Thursday, June 8, 2006
Threat of lawsuit prompts council to cancel talk of airport rent hikes
By Lola Sherman
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune
OCEANSIDE – Threats of a lawsuit caused the cancellation of a scheduled City Council discussion last night of proposed large rent increases for hangars at Oceanside Municipal Airport. At the beginning of the meeting, City Attorney John Mullen announced the item was being removed from the agenda due to possible litigation by lawyer Ron Cozad.
Mullen said there would be new notice “when and if” the item would be discussed.
Afterward, Mullen explained that Cozad had threatened a class-action suit claiming harm over the rents, but that many of the charges were “vague.”
Mullen said he must study the threat before recommending further council action.
In his staff report before the scheduled discussion, Gary Gurley, senior property agent for the city, said the rent increases are necessary because the airport costs $455,000 annually to operate but brings in only $375,000.
The Oceanside Airport Association, which says it has about 800 members, said the proposal to raise rents so drastically was a ploy by the council majority to be able to tell the FAA the airport was such a money-loser that it should be closed.
The airport can’t make money without being improved, association members have agreed, but the council has refused any grants to develop the airport further until a still-pending study of possible other uses is completed.
Meanwhile, a Northern California businessman, Pete Sandhu of Union City, was scheduled to speak to the council past press time. He said in an interview earlier in the day that he intended to offer to buy the airport and turn it into a private enterprise.
Sandhu did not name a price.
He said he and his investors could not pay the $35 million that Mayor Jim Wood has said the property is worth, but he didn’t shrink too far from the $5 million figure that Wood has indicated the city might be willing to pay the FAA in fines to close the airport.
And, Sandhu said, putting the property into private hands would add it to the tax rolls so the city would continue to make money on the deal.
Private investors then could develop the airport with restaurants, rental-car services and other related businesses to attract tourists such as biplane flights now being flown out of McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad.
As close as the Oceanside airport is to both Palomar and Camp Pendleton, Sandhu said, there probably would be no need for a flight school.
And, Sandhu, a pilot, said private operators could do a better job of making sure the obligatory flight path over the nearby San Luis Rey River is followed. For instance, he said, there’s no banner on the field now to tell pilots to take that route.
The proposed increased rents are:
Council isn’t high on offer to buy airport
The City Council did not seem interested late last night in investor Pete Sandhu’s offer to buy Oceanside Municipal Airport.
Sandhu said he represented investors who could take the red-ink airport off the city’s hands and improve it to the point where its taxes would provide revenue to the city.
He had to wait until 11 p.m. to make his presentation to a council tired after a seven-hour meeting, including its 4 p.m. closed session.
Mayor Jim Wood and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said the airport property is worth millions of dollars, and it may have potential to bring revenue and jobs to the city in some other use.
“It would be a gift of public funds” to sell such a valuable property, Sanchez said.
Councilman Jack Feller said the city should keep the airport.
The only two council members to exhibit any interest were Rocky Chavez, who suggested not dismissing the proposal “out of hand,” and Shari Mackin, who asked Sandhu for a copy of his presentation.