Saturday, October 21, 2006
Four airport commissioners quit
By Sarah Ostman
The Tracy (CA) Press
Frustration turned to action this week when four Tracy Airport Commissioners turned their resignations into the City Council. Following months of tension between the Tracy Airport Commission and city officials over a plan to expand the financially troubled Tracy Municipal Airport, four of the seven commissioners have resigned.
Chairman John Howard, Vice Chairwoman Susan Gilbert and members Vincent Nastro and Jaime Locquiao quit last week, and resignation letters were received by the City Council on Monday.
Commissioners and city representatives said tension has been building for months.
“There has been frustration from the airport commission because they have a very aggressive vision for the airport, and City Council has been moving at a slower pace,” Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker said.
She said she hasn’t talked to the commissioners about the resignations, but City Manager Dan Hobbs seemed unsurprised.
“I had sensed maybe a different vision between what (the commission) wanted to do and what’s practical at this time,” he said. “I know they wanted to make a lot of improvements, but the business case wasn’t there to justify it. They had moved into almost an advocacy role, rather than an advisory role.”
In October 2005, the commission presented its goals for the airport to the City Council, such as a plan to extend runways to accommodate larger planes. In response, the city requested that The Boyd Group, an aviation consultant firm, review the commission’s strategic plan.
But Boyd’s report, released last May, called for only modest expansion. It suggested additional hangars at an estimated $3,000 each, the reclamation of fueling rights to the city, and the sale of the New Jerusalem Airport.
But the report opposed runway expansion, pointing to the neighboring aqueduct and industrial parks as geographical barriers.
The city has backed The Boyd Group’s recommendations over commissioners’ protests. The City Council also refused to forgive the airport’s debt of more than $994,000 to the city’s water fund and general fund.
Commissioner Asghar Shah said he knew of Howard’s plans to resign but said he had been unaware until Wednesday of the resignation of the other three commissioners.
He recognized the commissioners’ frustration.
“We are never going to get an extended runway, never going to get a sewer system; we can’t sell the airport because of FAA money,” he said. “Each time the commission would recommend something, staff would come back with the opposite view.”
Shah suggested that the proximity of a proposed water park and housing development was a factor in the council’s decision to back the Boyd recommendations to limit expansion.
“There’s a lot of politics going on,” he said.
Howard declined to comment on his resignation because he said the council is trying to resolve the conflict.
Gilbert also declined to comment, calling her resignation a personal decision. Nastro and Locquiao could not be reached for comment.
Maria Hurtado, director of Tracy’s Department of Parks and Community Services, said she was taken aback by the resignations.
“I’m really surprised. I had just met with (Howard) a week and a half ago. We had a discussion about how to improve the way we were doing business,” she said. “He seemed satisfied, and we both walked away happy.”
Tucker said she hoped that an agreement would be reached with the council to bring the commissioners back.
The airport, operated by Tracy Flight Center, sees about 50 private planes touch down on two runways each weekday, said a flight center mechanic. Roughly 10 of those come to a full stop, most often to refuel.
Unlike neighboring airports in Livermore and Stockton, Tracy’s airport is unequipped with an instrument landing system, making it impossible to land in poor weather conditions.
Employees at the airport were unaware of the resignations at midweek but said they had witnessed the tense relationship between the airport and the city.
“(The city) bought new overhead lights for our shop but haven’t installed them because they can’t find anyone to install them for cheap enough,” the mechanic said. “That’s what happens. People come in with fresh ideas and everyone thinks ‘this is great’ – and then the bureaucracy hits.”