By Kollin Kosmicki
City council agrees to 30-year lease for new attack base
The Hollister City Council on Monday night approved a 30-year lease agreement with Cal Fire so it can build a new air-attack base at the airport in a move that ended a decade of negotiations with the state while likely keeping the agency here for the long term.
Council members approved the lease deal in a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Victor Gomez dissenting.
The new agreement calls for the 30-year term, a 10-year extension option for Cal Fire, annual base rent of about $80,000 and a Consumer Price Index-correlated increase every five years that is capped at 15 percent each adjustment period.
It does not kick in until Cal Fire completes the new air-attack base on nine acres near the current facility, and there is no required deadline in the lease attached to the state’s construction or occupation of the base.
City Manager Clint Quilter said that portion of the deal was “important to [the state]” but that it was “not that important to us.” That, he said, is because the city has options to increase the current lease’s rent or terminate it altogether as ways to “force them into a decision” on the new base.
“If it comes to having to force them into a decision whether to have that vacant or not vacant, we have the ability to do that,” he said.
The council’s airport advisory commission prior to this week’s meeting had noted the lack of a time frame and other concerns in its deliberations over the lease deal.
Commissioners also expressed concerns with the CPI cap; a lenient landing-fee structure; and a provision in the deal allowing much larger, federal aircraft to land there when needed.
Councilman Gomez on Tuesday said he opposed the agreement because airport advisory commissioners had raised valid enough concerns to have the city “go back to the negotiating table” with Cal Fire.
He pointed out how council members appoint airport commissioners to advise them on such matters.
“We were pretty much telling our airport advisory commission, ‘Thank you for your input, but no thank you,'” Gomez said.
Airport Commissioner Gordon Machado noted that he thought the CPI factor should have been “open like other contracts” instead of capping the five-year hikes at 15 percent.
Another major concern is the city allowing the first 100 Cal Fire landings of the year for free. Machado called that provision “very generous.”
“It should be none at all,” Machado said. “It’s like an impact fee. They’re getting away with 100 impacts.”
Gomez in noting his concern about the landing fees recalled how he had some knowledge of those airplanes’ impact on the runways because he spent a couple of years at the airport taking Gavilan College aviation mechanic classes.
“It is a lot when you’re talking about thousands of pounds of fire retardant on these airplanes,” he said. “It does have an impact on those runways.”
Machado also said it “bothered” him that the lease calls for the annual payments in arrear – or at the end of each fiscal year.
“It’s just a poorly negotiated contract,” he said.
Gomez, while dissenting, did note that he is pleased with the additional revenue potential once the new lease kicks in, with the annual rent jumping by about $60,000 annually over the current deal.
Cal Fire has had some type of presence at the Hollister airport since 1962, according to the lease proposal. The agreement to lease land there for the air-attack base started in 1988 and has been amended twice since then. City and state officials have been close to agreements several times in recent years but never could close the deal.
A Cal Fire official designated to speak to the media about the lease, Phil Madison, could not be reached before press time.
Gordon Machado is a member of The Pinnacle Editorial Board.