Oceanside – Mayor, Others Continue Conduct Harmful to Airport

Friday, September 28, 2007
City won’t aid operator of airport, official says
By Lola Sherman
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune

OCEANSIDE – Six potential bidders attended an informational meeting yesterday to grill a city official on details of a contract to operate Oceanside Municipal Airport. They questioned Gary Gurley, the city’s general services manager and overseer of the airport, for an hour and a half. Those representatives will decide whether to submit a formal bid. Several potential bidders wanted to know whether the airport has been a political football and whether the City Council would help secure state and federal grants to pay for improvements the city wants at the airfield.

Gurley generally avoided the first question and essentially said no to the second – although that apparently contradicts the position of most council members.

The city has issued a request for proposals from bidders interested in operating the 47-year-old airport, at the west end of the San Luis Rey Valley. Gurley said he wants to take a proposed contract to the council in January.

The city has specified that it wants an operator to pay off a $1.2 million debt, provide 50 hangars and 40 tie-downs, build an administration building with a restaurant and pay the city 10 percent of gross annual profits.

All but 11 of the airport’s 34 hangars probably need to be torn down, Gurley said.

The successful bidder also must build the north side of airport according to a 1994 master plan. The plan is not very explicit, but Gurley said there must be infrastructure such as restrooms and utilities on the north side, which is now vacant.

The airport operator could not run a flight school or rent aircraft.

“If anything in this (request for proposals) is onerous, please bring it up,” Gurley told the potential bidders who gathered around a conference table. A dozen people watched the meeting.

The potential bidders’ main concern was Gurley’s statement that the city would not help an airport operator gain state or federal loans or grants.

Potential bidder Scott Wardle of American Airports Corp., which manages five airports for Los Angeles County, presented a hypothetical situation: The runway needs improvement; his company puts up half the money. Would the city apply for the other half from the Federal Aviation Administration?

“We do not anticipate any city involvement in the airport,” Gurley replied. “Our intention is to get out of the airport business.”

All the city wants to do, he said, is cash rent checks from the operator.

Gurley said the City Council did not want to take on any further obligations from the FAA, which has given the city $5.5 million in grants.

Three council members said in phone interviews after the meeting that they do not agree with Gurley’s characterization of the council’s position.

“It’s still our property,” Councilman Jerry Kern said. “The city just wants someone to take over (operations).”

Councilman Jack Feller said, “I’m of the opinion that we want to get every dime we can from the FAA.”

Councilman Rocky Chavez said, “I do not see why we would not support” a request to the FAA.

Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said she agreed with Gurley, and would not support any city involvement with the FAA. “You assume the risk financially,” she said, equating it with co-signing a loan for someone else.

Mayor Jim Wood agreed, saying, “We are getting rid of the airport; why would we be involved again?”

The airport has been a subject of contention for the City Council, which considered a year ago whether to close the facility and develop the 50 acres. That prompted the FAA to sternly remind the city that the airport could not be closed, and spurred pilot groups to spend tens of thousands of dollars to elect two council members – Chavez and Kern – who supported the airport.

Two potential bidders, Wardle and C. Lance Barnett, asked Gurley about political support for the airport. Wardle noted that the master plan, written in 1994 and approved by the City Council in 1997, had not been implemented.

Barnett, from CMTS Inc., a construction management company in Culver City, asked how many council seats will be on the November 2008 ballot. The seats now occupied by Sanchez, Feller and Wood would be contested. (Editor’s Note: Sanchez and Wood have been anti-airport all along and continue to try to torpedo the city’s airport. The community should assess their lack of leadership on this important asset and take action at the ballot box.)

Potential bidder Leland Ayers said some of the city’s construction requirements would be very expensive for any management company.

Ayers, who manages hangars at Fallbrook Airpark and French Valley Airport near Murrieta, has previously said the city’s proposed deal could run an operator in the red by $84,000 a month.

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