A plan approved by Millbrae officials to allow biotech business premises to be built near the city’s train station has been criticized by officials at the nearby airport, who claimed such a development would be dangerous and inappropriate.
Representatives from San Francisco International Airport sent a letter to Millbrae officials expressing concerns about a proposal that would allow biotech companies to undertake commercial developments in the Millbrae Station Area Specific Plan.
The letter comes ahead of a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12, when Millbrae City Council is due to ratify an earlier decision to repeal the airport’s land use committee that would facilitate the approval of life science businesses near Millbrae Avenue and El Camino Real.
With biotech companies routinely working with hazardous materials, airport officials claimed their presence on the flight path of a popular airport could increase the risk to residents in the event of a plane crash.
“The city should carefully examine the health, safety and well-being of its citizens in the event of an airplane accident,” said the letter signed by Nupur Sinha, acting airport planning director.
Millbrae Mayor Ann Schneider disagreed with the assessment that the types of biotech companies potentially allowed to occupy the sites would not pose a great threat to the community.
“We believe the Level 2 biotech facility poses no risk at all,” Schneider said, referring to the types of companies that may be allowed in the region. Biosecurity level 2 companies deal with diseases such as hepatitis, HIV, E. coli and staphylococci.
In November, Millbrae officials expressed their interest in overturning an earlier decision by the airport’s land use committee, which in October concluded that biotechnology would not be an appropriate use in the area.
In its decision, the Land Use Committee said biotechnology companies working with potentially hazardous materials should not be allowed in Zone 2, an area south of Millbrae Avenue, as it is in the inner arrivals and departures zone.
In the event a plane crashes on or off runways 19 L / R, airport officials said the presence of hazardous material could exacerbate the threat to the Millbrae community, according to the letter.
“The release of pathogens in the event of an airplane accident would increase – not minimize – public exposure to safety hazards,” the letter said.
Schneider noted that more dangerous materials for biotech purposes are fully permitted in nearby areas outside the airport flight path.
In addition, Millbrae officials said in their later notice that they were overriding the land use committee, that they would assess potential safety risks as part of the public standards planning process, rather than following the committee’s standards.
Millbrae deputy prosecutor Michael Conneran had previously stated that the regional committee opposition intends to hold the airport harmless if a plane crashes into one of the offices of a biotech company where hazardous materials are present.
Beyond discussing health risks, Schneider said allowing biotech companies to occupy the zone where officials expect major commercial development will help bolster Millbrae’s budget, which could use an infusion of additional revenue .
Schneider nodded at the challenges Millbrae officials faced in coordinating with partner organizations involved in the city’s planning efforts and said she was reluctant to allow airport officials to stand in the way of further growth.
“Millbrae has been pressured economically by all transportation agencies, and that time must stand still,” she said.