Wednesday, March 9, 2005
County supervisors miffed at secret discussions for airport terminal
By Les Mahler
The San Joaquin News Service
STOCKTON — San Joaquin County supervisors are miffed that two powerful developers and Stockton officials went behind their backs to discuss a new terminal at the county-run Stockton Metropolitan Airport. The issue came up at Tuesday’s board meeting, where supervisors expressed anger at being left out of the loop while others are making big plans for an airport under their jurisdiction.
Discussions about a new terminal are “taking place without the knowledge of the county,” Supervisor Victor Mow said. “The county has not been invited to participate.”
Apparently developers Howard Arnaiz and John Thomas, former Stockton mayor Gary Podesto and Stockton City Manager Mark Lewis approached congressmen Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, to discuss construction of a new terminal at the airport, supervisors said.
Arnaiz is a developer who owns 400 acres at the airport, and Thomas is the founder of Regent Development of Sacramento. Among other Stockton projects, Regent is building a 10,000-seat arena in downtown Stockton. Thomas also owns the California Cougars, a minor-league soccer team slated to play in it.
Board members Tuesday said Podesto, Lewis, Thomas and Arnaiz met with the congressmen, but the former mayor disputed that.
“I called to talk about a new state of the art, Homeland Security terminal at the airport,” Podesto said.
The current airport terminal is not close to “being state of the art for security. A new, state of the art terminal will make the airport one of the safest airports in California.”
Podesto said he plans to call Cardoza.
Lewis, Arnaiz and Thomas could not be reached for comment.
Supervisor Leroy Ornellas said Pombo called him and asked why the county wasn’t involved in the process.
“I explained that this was a group going on their own,” Ornellas said.
Podesto said Arnaiz and Thomas are actually pushing for different sites for a new terminal at the airport.
Thomas wants a new terminal on the north side of the airport while Arnaiz wants it on the south side, which is closer to his property, Podesto said.
Podesto said he wasn’t sure if Arnaiz would donate the land for the new terminal or “privately fund the interchange, which would cost in exccess of $20 million.”
Podesto said if Arnaiz gets his wish for the terminal closer to his property, he would financially benefit if the interchange is at state Highway 99.
“The terminal would be better served if it’s on his side of the property,” Podesto said.
Arnaiz sued the county in 1998 over whether the city of Stockton or San Joaquin County had to provide the infrastructure for Arnaiz’s 400 acres at the airport.
The county and Arnaiz settled in December which allowed Arnaiz to lease 25 acres rent free for 49 years. Besides the rent free 25 acres, Arnaiz also got $2 million and a reimbursement of $81,000 from the county.
One source with ties to Regent said Thomas wants the new terminal so his soccer team will have a viable airport to fly in and out of that’s close by.
But the airport already has a terminal which can accommodate four major airlines, said airport director Barry Rondinella. With some minor alterations it can serve up to eight airlines, Rondinella said.