KCRQ Update: Official Misconduct at Palomar Airport 8/28/04

An FAA enforcement action has developed at KCRQ to fight back for light-GA rights. Local reports are that GA users are in a struggle to resist an allegedly improper no-bid exclusive lease and development agreement that jettisons a major part of light-GA from the airport by eviction/price gouging. The developer is reportedly unqualified and inexperienced who plans to cater to a Jet market that may never materialize. The developer, who is the attorney for the former FBO/leaseholder had his client’s county lease terminated, then had a new lease given to a new company that is controlled by the attorney. The developer reportedly has a long history of not working well with the GA community. This issue is on the fast-track with national actions. As a California pilot, how does this affect you? Watch closely, the outcome could have a big impact on public access to light-GA throughout the state. On August 17, 2004 Palomar Airport users filed a 30 page FAA Part 16 Complaint along with almost 270 pages of supporting exhibits including supporting documents that were formerly secret which may prove long-term official misconduct regarding a federally funded airport by the County of San Diego. Documents were obtained by a flock of Freedom Of Information Act requests. The users group consists of light-GA pilots, small businesses and San Diego?s largest North County non-profit flying association. The 14 CFR Part 16 complaint was filed with the FAA after consulting with the AOPA and California Pilots Association about the allegations. Users posted the entire documentation set on a website and are asking for the GA community and general public to read the facts. Pilots also requested from the FAA an expedited handling procedure since the entire area is scheduled for imminent demolition and there are no practical alternatives for planes and businesses to move elsewhere in the area.

The complaint alleges four grant assurances were violated over a period of 11 years, which are now directly resulting in a decimation of GA at Palomar because of a modified construction plan. The construction work had always been planned to factor-in accommodations for based-aircraft and businesses throughout the long reconstruction period until recently. Now the developer desires to reduce costs so the entire demolition will occur at once. The project has never gone to RFP and after multiple requests neither the County or public forums have been unable to determine if the developer even has proper financing for the $30 million project–claims of financing have been unverified. However, pilots and businesses have been ?guaranteed? future spots in two-three years by the developer if they pay 312 months of rent ?up-front–triple net??triple net means the rent does not include taxes, utilities and shared maintenance costs). For example a 4000 sq ft area would require to renter to write a check for over one million dollars to the developer in order to secure just the space.

Two days after the complaint was filed AOPA backed up the complaint with a formal request to FAA DC to forestall demolition of aircraft spots and business structures until FAA reviews the complaint. In another letter to FAA General Counsel the California Pilots Association also backed up the complaint. Informal reports from DC are not only that FAA believes the complaint to be serious, but also that San Diego County has been on a Congressional Watch List for federal violations over the last several years. It seems all the FAA needed to take action was for users to file a formal request that investigators could act on. National experts on Part 16 complaints believe the FAA has everything it needs to make a finding against the County which could result in the County losing current and future federal funds for all it’s eight airports.

Just eight days after the complaint was filed, senior FAA compliance officers from Washington DC traveled to San Diego to meet personally with County airports division personnel and questioned them on the allegations. One day after that meeting, a 300-member flying club files a Temporary Restraining Order in the Federal court system to forestall demolition until FAA completes the investigation. Lately, the FAA and county have been silent. What do the GA users want? They say they want the six leases and the re-development opportunities covering 14 acres of airport to go to bid in a public Request For Proposal (RFP) process, which is what user?s have been asking for in public forums for several years. They want the airport to get the best leaseholder and re-development agreement possible for the benefit of the entire airport community and the public. And most importantly, uphold the grant assurances.

The local airport association on the scene is Palomar Airport Association (PAA) http://www.palomarairportassociation.com/, a subchapter of California Pilots Association. To read more about this issue please go to the Palomar Airport Association website. If you are a pilot in California you need to read the entire 30 page complaint describing a story how the county may have entered into an illegal agreement to give an inexperienced developer six lucrative, exclusive 30 year leases and redevelopment agreements that cover the entire center of the airport. A PDF of the complaint can be downloaded from the site listed above.

Watch closely. This battle could go either way and the outcome could have a big impact on light-GA throughout California.

This report was compiled from San Diego area pilots.