Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 22, 2010

Palo Alto eager to run local airport

City officials push for early takeover of Palo Alto Airport management after they learn they can't close it

by Gennady Sheyner

Year after year, Palo Alto's gritty little airport defies the odds.

As airports across America languish under diminished demand, the Palo Alto Airport continues to attract flocks of aviators to its aging hangars. More than 500 aircraft use the 102-acre facility as their base.

Though the number of operations at Palo Alto Airport dropped from about 200,000 three years ago to nearly 160,000 in 2009, most other municipal airports would envy these numbers, an airport expert told a City Council committee Tuesday night (Oct. 19).

These statistics are looming large in the minds of Palo Alto's elected officials, who are now positioning themselves to enter the airport-management business. The airport has been managed by Santa Clara County since 1967 under a lease that will expire in 2017. County officials have indicated that they do not intend to extend the lease or make any major investments in the aging facility. This means that at some point between 2012 and 2017 Palo Alto will have to assume the risks and reap the rewards of airport management whether the city wants to or not under FAA regulations.

This week, the council's Finance Committee began preparing for this takeover when it discussed an independent business analysis for the airport. The study, by the Kentucky-based firm R. A. Wiedemann & Associates, found that the city could generate a hefty profit by either managing the airport in-house or by hiring a private company to manage it on its behalf.

The committee unanimously agreed that the city should take the airport over from the county as soon as possible, rather than wait until 2017. Committee members set the wheels in motion by directing staff to come back in December with a plan for an early takeover.

For the council, the airport represents both an opportunity and a burden. The city is obligated to take over management of the airport at a time when airports nationwide are struggling to keep their services intact. R. A. Wiedemann, the consultant who performed the business analysis on Palo Alto Airport, told the committee that most airports saw significant losses in usage because of the Great Recession. This has led to a decrease in revenues and services.

"There is an economic squeeze now," Wiedemann told the committee. "Generally, aviation is the first to get hit and the last to recover."

The risk is particularly troublesome because of stringent Federal Aviation Administration regulations. The FAA, which provides grants for airport maintenance and improvements, has requirements prohibiting agencies from closing airports even if they're losing money. In Chicago, officials decided to close its Meigs Field airport without properly notifying the FAA, and ended up spending $1.6 million on fines and legal costs. Since then, the fine for closing an airport without notifying the FAA has been raised from $1,000 per day to $10,000 per day, according to Wiedemann's report.

Furthermore, the process of converting airport land to other uses requires FAA approval, which could take years, if not decades.

But the facility doesn't have to be a financial drain, Wiedemann told the committee. The Palo Alto Airport has many upsides, he said. Its tie-down rates, which range from $129.50 to $188.50 a month, are among the highest in the state and the country. The Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose charges between $120.50 and $157, while the San Carlos Airport charges $118.

"It's hard to screw this airport up," Wiedemann told the Finance Committee Tuesday. "It's a very successful cash-cow airport that has a lot of principles working for it.

On paper, and in every other kind of way, it makes the grade of being a good investment."

The investment, however, isn't without risks. Despite its high level of activity, Palo Alto Airport has been losing money for years, county documents show. According to a business plan the county approved in 2006, the county's investment in the airport has exceeded airport revenues by $808,000 in the first 39 years of the lease. The business calls its existing arrangement with the city "awkward and untenable for the County."

This is largely because the county doesn't have control over land-use decisions at the Palo Alto Airport like it does at the Reid-Hillview and the South County airports. The city's land-use plans, which bar intensification of development in the Baylands, make it all but impossible for the county to add hangars or pursue any other revenue-creating capital projects.

"The airport faces a structural financial problem in that operating costs are rising faster than revenue and additional capital investments in the airport infrastructure will be required, yet future opportunities to generate additional revenue will be extremely limited," the business plan states.

Wiedemann said about 90 percent of general-aviation airports don't make money, but argued that Palo Alto Airport could be an exception because of its heavy activity. Despite its historic losses, the airport has been making a small profit in recent years. In fiscal year 2008, Palo Alto Airport's operating revenues exceeded its operating expenses by $119,653, according to county data.

