Thursday, December 14, 2006
Decision on airport given timetable
Palo Alto, county will set facility’s course within six months
By Banks Albach
The Palo Alto (CA) Daily News
Palo Alto and Santa Clara County have six months to set a course for the city’s airport, a popular takeoff spot for Peninsula pilots, but a burden the county claims grows heavier every year. The county Board of Supervisors rejected a staff recommendation Tuesday to scrap its operating lease with the city, which owns the land, when it expires in 2017. Instead, the board opened a six-month negotiating window with the city. The board also increased the fuel flowage fee by 10 cents per gallon and raised the monthly aircraft parking fee by 7.6 percent annually. Representing Palo Alto, District 5 Supervisor Liz Kniss said the city and the county, which both dispute the airport’s profitability, need to tighten their focus in the coming six months.
“I think at this point I’ve gotten an important vote,” Kniss said. “This is a great window of opportunity for Palo Alto if they truly want an airport in the area.”
Mayor Judy Kleinberg was heartened by the decision.
“I’m encouraged that they want to partner with us and come up with a profitable business plan,” she said.
The negotiations will likely center on airport improvements, such as building more hangars, which the county claims will bring in more revenue. About 100 of the 500 aircraft kept at the airport are housed in hangars.
It’s the best chance to make the airport more profitable, said county airports commissioner Bob Lenox.
“The county has clearly indicated that for them to stay involved they want to improve the land,” he said.
But the land falls under the Baylands Master Plan, which bars more growth. The city would need to amend the plan to expand.
Both bodies signed the 50-year lease in 1967. Between its initial $1 million investment and three years of capital improvements, such as runway maintenance, the county claims to be roughly $681,000 in the red. And recently, the airport is struggling to match revenue against growing overhead and labor costs, said county Airport and Roads department director Michael Murdter.
“There’s no disagreement over the numbers on revenues and expenditures,” he said. “The airport has been in the past capable of generating a profit. The city just has a different interpretation.”
A 2006 city audit showed that since 1967 the airport has made roughly $400,000, which the county has counted against its $1 million investment.
Editor’s Note: There continues to be disagreement whether or not the the city really has lost money on the airport due to various off airport charges which should not have been applied to the airport.