Tracy Still Trying to Sell New Jerusalem Airport

Wednesday, September 19, 2007
City starts negotiations for airport sale
By Bob Brownne
The Tracy (CA) Press

If the FAA gives Tracy the freedom to sell New Jerusalem Airport, it could end up being sold to a developer. The Tracy City Council has unanimously agreed to negotiate with a Roseland developer for the possible sale of the New Jerusalem Airport on Durham Ferry Road. The discussions with Richland Planned Communities took place during a closed session right after Tuesday’s regular council meeting, but City Manager Dan Hobbs recommended that the council also discuss the matter in an open session so that council members could decide if they would consider releasing control of the city-owned property. Hobbs said the council needed to consider the “policy implications” if the developer eventually bought the land. The deal would come at a time when San Joaquin County starts an update of its general plan.

“Potentially, this is the genesis of a new town on the outskirts of Tracy,” Hobbs told the council.

Rod Buchanan, the city’s deputy director for parks and community services, reported that Richland owns 1,370 acres surrounding the 393-acre airport. Richland responded to the city’s request in early 2005 for proposals on potential land uses around the airport.

“There’s a long way to go with any negotiations,” said Don Troppmann, senior entitlement consultant for Richland. “All we’re doing is responding to their request for proposals.”

Troppmann said the family that leased the airport land from the city and used the fields surrounding the runways as farmland also sold the neighboring land to Richland. Richland now leases that land to local farmers.

He added that speculation about a new development is premature, and Richland could choose to keep the airport land and surrounding land in agriculture. He added that the land could end up as a permanent agricultural preserve to compensate for development elsewhere.

“We buy property for a lot of reasons,” he said. “In today’s world, you always have to think about mitigation.”

Last year, Richland donated an agricultural easement on 1,200 acres near Deuel Vocational Institution to the Central Valley Farmland Trust to compensate for 700 acres the company will develop in western Lathrop. The company was obligated to pay $13.6 million to take the Lathrop land out of an agricultural preserve. It paid $8.7 million to the county and used the land swap to compensate for the rest of the fee.

Whether the city can sell the airport land to Richland has yet to be seen. The property still has two runways where planes can take off and land, but it has no other airport amenities. The Federal Aviation Administration must decide whether those runways should be kept in place for aviators.

The federal government gave the land to the city in the mid-1940s with a deed restriction that requires the city to always use it as an airport. Buchanan noted that for the past 10 years, the city has sought FAA approval for release of the airport from that deed restriction.

If the FAA lifts the deed restriction, the city could sell the land. But first the city must demonstrate that the airport is no longer needed, that there is a viable alternative land use and that the city would use money from the sale to invest in Tracy Municipal Airport.

Ian Gregor, spokesman for the FAA’s Western-Pacific region office in Lawndale, said the FAA rarely releases land from deed restrictions like this. Typically, there must be a replacement airport and a review of the application by the FAA’s office in Washington, D.C., with a confirmation that the airport is no longer needed.

He added that the city asked several years ago for the land to be released, but the FAA determined that the city’s application was incomplete and has taken no action since.

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