"A hundred acres is a postage stamp of an airport, but you have 400 to 500 airplanes on it," Wiedemann said. "That's highly unusual. A lot of airports are happy with 50 airplanes."

Wiedemann's report estimates that if the city were to take over the airport by 2012 and manage it in-house, it could make a cumulative profit of $13.5 million by 2037. If a third party manages Palo Alto Aiport, the profit could be $16.2 million by 2037 because of greater efficiency in controlling costs.

Councilman Larry Klein pointed out at Tuesday's meeting that the council really has only two options: taking over the airport in 2017 or to doing it sooner. Given these options, the committee agreed that sooner is better. The committee unanimously directed staff to come back with a time line and a list of staff resources that would need to be expended.

David Creemer, chair of the Joint Community Relations Committee for the Palo Alto Airport, said his committee and other members of the Palo Alto's vocal airport community would be happy to help city leaders as they transition into airport management, particularly if this means improving the local facility.

"We are extremely enthusiastic to help this process one way or another," Creemer said.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 20, 2010 at 1:06 pm

This is another example of how small groups of non-residents have hijacked Palo Alto City government assets. There are only about 80 Palo Altans who house their planes at this airport. The rest are from other local cities, and some possible not even Bay Area residents.

The land, about 100 acres, has been charged out for about $1 a year (or some such). This land is nominally worth $500M, but the City, and the residents, have been deprived of any economic benefit from the use of this land as an airport.

There are so many reasons that this is another accident waiting to happen. The 02.17.10 crash took out the power for Palo Alto, which caused a significant amount of economic damage to most businesses in town. The Airport Operations took no responsibility. The City Utility took no responsibility, claiming the dead pilot was responsible. So, the stage is set for everyone point his/her finger at someone else, with the homeowners, and business owners, paying the bills for the damage done when these machines fall out of sky on homes, and schools, on the ground below.

The following is a straw man effort to estimate the cost to the local economy from the 02.17.10 crash/power outage:

Web Link

The numbers in this estimate are probably high, but what is true is that almost everyone lost a day's productivity from this crash, and no one at the City/Airport Admin. has had much to say about how they intend to keep this from happening in the future.

Shutting this facility down makes more sense that putting financial responsibility for this operation on the backs of the Palo Alto homeowners, and business owners.


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Why does Palo Alto think it needs another way to lose money, and why the hurry to lose money?


Posted by Phil, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 20, 2010 at 4:31 pm

The synergy of an updated airport and a High Speed Rail stop will be tremendous for Palo Alto.


Posted by Bob Wenzlau, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 20, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

We are talking this same topic on a thread I started earlier this morning.
Web Link


Posted by Doug, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2010 at 4:59 pm

I agree that the airport should be run by a fixed base operator (private enterprise). However, the FBO needs to be allowed to develop sufficient amenities, like hangers, to make it profitable.

As to the notion that CPA should automatically pay for libraries and parks and museums, etc., but not for a municipal airport, I can only say that I do not use any of the above, so why should I, as a citzen of PA have to pay taxes for them? I think the answer is obvious: Community amenities do NOT serve each and every citizen; they serve to enhance a vibrant and engaged commnity as a whole, and bring intrinsic value to a community.

I do not fly, at least not anymore, but I find the airport to be well-located, and it provides a way into the air...and a dream for flight that enough people still want. If we are going to charge rent for the land at the airport, then why shouldn't we also charge for other things on city land, like anaerobic digestors and parks and libraries?


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 20, 2010 at 6:38 pm

The costs of running an airport, even a small one, are quite large. Historically, the Palo Alto airport has run in the red, asking for a handout from City, and County agencies, quite often. The history of the airport is well documented in the files of the PA Historical Society. Just before the County took it over back in the late 1950s, it was about to go under.

One of the costs which may not be obvious to most is the levee system, which protects the airport from high water. These levels were built decades ago, and have, in the past, broken--putting the airport, and the planes, in harm's way. The following short paper contains a couple scans documenting breaks back in the 1940s:

Web Link

In the not too distant past, the pilots have objected to being expected to pay for maintaining/rebuilding these levees. If they are successful in avoiding paying their fair share for maintaining this necessary part of the infrastructure that is required to make this airport functional--then those costs will fall on the Palo Alto taxpayer. The best way to deal with these sorts of costs is to create reserve funds, into which users would be charged, one way or another, to acquire the money necessary to maintain these structures. Failure to do so just sets the stage for another City-manufactured disaster.

