Town Square

Post a New Topic

City could take over airport within three years

Original post made on Sep 19, 2007

Like an airplane owner who doesn't know how to fly, the City of Palo Alto has an airport but doesn't know how to manage it. It's left that to Santa Clara County for the last 40 years.
Yet in three to 10 years, the city will have its hands on the controls of its 100-acre airport.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, September 19, 2007, 3:18 AM

Comments (81)

Posted by Gary, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 19, 2007 at 10:09 am

It would be a great move for PA to manage this airport, as it will probably become more important to intra-Valley commerce as the region grows. Operated correctly, this could be a boon to the general fund.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2007 at 10:16 am

If the City appoints the right person to manage the airport, then the City could and should do it. At present though, the city can't run the city departments we already have. And the thing about the airport is that public safety is important in a way that no other city departments have to worry about and any mistake is not just costly but potentially dangerous.

I don't want a group of what we have now as city leaders and council running the airport. Get the right manager at the helm, please.


Posted by TL, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 19, 2007 at 10:37 am

If Santa Clara County can't run the airport and make a profit, neither will Palo Alto. Are Palo Altans willing to subsidize yet another City department.

It will be run rather like the golf course. Every time an increase in tie down fees is proposed a group of airplane owners will lobby the City Council and they will back down because they've got no backbone.



Posted by Dan W, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 19, 2007 at 10:45 am

I don't think the city can run the airport at a profit either. But I think the city should take over the airport and close it. The land can and should be used for other purposes, or sold for development.

Right now the airport is a playpen for rich private pilots, most of whom aren't even Palo Alto residents. And the small plane traffic presents a significant noise hazard for many City residents.

Why should we subsidize this activity? (And even if the the city were to run the airport so as to break even, it STILL would constitute a huge subsidy when compared to what the land might bring if used for a higher-value use, whether that's parkland, open space (which would benefit all residents), or for development (which would help us with our budget).

Close the airport. It's the right thing to do.


Posted by Bob Briggs, a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 19, 2007 at 1:01 pm

A quote from Lindbergh: Science, freedom, beauty, adventure-aviation offers it all.
Airplanes are a fascinating inspiration to young people, and Palo Alto has a jewel of a locally accessible airport to expose them to it. Located right on the edge of the bay, it allows access without overflying noise sensitive areas.

Local pilots are very aware of noise issues and have outreach groups to follow up on noise complaints. The first step is to identify whether the plane landed or took off from Palo Alto Airport (PAO) and, if so, follow up with the pilot and person making the complaint. There have been very few noise complaints about aircraft from PAO.

Rich people own airplanes, but not all airplane owners are rich. For non-owners, there are several flying clubs at the airport where you can exercise your airplane addiction for a yearly cost (if you fly an hour every weekend) of about $5000. This is not expensive compared to some other hobbies.

In half an hour's flight, you can fly over the freeways rimming the bay, sightseeing over Hayward, Oakland, Berkeley, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge and Park, SFO airport, and back down 101 to PAO. The traffic on the freeways won't hold you up. You may see a beautiful sunset or a full circle rainbow from the air. Bring your camera.

Bob Briggs
Palo Alto Airport Assn


Posted by Dan W, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 19, 2007 at 1:16 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by JFP, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2007 at 1:21 pm

If the county can't run it at a profit, the city should just close it. My guess is, though, that the city will take it over and run it at a loss.


Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 19, 2007 at 1:26 pm

It's hard to disagree with Dan W.

I'm sure we'll eventually hear about all the fine benefits of having an airport nearby, and how useful it will be in the event of an earthquake.

The fact remains that Palo Alto has a very valuable piece of environmentally sensitive land that isn't producing returns to the vast majority of residents. If it's economic returns we're interested in, then there are MANY uses of the land that would return more than a regional airport. If on the other hand, we're concerned about the environmental aspects, why in the world would we have these small planes droning over our houses after circling the environmentally sensitive baylands as they takeoff?

Far less than half of the relatively wealthy users of the airport are PA residents. There is NO case to be made that the airport should remain open.


Posted by Bob Briggs, a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 19, 2007 at 1:34 pm

Can't let Dena Mossar's Global Warming go unremarked.
Of course Global Warming is controversial, otherwise she wouldn't say "It's not controversial".

