Oceanside Council Members Change their Tune on Airport

Friday, September 29, 2006
New Costco could be key to Oceanside airport compromise
By DAVID STERRETT
The San Diego (CA) North County Times

OCEANSIDE —- Costco could be coming to Oceanside as the cornerstone of a compromise that would allow the city to expand its municipal airport and still generate money from the valuable property off Highway 76, city officials said Thursday. City officials said they have had discussions with Costco about using a vacant northern portion of the airport property to make way for one of its big-box stores, which would bring the city nearly $1 million a year in sales tax revenue.

Officials with Costco couldn’t be reached for comment.

As a trade-off to using part of the airport for a Costco, city officials said they would build 40 new hangars on the south side of the property that would give the airport more money to improve facilities and support itself.

The airport’s future has divided the City Council over the last year, and this week the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to look into taking over the airport, saying the city was mismanaging it.

But both council members who have wanted to use the airport land —- near the old Oceanside Drive-in at the western end of the San Luis Rey River valley —- to generate more tax revenue and those who want to expand the airport voiced support Thursday for the Costco/south side hangar expansion proposal.

“It’s a compromise,” said Councilwoman Esther Sanchez, who has been part of a council majority that has said the airport must pay for itself. “Right now it makes a lot of sense.”

Councilman Rocky Chavez, who has been a strong proponent of the city improving the airport, said he also supports the concept.

“My objective is to save the airport and to improve our economic condition. >From my perspective, this accomplishes both those goals.”

Council members stressed Thursday that nothing has been finalized, and Mayor Jim Wood said that residents and elected officials shouldn’t make any decisions until an economic study of the airport is completed.

The council already has a preliminary report, but it only has data and no recommendations or legal analysis.

A final version of the study is expected to reach the council before the end of October, said Peter Weiss, the city’s public works director.

The 36-page preliminary report was prepared by consultant Keyser Marston Associates Inc. and includes estimates about the cost to expand the airport and how much money the city could make from building homes, shops or offices on the 50-acre property.

The study shows that “the land as an airport has value and that if improved the airport can make money,” Weiss said. “And if the land is not used as an airport, whether it’s residential, commercial or industrial, it has significant value.”

The preliminary report shows the property could be sold for as much as $20 million if it were to be used for homes or condominiums and $6 million if it were used for offices or businesses.

Besides looking at alternative uses of the land, the preliminary report evaluates how much it would cost and how much revenue the airport would generate based on how much it was expanded.

The existing airport has 33 hangars and 47 tie-down spots while the master plan calls for 129 more hangars, 8,000 square feet for offices and 2,000 square feet of shops or restaurants. The total buildup would cost an estimated $12.5 million, compared with $6 million just to build out the south side of the property.

Building the south side would involve replacing 22 old hangars with about 40 new hangars and adding the offices and stores and restaurants, according to the report. The city could pay for the expansion with 15-year low-interest loans from the state, the report says.

Without changes, the airport, which has an annula budget of around $455,000, would make a profit of only $97,000 a year, while building out the south part could generate more than $580,000, according to the report.

The airport has cost the city about $450,000 since the 1970s, and the additional revenue would be used to repay the city for its losses.

“We need to build more hangars, and additional revenue is the only way for the airport to support itself,” Weiss said. “The airport can’t support itself under its current condition.”

In the past year, the council majority of Wood, Sanchez and Shari Mackin has been reluctant to expand the airport until it looked at other uses for the property.

But Mackin said Thursday in a candidates forum that she supported building up the south side of the airport. It was the first time Mackin, who is running for re-election, had made the statement publicly.

Councilman Jack Feller, who has supported expanding the airport, said Thursday he heard about Mackin’s comment and that he hopes she makes a formal proposal at an upcoming council meeting. “I’m for as much hangar space as possible,” Feller said, adding that he would probably support the Costco proposal.

Both Feller and Chavez said they didn’t want to see the entire 14-acre northern portion of the airport used for a Costco.

The Costco wouldn’t be built on the airport site, but on a 7-acre, city-owned property to the north of the airport, city officials said.

They said the city-owned property has a drainage pond on it that would need to be relocated to the north part of the airport to make way for Costco.

Sanchez said the store would be a great addition to Oceanside.

“We have a lot of people from Oceanside who go to Carlsbad or Vista to Costco. It would be great to keep their tax dollars here.”

Sanchez said she planned to bring a proposal to the council soon to pursue both the Costco and the airport expansion.

But even with such a plan, Sanchez said, the pilots need to try and reduce noise and disturbances to surrounding residents.

Ben Meyers, the president of the Oceanside Airport Association, said the proposal “sounds like a very good compromise.”

“We are here to see the airport expanded and preserved,” Meyers said. “There has to be give and take, and this sounds very reasonable because it would allow the airport to exist and economic development to go on.”

Editor’s Note: Interesting that shortly after the County proposes a study to assume airport operations, certain Oceanside City Council members suddenly come up with a compromise. Can they be trusted? The history to date is not favorable.

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