Unless the City takes this cost into consideration, then the claim that the airport will "turn a profit" will be another of those very hard to believe claims of the Palo Alto City Government.


Posted by PA Resident, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 20, 2010 at 9:25 pm

My previous post on the other link.

Why is Palo Alto getting into the airport business? Since the county can't make money operating the airport, what makes anyone think our City can? Many users do not live in Palo Alto so we would subsidize county residents' use. Why?

The plan proposes several years taxpayer investment without a return; this is called a loss. If there ever is any profit, the FAA rules prevent it from being added to the City's general fund. This is a no win situation - no return on investment and a loss of taxpayer's money if the airport loses money.

Our Council should do everything possible to turn the airport over to a private enterprise which knows how to run it. The Council is charged with providing public services that citizens need or use: roads, utilities, parks, schools, libraries, fire and police protection, etc., not to run a costly, limited resident use, noisy, and potentially dangerous enterprise. Liability anyone?


Posted by jardins, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2010 at 9:56 pm

"It's hard to screw this airport up," Wiedemann told the Finance Committee Tuesday. "It's a very successful cash-cow airport that has a lot of principles working for it.

Wanna bet? Just give the Palo Alto city administration 10 years to make a hash of this, a big financial hash.

This great opportunity is a pig in a poke. Palo Altans should get to vote on whether or not they want to take on yet another liability.


Posted by What rent?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2010 at 10:27 pm

What kind of rent did the business plan assume that the airport would be paying for use of the land? Was it the present $1 per year, or was it market rate? I wouldn't be so against the airport continuing if it paid a fair rent to the City for use of the land. That way, the City would at least have some income to put into the General Fund.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 21, 2010 at 5:48 am

The Palo Alto Airport has been a nuisance, and a financial disaster, since its early days on the Stanford lands. The residents of College Terrace were in the process of suing in order to get the air operations moved, as early as 1934:

Web Link

WWII put a damper on general aviation for the duration of the war, but private flying commenced as soon as the war was over. The airport was in-and-out of financial problems the whole time that it was in private hands. The true costs of operating the airport are generally not known, since the County Airport Administration has not done the best job managing the records of the operation. The City has contributed money, in order to correct environmental problems which the County would not address, and these costs have not been added into the total cost of the operation.

The Flight Control Tower was built with Federal Money, and the salaries/benefits of the FAA people are paid by the Federal Government/Taxpayer. Other Federal Money has been applied to the site, from time-to-time. The cost of the levees has never been considered, nor the original buildings. And then there is the so-called "Master Plan", which calls for several million more dollars in facilities upgrades in the coming years. At a minimum, the costs of these upgrades will have to be borne by the facility operator. However, from listening to people using the airport, they don't see that they should be expected to pay for these upgrades, when/if they are made.

Currently, there is no one that holds a "master inventory" for the site, which accurately lists all of the real property, its physical status, and replace/by dates/costs.

Recently, we (the residents and businesses) have become aware that there is a $6+M "hole" in the refuse fund, and that the Director (making well more than $200K yearly when all the benefits/perks are added in) has been "retired" for reasons unknown. It is extremely difficult to believe that the City will be able to hire people who will actually run this operation as a business, and not another of the many City operations that expect to be subsidized when they run out of money--no matter how much money we pay them.

There are many issues associated with safety, where airports are involved. The 02.17.10 crash, which blacked out Palo Alto for a day, has yet to have even one City official (elected or selected) speak to the matter of this crash, or the issue of safety of a "pocket" airport operating in the middle of an urban setting with perhaps 300,000 people living within a five-mile radius (which is where most small aircraft crashes occur). Given this most recent history, there doesn't seem to be anyone in the Palo Alto City Government, or the County Government, that is particularly concerned with safety issues.