See junkscience.com for the controversial viewpoint.

Bob Briggs


Posted by Bob Davis, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2007 at 1:40 pm

It should be noted that the airport has received over $3.5 million in Federal grants and subsidies over the past 10 years which are not included in the county's accounting that shows the airport barely making a profit. IF these Federal expenditures are added to the expense side of the equation, the financial picture tips decisively toward losses for airport operation.

There is no reason to expect the Federal government to continue to subdize the airport at current levels after Palo Alto takes it over. If federal funding dries up, Palo Alto will be on the hook for the items now paid for by the Feds. Losses could quickly multiply to significant levels - the last thing we need in our current budget situation.

We have no expertise in running an airport, and the risk is too great to try to do so.

Take over the airport. And close it.


Posted by Simon P, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 19, 2007 at 1:48 pm

I think Mr. Briggs and his friends should park their expensive airplanes at the San Carlos airport or the Hillview Airport in San Jose. They may have to drive a little further for their hobby, but if Global warming is junk science as Mr. Briggs says, they at least they can drive the extra distances with clear consciences.


Posted by Dan W, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 19, 2007 at 1:55 pm

The airport already is costing us money that isn't included in the budget. In 2005, the airport was at risk of flooding from high tides. Workers from the city sandbagged the airport preventing flooding. Web Link

With the risk of flooding increasing because of climate change, it's hard to believe that this won't be an increasingly common concern for the operator of the airport. That operator should not be the taxpayers of the city.


Posted by Bob Briggs, a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 19, 2007 at 2:21 pm

The flood in the fifties was higher than the recent one, as indicated by high water marks on some of the hanger workbenches.


Posted by Dan W, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 19, 2007 at 2:38 pm

The fact that there have been other floods at the airport previous to 2005 is only more fodder for those of us who say the airport should be closed. Whoever is operating the airport will have to bear the costs of future floods, regardless of how high they are.

The costs of airport flooding, like the other costs of operating the airport should not be born by the taxpayers of Palo Alto, especially when these costs are naked subsidies to wealthy non-residents in large measure.

If the city council cannot say no even to wealthy non resident special interests, then there is absolutely no hope of ever controlling our budget.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 19, 2007 at 2:46 pm

I attended last night's meeting in order to participate in a subsequent agenda item, so I was there to hear the entire discussion around the airport.

I am not a pilot or aircraft enthusiast, nor am I personally affected by activities due to planes flying in and out of PAO. As a City Parks and Recreation Commissioner, I have a neutral view of the airport, insofar as it ties in with the Baylands and future Master Plan. Pretty much no strong opinions going back any time around the airport.

That said, last night's discussion left me with mis-givings about an airport in Palo Alto's future. There seem to be a great many challenges of various shapes and stripes that are needed to make such a facility viable operationally and financially, and there was not clear data presented last night that demonstrated to me that achieving such viablity is assured, let alone easy.

I don't like to be overly simplistic about community matters, and try to make sure I have a good understanding of an issue before I come to any final conclusions, but one glaring, common sense question that seemed not to get asked or answered is "What makes us think that we can succesfully operate an airport that County officials with years of experience doing that very thing have decided to abandon?"

In the private sector, there are times when a business line or division no longer is a good fit with the parent company's direction, and the divested business thrives when out from the encumbrances of the prior parent. In such cases, there typically is a management team and a financial backer who understand how to unleash the potential of the newly consituted enterprise, and they bring the expertise, a risk tolerance and have a time horizon to bring that about.

Also in the private sector, there are times when a business is simply shut down because it no longer is a viable propostion. It might still be a going concern, with customers and vendors who like doing business with the entity, but it just is not able to continue on a sustained basis without "help," and so is phased out, unless there is a compelling non-monetary reason for it to be kept open.


Posted by Chuck, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 19, 2007 at 2:55 pm

Good analysis, Paul. Until some more data is presented that makes a stronger financial case, your question might alternatively be posed, "Why should the City undertake an enterprise which risks the city losing money it does not have largely for the benefit of wealthy non-residents?"

