Moffett Field's iconic Hangar One Project

White House may decide Hangar’s fate – Future use, viability of airfield is a major question

“The highest levels” of the federal government are now deciding whether to accept an offer from Google’s founders to restore Moffett Field’s iconic Hangar One, NASA Ames administrator Deb Feng said last week.

In light of recent conversations with NASA headquarters, “I am optimistic (that the decision) will be favorable for the whole community,” Feng told the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board at its meeting. “I couldn’t have said that a little while ago.”

Feng is the deputy director of NASA Ames Research Center.

After NASA’s efforts to fund the hangar’s restoration failed in Congress last year, a proposal to save the structure came from top Google executives through H211 LLC, which runs private aircraft out of Moffett’s Hangar 211 for Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin and board chair Eric Schmidt. In exchange for restoring Hangar One, the executives want a long-term lease allowing them to use Hangar One to park their eight private aircraft, including two jumbo jets.

But to the chagrin of those who have been fighting for years to save the hangar, including Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, there’s been no decision from NASA headquarters for four months. It appears that the proposal has pushed the federal government to finally make a decision about the future of Moffett Field. After all, why would NASA sign a long-term lease with H211 to use a hangar on an airfield that soon may be shut down?

NASA officials have complained about the $7 million a year cost of operating the Moffett airfield, while hangar lease payments — such as H211’s $1.3 million a year — don’t cover the expense for the cash-strapped agency.

Lenny Siegel, Save Hangar One Committee leader and longtime environmental cleanup advocate for Moffett, speculates that there are people at NASA headquarters that want to transfer Moffett’s runways to a “non-federal entity” which would get in the way of H211’s use of Hangar One. The lightly used airfield could go away entirely and be transferred to the city, for example, for real estate development.

“My expectation is that this will be decided at the White House-level,” Siegel said.

If the White House does decide to designate the Moffett runways as surplus, Siegel said he would push for a task force of various stakeholders to figure out the best way to re-use the property. “The community has to be involved in how this property is to be used,” Siegel said.

But he recalled such discussions shortly after the Navy left Moffett Field in 1996 and 1997 which pitted him against many Hangar One preservationists — Siegel pushed for a community-supported redevelopment of the airfield, while others wanted it to remain an airfield, possibly run by Santa Clara County’s Airport Authority.

Such a process could cause years of delays in restoring the hangar while the uncovered frame is exposed to the elements. And $12 million in scaffolding being used by Navy contractors to remove Hangar One’s PCB- and asbestos-laden skin would be long gone before it’s needed for a restoration project.

“I oppose (surplussing it) now because it won’t allow us to resolve the hangar issue for several years,” Siegel said. He added that agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency would need to be involved because of ongoing efforts to clean the toxin trichloroethylene from the airfield’s groundwater.