While the idea (of a couple years ago) to "swap" land on the Bayshore highway with local automobile dealers was a very bad idea, this plan dwarfs that by several orders of magnitude, and will end badly.


Posted by Pauline, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 21, 2010 at 8:56 am

City Manager's Report 379:10 with attached Palo Alto airport draft business plan by R. A. Wiedemann & Associates provides a good foundation for productive discussion.

Web Link

The unanimous October 19 vote by the Finance Committee to move the airport management issue promptly to Council slated for a December, 2010 meeting is the responsible way to go.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 22, 2010 at 6:02 am

While the focus of the current discussion seems to be the finances of the airport (which are poorly documented by private sector standards, there is the issue of safety--which seems to have been under most people's radar. The NTSB/FAA keeps records of accidents/crashes/incidents online, going back to 1964. The following is a collection of some of these crashes:

Web Link

This collection of investigation narratives makes it painfully clear that pilot error/malfunction is at the root cause of most accidents. The current system does not seem to consider the danger to the people living/working on the ground, within a five-mile radius of this airport. The current system seems to only focus on the airplane and pilot. If the City were to be the owner/operator, then safety would be the concern not only of the Municipal Corporation--but the property owners and residents too. It would be imperative to have some sort of "safety compliance officer" on the payroll, to review all of the accidents/incidents at this facility. It would be necessary to provide a level of safety that exceeds the FAA's rather detached interest in the safety of the general population. Such an activity would add costs which have not now been considered.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 22, 2010 at 6:32 am

Articles From The San Jose Mercury, Demonstrating How Palo Alto Residents Are Captives Of Pilots Who Fly Irresponsibly, and Unsafely.

Over the years, there have been any number of situations where pilots have "buzzed" pedestrians in the general vicinity of the airport, or flown too low over residential properties.The City government has been helpless to do anything, because the facility has been run by the County, and the County has been irresponsible as an operator—not showing any interest in safe operations of the pilots in the air.

Article--
Web Link


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 22, 2010 at 7:24 am

I have experienced pilots have been buzzing my neighborhood ever since I bought my house, 25 tears ago, this includes early takeoffs on weekends and late landings. I don't even live next door to the airport. The gist of the response, or rather non-response to this safety and pollution nuisance has been that boys will be boys. In the aftermath of the February crash, a pilot who parks his plane there admitted on this vet forum that many pilots hadn't been taking noise abating and safety procedures vet seriously. It's obvious that the airport administration isn't taking them, or at least their enforcement very seriously either. Some of the comments toward expressed fears of EPA residents in the aftermath of the February crash had been quite racist in their nature. Not only airport has this airport a perennial money loser throughout its history while receiving the land free of charge, its users, most of whom are not even PA residents, have developed an incredibly arrogant attitude toward the very people who finance their hobby. This airport is a major polluter, a permanent danger to the surrounding neighborhoods and a perennial money loser:shut it down immediately.


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 22, 2010 at 7:29 am

My keyboard was malfunctioning while typing my previous comment but I think the gist of it is clear.


Posted by MJ, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 22, 2010 at 11:00 am

Could this be put on a ballot so residents get a chance to weigh in with their vote? If the city were to take over the airport could the airport be charged fair market rent for the use of the land which could go to the General Fund? Or do FAA regulations specifically prevent the city from charging a fair market rent?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2010 at 11:37 am

Who actually owns the land? Can the city of Palo Alto charge rent for something it doesn't own? Or does the city own the land?


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 22, 2010 at 11:57 am

"I have experienced pilots have been buzzing my neighborhood ever since I bought my house..."

As the pilots will tell you, it's your problem because you bought a house in the vicinity of an airport, and they have a God-given right to do what they please wherever their planes can go, and planes are very often flying in the vicinity of an airport.

If low-flying planes bother you, do what most of the airport users do - buy a house in Atherton or Cupertino or Woodside or Los Altos - you get the picture.

Meantime, just pay your taxes so PA can keep the airport open.


Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 22, 2010 at 12:30 pm

This issue will show if the citizens of Palo Alto are willing to PAY FOR the excesses of the few who think they are ENTITLED to getting a freebie when it comes to the availability of local aircraft in their city.

