aturday, May 5, 2007
Two Oceanside officials want city to look into leasing out airport
By DAVID STERRETT
The San Diego (CA) North County Times
OCEANSIDE — Two city councilmen said Friday they want the city to consider leasing the Oceanside Municipal Airport to a company or agency that could improve and run the politically controversial airfield off Highway 76. “Now is the time to start moving forward to see what is out there as far as a partnership for the airport,” said Councilman Jack Feller, who added that a private company could do a better job of finding ways to make money and upgrade the facility. Likewise, Councilman Rocky Chavez said Friday that a private operator would provide stability to the airport. Chavez said that he wants the city in the next couple of months to allow companies to bid on the opportunity to lease out the 50-acre property in the San Luis Rey River Valley.
County Supervisor Bill Horn said this week that the county, which runs eight other airports, would have an interest in managing the Oceanside airport, but said the staffers would need to do more research on the facility. Feller and Chavez said the county could submit a bid to lease the property just like everyone else.
The three other Oceanside council members said Friday they would consider leasing the airport but didn’t know if that was the best choice for the city-owned facility.
The management of the airport, where about 85 private planes are based, has been hotly debated over the last several years.
Airport critics have complained about planes flying over homes as part of their argument that the property could be better used. Airport supporters say it is an asset to the community and needs to be upgraded. The leaders of the Oceanside Airport Association, which represents roughly 200 pilots and other supporters of the airstrip, didn’t return phone calls this week.
The council directed its staffers Feb. 14 to spend 90 days looking for grants or loans to build more hangars. Interim City Manager Peter Weiss said earlier this week that the city still hasn’t heard about its applications for either federal grants or state loans.
He said city staffers have already created a draft copy of a lease for the airport if the council wants to give companies the chance to bid to operate the airfield.
Chavez said that even if the city receives funding for the upgrades, it should lease out the airport to a private operator before the end of the summer.
“We’ve been talking about the airport for way too long and it’s important we put the issue to rest so we can work on the other issues,” Chavez said. “Leasing out the airport will make it a nonpolitical issue and will allow it to grow.”
Chavez, an airport supporter, said previous City Councils have tried to prevent the development of the airport. He said he doesn’t want future councils to be able to hinder the progress of the small airport.
Feller, an airport supporter, said the city has never given the airport “a chance to thrive.”
“A private operator will have creative ideas,” Feller said. “A good operator will relieve any stress or strain on us.”
Mayor Jim Wood, who has said the airport isn’t the best use of city land, said “he’s willing to listen to anything” but that he doubts many companies will have interest in taking over the airport because it would be difficult to turn a profit.
Councilwoman Esther Sanchez, who has been a critic of airport expansion, said if the city leases the airport it needs to receive “market value,” but she added that she prefers the city to focus more on trying to find funding for improvements.
“I don’t see a lease happening,” Sanchez said. “The best way to improve the airport is for all of us to get behind it.”
Councilman Jerry Kern, an airport supporter, said he would prefer the city ran it, but said “all options are on the table.”
“We are going to figure out how to make the airport work,” Kern said. “I wouldn’t preclude any options.”