do more and more,
but it's not as simple as saying stop all of the work," Escobar-Eck
said. "No interior work will be allowed on the top two floors."
The FAA is refusing to budge on the issue.
"As far as the FAA is concerned it is a hazard," FAA spokesman
Ian Gregor said. "The construction issues are a local matter and
not something the FAA would get involved in."
The weatherproofing was to be done at "Sunroad's own risk" as
the FAA hasn't removed the hazard designation, according to the
letter Escobar-Eck wrote authorizing the work. It also advised
Sunroad the city "won't be liable" if the company has to remove the
roof for whatever reason.
Joe Harris, chief special inspector for development services,
said he understood walls were part of the weatherproofing
"The elevator penthouse, the roof and all four sides of the
building was the intent of the agreement," he said. "We did have a
good understanding of what was going to be done."
Walls weren't mentioned in the agreement because it is
impossible to include every detail Escobar-Eck said.
"Our position is that all work is per city authorization," Story
said. "We have done nothing inconsistent with what the city has
AOPA joined the lawsuit on behalf of pilots who
fly the ILS Runway 28R IFR approach to land at
Montgomery Field. Pilots must circle within 400 feet of the
building, located less than a mile northwest of the airport. These
types of landings account for about 10 percent of total landings at
A consultant hired by Sunroad to study the safety issue
concluded the 180-foot building was not a hazard. A Sunroad lawyer
reminded the city's Land Use and Economic Development Department
head Jim Waring, "The city had issued the final building permit for
the office tower after the FAA had made a preliminary finding that
it posed a hazard."
"The city has no basis to stop work at the building. The
building poses NO threat to public safety -- and should be allowed
to proceed to completion," the letter said.
As ANN reported, in January
AOPA President Phil Boyer appealed to the California Department of
Transportation director Will Kempton to help prevent the office
tower from becoming "a hazard to pilots."