The reality is that general aviation facilities are overbuilt in the SFBA. A pilot only has to look at the concentrations of TCAs in the Bay Area.

To run a facility at a loss indicates a willingness of the " City Father attitude " to keep a facility at any cost. After all, it isn't THEIR money.....

Turning Moffett Field into a GA hub and closing all the other GA facilities would be a logical solution. Charging PROPER hangar rentals and having a large FBO and facilities are a no-brainer.

You want to have an aircraft, YOU should pay for the PRIVILEGES of owning one! ( I have owned both a boat & aircraft; both are expensive toys and NOT a true " Business Tool as some claim ) and people need to realize the true cost of ownership.

The business of pilots " buzzing " houses and not following noise abatement rules is evident in the EPA crash; most pilots WERE supposed to turn toward the Bay on takeoff and gain altitude over water....but most of the time that was ignored....

So consolidate the GA stuff at Moffett ( EVERYTHING from R-H ) or display that ossified thinking and keep paying for someone else's expensive hobby....

Moffett NAS and Hiller are gone from the SFBA today. Things change.


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 22, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Beside the racist comments of some pro airport people after the February crash, the most outrageous was of a businessman, or so he claimed, who flies his airplane into this airport but doesn't even live in California. He was so enraged by comments which called for the airport to be shut down, that he threatened to buzz Palo Alto neighborhoods at the minimum altitude allowed by the FAA each time he was flting in or out of this airport. This is in a nutshell the gist of the response we can expect from the airport administration and the pro-airport crowd when we complain about disregard for noise abatement and safety procedures and the freebie we have been providing for so long for mostly non-Palo Alto residents:we are not cool, we are whining wimps, we don't believe in the American spirit, go live somewhere else, let boys be boys.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 22, 2010 at 1:03 pm

From reviewing some of the expenditure documents of the Palo Alto Airport (PAO), and also the audit of the Palo Alto Auditor, it became clear that "true cost" accounting was not be used by anyone associated with the airport. Since the FAA pays for the Flight Control portion of the airport, attempts to request the total dollars expended over the years for Tower Operations (salaries and benefits), as well was the cost of building the Operations Tower (ca. 1967), ran into a brick wall. (While the door is still open on the possibility of obtaining this information, I was told by an FAA representative that unless I could identify every spending source that the FAA administered, they would not be able to provide any information about how those dollars were spent.)

The FAA did provide a list of the dollars/projects which it had spent in the last few years on "infrastructure" related projects. This number comes to about $3.8M which has benefited the pilots, but has been paid for by the Federal taxpayers. If the FAA does not continue to provide these funds in the future, where will they come from? And why shouldn't the operator of the airport be expected to report "true costs" of this operation--just like a private sector company would be expected to do?

PAO/FAA Spending on Infrastructure:
Web Link


Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Is there any way the city can close it down? The article said they couldn't without notice. Can we give notice and start the process to shut it down? Why don't we. We can use the land for other things.


Posted by jan, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2010 at 5:02 pm

It WAS the PILOT's fault!!! Pilot is responsible for flying and landing the plane. Period. Don't blame the city. And a little airport is ok.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 22, 2010 at 5:31 pm

> And a little airport is ok.

The issue here is whether the airport can pay for itself. It's clear from the airport's problems in the 1950s, and the future costs needed to maintain/refurb this facility that it can not be self-sustaining. The Palo Alto taxpayers are carrying the ball for a handful of pilots--most of whom are not Palo Alto residents.


Posted by GaryAir, a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Local airports are best because they keep traffic off already overly crowded highways and roads. Closing Palo Alto Airport would only add more traffic as folks going to Stanford or other wonderful Palo Alto treasures and companies must drive further to get there polluting as they sit in gridlock. A transportation system that encourages many modes of integrated transportation systems will give people choices that will enable them to reduce the causes of climate change and use their time most wisely. Technological improvements will improve aircraft efficiency and reduce noise and other environmental impacts. If an airport like Palo Alto were to be closed, it would rob future generations of its benefits and opportunity to innovate. It is a lack of faith in future innovators and a harsh example of closed-mindedness to suggest that we should rob our sons and daughters of the opportunity make Palo Alto Airport all that it can be.