For in fact, the only 'non-monetary reason for he airport to be kept open" is the political imperative to subsidize people who hardly are the most deserving members even of our broader neighborhood community. The Council has to be able to say no to these weekend recreational pilots, or it has no backbone at all.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 19, 2007 at 2:56 pm

Thick thumbed my posting, here are my finishing comments:

I don't see Palo Alto bringing much to the party in terms of operating and managing an airport, as Staff as much as admitted last night. The financial and accounting of an airport can be argued different ways, as we experience with the Golf Course, the waste treatment facilities, and other things around town, but it is by no means a no brainer that this airport could be a net contributor to the City's financial picture, and could well become another net needer of financial support for the foreseeable future.

What little was said about trends in general aviation do not suggest that the "market" for this type of airport is particularly favorable, and other externalities such as newer jet planes not being able to use it, and questions around how much effort will be needed in the coming years to manage the natural flood plane from SF Bay are huge considerations.

These are some pretty tough challenges that I think the airport community must work hard to address head on if they are going to make a compelling case for Palo Alto taking over this airport with the intent of keeping it open for the foreseeable future. I wish them well, but it appears to this observer to be a daunting task, with no assurance of success.


Posted by Dan W, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 19, 2007 at 3:11 pm

It's interesting that the only defender here of Palo Alto taxpayers continuing to subsidize the wealthy hobbyist pilots at the Palo Alto Airport is from Los Altos.


Posted by Rich, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 19, 2007 at 3:20 pm

I response to Anna, I hope she doesn't mind having her next and future airline flights delayed more than they already are. These aircraft are not going away, so where will the land and take off? That's right, airports that handle both commercial and general aviation. It is short-sighted NIMBY thinking like yours that has caused such a mess already. Community airports like PAO are invaluable assets, small cogs in a much larger machine. Those rich people you complain about probably employ your friends and neighbors, their business taxes fixing your roads and schools. Proper management of these assets can be profitable. Oh, and the FAA wouldn't allow the closure of the airport anyway because of the improvement funds it has received through the years. Check it out.


Posted by Answer to Paul Losch, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 19, 2007 at 3:23 pm

Paul,

I believe that the county refused to keep the contract with PA, because it wanted the airport to build more hangers, in order to generate more fees. The airport is prevented from doing this, because of environmental constraints put into place a long time ago. Isn't it time to review these old contraints?

Paul, if you want to analyze this as a business model, you should think about the bigger picture. Many businesses would be run out of PA, if they were under the constraints that the airport has.

PA airport has been largely neglected by the city, because it was a county-run entity. However, it has enormous potential as a profit center for the city. There have been previous discussions with city staff and leaders about having a private entity integrate the golf course and airport with a hotel/convention center. The golf course is mediocre at best (a "dog run, according to a friend of mine that designs golf courses). The airport could be upgraded in a variety of ways to attract greater tie-down fees. Businesses related to aviation could be attracted. Executives could be charged higher fees for special services. High schools could have aviation clubs. Palo Alto could actually try to "sell" this great asset, instead of just accepting it. There are many possibilities. It just takes some imagination...which will only come when PA decides to commit.

Put on your thinking cap, Paul!


Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 19, 2007 at 3:37 pm

Rich seems to suggest that wealthy Atherton, Los Altos Hills and Woodside residents who currently have their flying hobby subsidized by the county employ my neighbors, and so should have their hobby subsidized by Palo Alto taxpayers if the city when the county pulls out. I fail to see the logic. Rich people will continue to employ my neighbors even if I don't contribute to their hobby because they make lots of money doing so.

The idea that general aviation aircraft will delay my next airplane flight if we close the Palo Alto airport also seems far fetched. More likely the rich guys currently getting bargain rates will relocate to another general avaition airport like San Carlos...and will pay market rates to do so. In any event, keeping SFO air traffic organized hardly seems like the responsibility of Palo Alto taxpayers.

I find it difficult to believe that the federal govenment can force the city to keep the Palo Alto airport open and running at a loss. I hope Rich can offer a web citation for such a requirement. A Constitutional Lawyer would have a lot of fun with the ensuing lawsuit should the FAA attempt this kind of overreaching.

