Bakersfield, California- Council Votes for Bid to Close Airport, Sell Land

Thursday, December 1, 2005
Bakersfield, Calif., Council Votes for Bid to Close Airport, Sell Land
By James Burger
The Bakersfield Californian

Bakersfield City Council members voted Wednesday night to make a formal effort to close Bakersfield Municipal Airport and sell the land to private developers. Councilwoman Irma Carson sees the airport on South Union Avenue as a blight on the community that needs to be removed and replaced with new homes, shops and businesses.

The only barrier in the way of her dream is the Federal Aviation Administration, which has granted the city millions of dollars over the last 20 years to purchase and operate the airport.

Officials with the FAA have said they are not in the habit of closing airports. Bakersfield can’t close the airport unless the FAA approves.

That fact isn’t stopping Carson.

“The issue here is how we rebirth the area. We have not been able to make an improvement in that area,” Carson said. “I pray the FAA will recognize the needs of the residents in the area.”

But pilots and business owners at the airport take issue with Carson’s view of the spot as blighted.

Flight schools, charter businesses and aeronautic manufacturers call Bakersfield Municipal their home. Planes fly in and out of the spot regularly.

It is the city, pilots say, that has failed to invest in the property and make it the economic engine it could become.

John Harmon, who sells kit airplanes from a warehouse at Bakersfield Municipal, is now building a restaurant at the airport too.

He said the FAA will never approve the closure request and it is “comical” to watch the city try to eliminate the airport.

He said he likes the clause in the closure request asking the FAA to close Bakersfield Municipal — but only if it can sell the land for enough money to pay off the price of closure.

That cost, city estimates show, could be $16 million or more.

Councilmen Harold Hanson and Mike Maggard said it is important to make sure the city could stop the airport closure if a land developer wasn’t willing to pay enough for the land to cover the closure cost.

Hanson estimated the land will have to sell for $90,000 an acre to seal that deal.

Maggard said the city shouldn’t have to spend money to close the airport.

Carson supporters said the city needs to make every effort to close the airport.

“The airpark is stagnating the area,” said Art Powell. “Why is this area being neglected? It’s time for progress for the southeast.”

City Public Works Director Raul Rojas said the request to the FAA will go out in the next several weeks, as soon as an appraisal of the property is completed.

It is uncertain, he said, how long it will take for the FAA to respond.

Maggard said nobody should underestimate Carson’s ability to achieve a goal.

“She is a very persuasive person. I’m sure she will lobby to get this done,” he said.

“I’ve already started,” Carson said.

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