I don't think most Palo Alto residents are so single-minded. The Palo Alto residents I know are friendly, sharing, forward-looking people who are proud to host such a vibrant and successful airport for their and their neighbors' use.

I'll admit that we at GaryAir have not done as good a job as we hope we will in the future telling the story about how we can make Palo Alto resdidents' lives better. The FAA is very strict about who they certify to carry passengers for hire, so we have been concentrating on that for some time. Please see Web Link for more information about how we and our friends at Palo Alto Airport can serve you and your neighbors. Fortunately, there are many of us innovating toward many alternatives to driving on gridlocked roads and highways.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 22, 2010 at 7:10 pm

> Local airports are best because they keep traffic off already ]
> overly crowded highways and roads

Care to add some actual numbers? Vague, unprovable, claims like this one do little but muddy the waters. Certainly some number of people fly into PA, but couldn't they fly commercial into San Jose just as easily? And please remember that these small planes generate a lot of noise that disrupt our home life. Cars don't do that.

What about moving the PA Airport to Moffett Field? Lots more room, and a little better location.


Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 22, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Sorry, GaryAir. Your bias is showing. I don't think you were DELIBERATELY ignoring a logical solution. Wayne Martin agrees with it too.

The added advantage: VTA already has Light Rail there, so if PA would do the proper thing and run Light Rail along the Caltrain right of way ( like RTD did in Denver with the ATSF/UP lines ) aviation junkies ( yes it becomes addictive ) could get their fix...that is if they don't mind mingling with the " unwashed " TAXPAYER..

Denver is already planning a build-out of Light Rail to DIA, so you have the opportunity to grab a first...a GA facility actually served by mass transit...and so much for the auto argument. Everyone who uses GA usually pays for a rental car if its not a home airport. Most aviation people DRIVE to the airport too..but you know that already, right?

Only ossified thinking would prevent this opportunity. It would fill up some empty VTA trains too.....


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 23, 2010 at 6:20 am

The comments by GaryAir makes no sense and sound like simple minded propaganda. Pilots and passengers still have to drive to and from Stanford and "other Palo Alto treasures" as well as the Valley. They would need to drive to and from Stanford, for example, using city streets exclusively, therefore adding to the congestion and pollution not relieving it. On the other hand, if they flew to San Jose on a commercial flight, they would use mostly the freeway in order to get to Stanford. Additionally, flying a small plane into an airport so close-by to residential neighborhoods entails severe noise pollution, danger and lead pollution that finds its way into our soil, water and homes and creates long term health and environmental damage. A recent major study indicated that about 10,000 deaths a year are attributed to airplane leaded fuel in the USA alone. And the buzzing over houses, at least in my neighborhood, and I don't even live near the airport has increased since the last crash. What is that all about?


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 23, 2010 at 6:38 am

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Federal Government promoted General Aviation, as it helped to provide "connectivity" to many small communities throughout the country, which did not see a big highway building program until the 1950s. Today, highways, and large airports, provide "connectivity" to most small towns, although the FAA continues to promote General Aviation when few actual users of the country's many small airports exist. The following two articles from fairly recent USA Today editions reveal the depth of this problem:

Web Link

The US Government's long-term financial obligations perhaps now exceed $200T, which will be paid by future generations. Taxpayers need to be asking why we need so many small, government-funded, airports.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 23, 2010 at 7:38 am

There is a somewhat lengthy discussion of the environmental issues associated with leaded Avgas, including various responses by the EPA--

Avgas (Aviation Gasoline):
Web Link

Environmental issues associated with storage/use of fuels/oils would fall on the City, should it become an owner/operator. To what extent it could be liable for mitigating environmental damages from these materials is an open question.


Posted by Dave, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 24, 2010 at 11:07 pm

In my experience,the people that tend to me the most rabid anti-airport folks are those who have something personal to gain if the airport were to close.

Real estate developers often eye airports because they are some of the last open space in an area they can build on to make an easy profit. I would rather see such open space remain where wildlife and humans can co-exist. Airports don't even need to be paved. Many are turf.

