Palm Desert has become the first valley city to signal its interest in at least exploring the possibility of partnering with other local governments as a way to continue operations at the Bermuda Dunes Airport.
Without committing to play a part in the privately owned airport’s future, members of the Palm Desert City Council voted 4-1 on Thursday, with Councilman Bob Spiegel dissenting, to look into what a joint-management agreement could look like.
Ernie Dunlevie, who helped establish the small mid-valley airfield in 1962, died last year, prompting his family to gauge the interest of local government leaders in taking over the property before the family tries to sell the land for development.
“I don’t think the city should run an airport. It’s as simple as that,” Spiegel told The Desert Sun following Thursday’s meeting.
But some of his council colleagues said it was worth getting more information, since the airport is an important economic asset.
The Bermuda Dunes Airport does brisk business during the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival and other major events.
“If we lose the airport, I think it will never come back,” said Mayor Pro Tem Susan Marie Weber, who worked for Dunlevie as an accountant in the 1970s.
“Our plans for hotels that we’re building are going to attract people who want a private, exclusive airport,” Weber added.
Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit sent letters on behalf of the Dunlevie family asking leaders in Palm Desert, La Quinta, Indian Wells, Indio, Coachella and at the county level to consider a joint authority arrangement for the purchase, maintenance and operation of the airport.
During his time as a state lawmaker, Benoit kept his own plane at the airport and would fly himself back and forth between Sacramento.
The county already owns multiple airports, and valley governments cooperate in other endeavors such as overseeing SunLine Transit Agency.
Palm Desert staff indicated they did not yet have information on how a partnership on the airport might work, and City Manager John Wolhmuth noted that past research has shown that annexing Sun City and Bermuda Dunes does not make financial sense for Palm Desert.