If this is the best that proponents of the airport can offer, it's more clear to me than before that we need to work on closing the airport.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 19, 2007 at 3:41 pm

If there is a compelling case to be made for transforming the airport to becoming something very different from what is there now, and which provides a reasonable financial return to the community, by all means present the case. Or cases. That is not what was presented at last night's meeting, but there certainly is an opportunity to do so.

I have some experience looking into what else might get done with the golf course, the lackluster commercial buildings on the other side of Embarcadero, and other things alluded to by the poster above. The high level visions of a hotel complex, a different golf course, and now a decidedly different airport are intriguing, and my experience is that the devil is in the details. Finding people willing to put up risk capital to achieve such a vision has not panned out, those with expertise on such things have not seen it as a concept that will pass muster on most standard business measures.

I really have no dog in this hunt directly one way or the other. The airport and the land it sits on is an asset for Palo Alto. If there are ways to make this asset more valuable as an airport, and not a problematic operation we "inherit" from its neglectful county parent, terrific! I did not get such an impression from last night's discussion, and there is a great deal of granularity that needs to go into such a conversattion to make sure that the asset has the type of potential the poster above suggests is there.


Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 19, 2007 at 3:51 pm

Answer to Paul Losch seems to think that all the city bureaucrats need to do is show some imagination and we'll have a humming profit center of an airport out on the Baylands. It cuts against both common sense and all experience to think that the City can profitably run a business - even one that makes economic sense. And the Airport doesn't pass even that basic test.

THe idea of developing a new hotel and convention center along with adding more hangars to the airport on sensitively environmentally baylands is more than "imagination" -- it's fantasy. First, Palo Alto residents and leaders would never in a hundred years put up with it. Check it out with Debbie Mytels or some of the environmental groups in town and see if you can escape without being tarred and feathered. Second, the Palo Alto process is such that major hotel builders like Hyatt have given up trying to build even on El Camino because of the Palo Alto process. Are we supposed to subsidize the airport for 10 or 20 years while some mythical private developer negotiates with the city and environmental groups to put a hotel in an environmental area?

IF we're going to have more business and commercial activity out on the Baylands, aviation is not either the most profitable, or the most compatible with what residents expect there.

Kill this turkey of an idea now.


Posted by Bob W, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2007 at 4:07 pm

The city needs land for infrastructure, that would be made available by the closing of the airport. The airport is expensive infrastructure, and the replacement use could be operate at a much lower cost point. If it operates at a lower cost point, then it needs to make less money.

One candidate infrastructure use would be for local composting of our garden and green waste. With the landfill closing in 2011 and being made dedicated parkland, we are losing the current area for our current composting operation. The proposed alternative for the green waste is a "regional" solution that includes hauling out of the city. This alternative carries an associated hauling expense as well as global warming burden. While some might debate the point, composting is a rather low impact activity, and would be funded through the city's refuse enterprise fund. Residents and businesses will either pay a firm to handle it regionally, or could pay to have it handled locally -- money will flow from our pockets one way or the other. If the money were kept locally, it could go toward generating a positive revenue flow at the airport property. The entire land demand of this activity would be up to 10 acres, and would likely generate a revenue flow to permit some use for recreation -- another huge shortage in the town.

(One aspect of the city taking over the airport, is that airports typically have large environmental liabilities associated with them. It would be reasonable to expect fuel spills, that would likely come back to the city if that were not assigned to the county before taking over the land. This could be a multi-million dollar liability.)

My assumption (and hope) is that the airport is gone, and now is the time to start visioning out the replacement land use. This replacement will obviously evaluated in economics, environmental impact, and community need. Some use for infrastructure by the city would be prudent, as we are very much squeezed for land.


Posted by Answer to Paul Losch, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 19, 2007 at 4:15 pm

Paul,

Judy Kleinberg has presented some ideas about more playing fields at the golf course. I suspect that you are referring to her proposals. Pat Burt also proposed making the golf course into a links course, vastly improved over the current dog run, and perhpas improving the flood plain. Private investors joined this conversation, and said that an integrated approach could be developed, with private money taking the risk (to include a high end hotel). I'm surprised that you are not aware of such possibilities (already presented in public forums).