Some politicians jump on anti-airport mantras because they can get themselves elected by pandering to voters who aren't aware of the very real benefits that the airport brings their neighbors.

Luckily the Palo Alto City Council has done its homework and has found that the the majority of users of the airport are in fact very good neighbors and work hard to make the airport the excellent asset it is for Palo Alto and the region. It is clear that a convenient transportation node in a city is an excellent catalyst for economic development, and, managed properly, can very much improve quality of life of the citizens in the area.

Some commenters mentioned leaded fuels. The EPA is hard at work with the FAA to find an alternate fuel for piston aircraft. In order to be lifted aloft aircraft engines are lighter and simpler than auto engines. This means making a change takes a little longer because the engineers must be more careful and detailed to ensure safety, but a solution will come soon. Probably in less time than closing the airport would take, so there is no point bringing up leaded fuel as a reason to close the airport.

There are certainly better alternatives than Light Rail to get to/from airports. My favorite is SkyTran, see www.SkyTran.net . The City of San Jose is hosting a conference on this subject this week. For information about the free public event on Wednesday night see Web Link


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 25, 2010 at 7:10 am

> Real estate developers often eye airports because they
> are some of the last open space in an area they can build
> on to make an easy profit

There are a handful of property developers in Palo Alto, who are well known, by name. None of these folks have supported the closure of the Palo Alto Airport so that they can "make an easy profit". The people most "rabid" are those who have come to see the airport as a major drain on public finances, and will be an even large one in the future.

Here are a few links to other Cities that have had to face this problem:

FAA could be player in airport closure battle:
Web Link

Harrietstown officials ask FAA about airport closure:
Web Link]

Closure of county airport wouldn't come without a fight
Web Link

Chicago/Meigs Field Closed: Park Built
Web Link

In 1994, Mayor Richard M. Daley announced plans to close the airport and build a park in its place on Northerly Island
---

Cost to the public seems to be the driving force in the airport closures consider/effected in the links above.

After WWII, there were hundreds of airstrips/airfields all over the US that were shut down. Many became the property of government, some were sold to private interests. In the case of the Palo Alto Airport, the City is currently getting about 50 cents a year in rent on a property that is nominally valued at $500M. The taxpayers get nothing from this airport--other than airplanes flying too low over people's homes, and massive economic disruption when a plane destroys vital City infrastructure, as in the 02.17.10 crash. Sadly, the Palo Alto City Council has never spoken to this issue, as they have a history of avoiding most controversial issues involving public safety. (Anyone guess when the San Francisquito Creek is going to be fixed?)

The City has a backlog of easily $550M in infrastructure work that needs to be done. The airport will produce nothing for the General Fund, and will ultimately end up costing the taxpayers "umpteen" millions in upkeep, hidden costs, and refurbishment--mostly for the benefit of non-residents who could care less about shifting these costs from themselves to the backs of the Palo Altans. This is not an example of being a "good neighbor".

It's astounding that the City Council is claiming that Palo Alto can not afford to keep its harbor open, because of "cost", but it can keep an airport open.

The people opposed to the City's being involved in this airport as an owner/operator has nothing to do with "making an easy profit", but standing up for the concept of intelligent self-government that is self-sustaining, and not based on "robbing Peter to pay Paul".


Posted by CHinCider, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 25, 2010 at 8:53 am

To Wayne Martin -

You state that the Airport property is "nominally valued at $550M".
How in the world can it possibly be worth that much money unless it is valued as commercial property with development potential? Do you really think that it has a market value of that amount unless it is developed? That amount of valuation can be supported only by an assumption of 'highest and best use' that presumes commercial property valuation.

You claim that there are no development interests at play in the potential closure and yet you yourself use a valuation based on development potential in order to attempt to support your case that the airport should be closed.

Which is it? You can't have it both ways. Your logic is flawed, as usual.


