May 16, 2008
Council OKs talks after hearing from two bidders
By Lola Sherman
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
OCEANSIDE – City officials are one step closer to contracting with a private operator to run Oceanside Municipal Airport, possibly for the next half century. In a 4-1 vote Wednesday night, the City Council decided to negotiate with Airport Property Ventures of Los Angeles, a company formed a year ago by a partnership that includes two former executive directors of the agency that runs Los Angeles International Airport. The company was one of two bidders that made presentations Wednesday. The single-runway Oceanside airport in the San Luis Rey River valley long has been a contentious issue with the council, which at one time considered turning it into a shopping center or housing to make money from the 50 acres. The Federal Aviation Administration nixed that idea last year, leading the council to seek a private operator to run the 45-year-old airport.
City Manager Peter Weiss said negotiating a contract with Airport Property Ventures will take about 60 days. The contract will need council approval. Airport Property Ventures proposed a 50-year lease and promised to spend $21 million to improve the airport and to pay more than $11 million in rent to the city in the next 25 years. The fact that the company is only a year old and operates no airports now concerned council members. The company’s three principals, however, said they have cumulative years of experience at major airports in the country. John Driscoll was executive director of Los Angeles World Airports from 1992 to 1999. The public agency operates Los Angeles International, Ontario International, Palmdale Regional and Van Nuys General Aviation airports. Lydia Kennard was executive director of the agency from 1999 to 2003 and from 2005 to 2007. The third principal, Robert Clifford, is a commercial real estate broker specializing in airport properties.
Santa Monica-based American Airport Corp., which operates five general-aviation airports in Los Angeles County, also bid for the job. That company offered a smaller financial package: a $6 million investment for a 40-year lease and about $4 million in total revenue to the city over 25 years. Both companies proposed building about 100 hangars and 50 tie-downs and a new terminal building, as well as paying off a $744,500 state loan and $480,000 the airport owes the city general fund.
After the meeting, Councilman Jerry Kern, who cast the dissenting vote, said he thought American Airport was the better choice. Kern said Airport Property Ventures officials said they had a promise of loans to pay for airport improvements, while American Airport said it has cash in hand to do the job. Airport Property Ventures also would have to gear up to take over the airport, Kern said, whereas American Airport has a manager ready to step in right away. But Kern said the most important thing is that either company provided the airport with a long-term future.
Representatives of the Oceanside Airport Association, a pro-airport group, and Citizens for a Better Oceanside, successor to a group that sued the city over its opposition to the airport, said they could work with either company. “It’s a great day,” said Ben Meyers, president of the airport association.
Ron Stewart, president of the citizens group, said 3,000 people live in the airport area and asked that their safety and noise concerns be considered.