You say, "Finding people willing to put up risk capital to achieve such a vision has not panned out". The people who are willing to risk such capital need an INTEGRATED plan, not a piecemeal plan. In other words, playing fields at the golf course, as a stand alone, is not a plan. Piecemeal upgrades of the aiport is not a strategic plan. Same with "the lackluster commercial buildings on the other side of Embarcadero".

If Palo Alto was willing to put out a strategic call for private investment inquiries, involving the airport, hotel, golf course (including more playing fields), other side of Embarcadero, Baylands athletic center, the current dump site, etc. I am willing to bet the farm that there would be interest. All Palo Alto would need to do is to state that it would be willing adjust zoning to accomodate such proposals. In other words, it would need to climb aboard the 21st century, and actually negotiate like it means business.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 19, 2007 at 5:07 pm

I am very aware of Judy's and Pat's concepts. I am aware of what Iheard in meetings I attended in which private entities expressed their opinions on various ideas pertaining to the footprint out there. I stand by my earlier observations.

If you really want to take a big picture look at this thing, here is an alternative concept. Close down the airport, move the Municipal SErvices Center to that space, and make the vacated MSC land along East Bayshore an auto mall. I am not suggesting that this should be done, I would love to see a robust viable airport be part of Palo Alto's future success. But, there can be huge visions that do not include an airport as a part of them.

I do agree looking at things piecemeal will not likely get us very far from where things are now. A significant change out there does require viewing things from a different lens. Merely doing that may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. Even with such an approach, including an airport must stand on its merits, not be something that is subsumed by a "bigger picture."


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2007 at 5:30 pm

Transfer general aviation to Moffett, extend Oregon to the Dumbarton, reopen the yacht harbor and expand the golf course to 18 holes, each hole named after a local endangered species instead of numbered.


Posted by Carly, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2007 at 6:59 pm

Bob W's and Paul's responses show the kind of imagination required to turn the potential liability of the airport land into an asset. Moving current city functions to a vacated airport parcel could have positive environmental and financial effects that could (for once) be a real boon to the city.

As Paul W points out, the city is soon to lose the land it currently uses for recycling. Using the part of current airport land for this would be a real contribution to the environment (as opposed to the unrealistic grandstanding environmental nonsense that has come to characterize the current council.)

And anyone who knows anything at all about commercial retail knows that using prime freeway frontage road for storage of city vehicles and equipment is a huge waste of potential sales tax generating businesses. Moving that function to the less commercially airport location would free up the freeway parcels to not only auto dealerships, but the big box stores that neighboring cities have been grabbing as Palo ALto's sales tax revenue falters. And it would locate those businesses away from residential areas - avoiding a Palo ALto Process fight.

We can't afford to let the tail of the airport wag the dog of more efficient use of our municipal resources. As was pointed out above, most users are not even Palo Alto residents. Let's do something smart in this city for a change.


Posted by Danny, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2007 at 7:10 pm

I'm not so sure the airport area needs another luxury hotel. The new EPA Four Seasons, right across the freeway from the airport has had occupancy problems since it opened. I know the night manager there, and he says it's a good night - except when there is some special event at the hotel or in the area - when the rooms are 50% occupied. Ever notice the lack of lights in the hotel rooms when driving by on the freeway in the evenings? It's a real problem for them.

I imagine any hotel developer would realize this before sinking money into an airport hotel that isn't even on a main thoroughfare.

I think there's huge doubt as to whether a hotel can bail out a financially shaky airport operation. I like the idea of closing it and using the land for something more sustainable much better, especially if it is less financially risky.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2007 at 7:16 pm

I seem to be in a minority here, but here goes.

I think the airport should stay. I think that we should do all in our power to keep it.

As we all know, driving around the Bay Area is a chore. Public transport is going to have to improve. Already this week I have heard ideas about increasing ferry terminals to take pressure off bridges, building ferry ports and increasing transport to these terminals. The future is going to be in getting more and more private cars off the roads and into some type of public transportation. I can foresee that in years to come, Palo Alto airport and the many other private small plane airports are going to become hubs for small planes including vertical takeoff aircraft to get executives and those willing to pay for the service about the Bay Area. I can see air shuttles to SFO and Oakland, if not also San Jose airports. I can see air taxis into downtown San Francisco. I can see University Dons commuting between Stanford and UC Berkeley, by air.

