Friday, August 4, 2006
Airport panel idea proposed
Supervisor pushing for oversight similar to port
By Greg Kane
The Stockton (CA) Record
STOCKTON – A San Joaquin County supervisor wants to create a panel to oversee Stockton Metropolitan Airport that would mirror the Port of Stockton’s Board of Commissioners. Supervisor Leroy Ornellas said the “airport commission” would comprise community members with law, business and finance backgrounds who can help shape the airport’s future growth.
Currently, Airport Director Barry Rondinella brings contracts, plans, budgets and other airport business directly to the supervisors for approval. An airport commission would assume those duties of approval, leaving the supervisors involved only in major financial decisions, Ornellas said.
It would also create a buffer between the board and some of the controversy surrounding the airport, such as the proposed Arnaiz Development Co. project that would build 2,100 homes across Airport Way and tussles with the city over development on the complex’s eastern edge, Ornellas said.
“It takes some of the little dramas away from the airport,” he said last week.
Stockton Metropolitan and many other airports across the state feature advisory committees that recommend policies and other decisions to the governing city or county. The concept Ornellas hopes to pursue would instead use Stockton’s port commission as its model.
The port’s seven-member commission is appointed by the Stockton City Council and holds most of the decision-making authority at the 200-acre complex. Its membership includes lawyers, engineers, bankers and businesspeople who bring expertise to running the business.
The port has become a successful enterprise under the commission’s watch, Ornellas said.
“These are people who have experience in those areas,” Ornellas said.
Rondinella said he had never heard of the plan until Ornellas announced his intentions after a recent board meeting. He also has not been approached since that time, although he said he would welcome being included in the discussion.
Airports operate under many different structures and formulas, Rondinella said. Some, like Stockton Metropolitan, are owned and operated by counties or cities. Others, like Oakland International Airport, are owned by ports.
There are also privately owned airports and others that operate as special districts, Rondinella said.
In the past year, Ornellas has criticized Rondinella’s decision-making on several issues at the airport, including the recent pursuit of Aeromexico to provide international flights to Guadalajara. When a federal grant to build a customs inspection station dried up last year, money intended for other airport improvements and updated emergency response equipment was redirected at the board’s authority to finish the project.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection in May denied a request to staff the new customs station.
Ornellas said he is gathering information on the concept and eventually would bring a discussion to fellow board members if it makes sense. Supervisors would have to approve any changes to the current structure at the airport.
Rondinella said he could not comment on the supervisor’s plan because he did not have any specific information on the format. The airport director said his preference would be to keep things the way they are at the airport, however.
“Every one of us would stay with what they know rather than moving into something they don’t know,” Rondinella said.