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 25, 2010 at 12:30 pm

"Some commentators mentioned leaded fuels. The EPA is hard at work with the FAA to find an alternate fuel for piston aircraft. In order to be lifted aloft aircraft engines are lighter and simpler than auto engines. This means making a change takes a little longer because the engineers must be more careful and detailed to ensure safety, but a solution will come soon. Probably in less time than closing the airport would take, so there is no point bringing up leaded fuel as a reason to close the airport".
We have been hearing this for decades now, how a solution to the leaded fuel for piston aircraft is just around the corner, yet we don't seem to be any closer to it. My guess is that if the airport is not shut down, as it should, for numerous reasons beside the deadly lead particulates it dumps into our water, soil, air and bodies, its supporters will still tell us years from now how we shouldn't bring up the leaded fuel issue because a solution will take less time than the process of shutting down the airport. In the meantime, about ten thousands people a year are dying in the US alone as a result of aircraft leaded fuel poisoning.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 25, 2010 at 12:58 pm

CHinCider,

Actually, Wayne clearly said "nominally valued at $500M" not "$550M" as you posted.

At any rate, the motivation for establishing a value for the Palo Alto Airport isn't for developer interests. There clearly aren't any developers interested in the PAO site. The primary purpose for doing the exercise is to comply with the FAA's land release restrictions. If the PAO were to be closed before the term of the AIP (airport improvement grant) expire in 20 years, the fair market value needs to be set. The FAA expects at least part of that value to given back, presumably to fund other airports which would take PAO traffic. This is described in the Wiedemann business plan, Section 5.4.

Anyone who wants to know how PAO will impact the City's finances should read the County's response the the City auditor's report in 2006 and the County business plan for the Palo Alto Airport. There is no business model that will make PAO financially viable without the City dumping a huge amount of money into the venture. Here's the link:
Web Link

It's very clear that taking over the airport will be a financial disaster for the city.


Posted by Doug, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 25, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Regarding the safety issue, the experience of Reid-Hillview in San Jose is relevant. After yet another attempt to close RHV, Santa Clara County hired SRI International to look at the overall safety issue:

"The county commissioned a $330,000 safety study by SRI International of Menlo Park. In a 1994 report, SRI said Reid-Hillview Airport has only half the national accident rate for small airports and that the risk to airport neighbors would be far greater if stores, industry or housing were built on the land" ( Web Link )

Another way to look at this is that Palo Alto, if it closed PAO, and allowed development of the land, would need to pay higher insurance fees to cover the rare lawsuits that might occur.

Regarding the assertion that PAO land is worth $550M, that is just another weirdo by Wayne Matin. Foothills Park might be worth a few gold coins, too, if it is rezoned for development. PAO will not get rezoned for major development, just as Foothills Park will not get rezoned. Kiss that $500M dream goodbye.

Regarding why Palo Alto should support an amenity that non-PA citzens can use, I suppose that Redwood City could make the same complaint about PA citizens parking their boat in RC harbor, or PA citizens using the MV main library (becasue it is so much better than anything in PA). Shoreline Park is used by many more PA citizens than MV citzens using Byxbee Park. Amenities are something that city offers to the general public, unless there is a specific reason not to.

PAO should be glad that outside pilots park their planes at our airport...better to pay for the airport! When PA takes over the airport, it should hire a private FBO to run the show, AND change the rules of land use, so that more and better hangers and facilities can be built. PAO has enormous potential as a money maker, and a catalyst of future economic growth for Palo Alto...but only if we stop stopping it.

(Note: Most of this post is re-posted from the other string that discusses the same subject).


Posted by CHinCider, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 26, 2010 at 8:19 am

To "Joe" -

You're right, my bad - sort of. I transposed the $550M fugure from elsewhere in Martin's post. But, $550M or $500M, what's the difference in this case? The airport property clearly is not worth anywhere near either amount unless it is valued at a future development potential. The fact that the FAA may require such a valuation is irrelevant; it is still an artificial valuation that will never be realized. Do you really think Palo Alto would allow such development? I seem to recall there was such a battle back in the 50's and 60's............


Posted by Dave, a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 5, 2010 at 11:48 am

Here's an example of why the closed minded, negative, sky is falling, non-innovators want to act quickly to close the airport before the truth comes out about how useful it is and how it is an excellent opportunity for innovation. Electric aircraft anyone? Worried about lead emmissions? How about no emissions?

Web Link


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