The future that I envisage may not come for another 10, 20 years, or more, but I think that at that stage the airport being where it is will be a marvelous addition to the city.

Please do not do what the school board did. Don't close the airport and build on it something that is going to end up being regretted by the generation to come.

If Hangars 1 and 2 at Moffett can be used for their original purpose by forward thinking entrepreneurs, then surely our airport can also.


Posted by Donna, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 19, 2007 at 7:29 pm


"the city is soon to lose the land it currently uses for recycling. Using the part of current airport land for this would be a real contribution to the environment "

Carly,

The city does not have to lose its current recycling center. It's just that extremist environmentalists INSIST that the recylcing center be shut down. There is no reason to shut down an incredible economic opportunity like the airport just because an existing, and practical, recyling center is objectionalbe to preservationists. Emily Renzel does NOT run this city. It is time that we understand this simple fact.


Posted by Gary, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 19, 2007 at 8:02 pm

I agree with Resident. This airport will become of more and more strategic import. We should look for NEW ways to leverage this asset as an airport.

Certainly, before saying "no" to this opportunity, we should have someone with real entrepreneurial chps look into this property, and come forward with 2-3 good plans for making the airport's ROI a positive one.


Posted by bruce, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2007 at 8:29 pm

Thank you Paul for a cogent presentation of the problems - and opportunities - in using the airport land. And I like Bob Davis' points about the Federal subsidies. Proving the airport can be profitable must be supported by exhaustive analysis, not with rhetoric.

The airport land has been and will continue to be subjected to flooding. Existing and new projects must take this into account - even a new recycling area or relocating the Municipal Service Center.

The pluses and minuses are many; statements and wishful thinking won't solve this in the short run.


Posted by Warren, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2007 at 10:51 pm

1. There are plenty of Palo Alto residents who use and value the Palo Alto airport, myself included.

2. For us, the existence and proximity of "PAO" is one of the many things that makes this city such a wonderful place to live.

3. Although it obviously isn't reasonable for the city to subsidize the airport to a gross extent, airport costs should be considered in light of other expenditures the city makes which each individually serve the interests of a subset of citizens, but when all taken together, serve everyone.

4. Money spent at the airport [and a lot is!] contributes to the Palo Alto economy through taxes and jobs.

5. What gives you (Dan, Bob, Paul, etc.) the right to deny your fellow Palo Alto residents the pursuit of their own passions and interests? The airport is a great use of that land! (which is otherwise largely undesirable due to the proximity of the dump, sewage treatment plant, and marsh odors).

Please keep the airport open, and operate it efficiently!


Posted by Dan W, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 19, 2007 at 11:01 pm

In addition to subsidizing Warren and a few other Palo Residents, we are about to take on the subsidization of wealthy plane owners from Atherton, Portola Valley and Los Altos Hills. (2/3 of the aircraft at Palo Alto's airport are owned by non-residents.)

No one is denying Warren the pursuit of his passions. But when there are so many uses for the airport land that would benefit all residents, and when the financial picture for city operation of the airport is so tenuous, it's time to look to the broader public interest, and stop catering to special interests like a few plane owners.

As Paul Losch says, let's do a rigorous analysis of airport operation vs other uses for the land. Perhaps contrary to all current evidence and indications, an airport will turn out to be part of the best plan for the Baylands. But until that is shown, spare us the unsupported assertions about contributions from airport users' taxes and jobs.

You have no right to engage in an expensive hobby with your neighbors' taxes.


Posted by Ralph B, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 19, 2007 at 11:21 pm

If anyone is really serious about understanding the economics of the airport, the Palo Alto Airport Working Group Report and the City Manager's Report are available on the City's website. I urge careful study of these before accepting some of the above assertions relative to the financial performance of the airport.


Posted by Dan W, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 19, 2007 at 11:47 pm

Actually, the Working Group was stacked with airport and flying enthusiasts by Judy Kleinberg. Over half of the members are directly associated with flying or the airport.

It's not surprising that their optimistic report was branded naive and overly optimistic by the independent consultant the city hired to comment on the report.

As Paul Losch points out, the only body with experience running airports - the County Airport Commission - wants out because they can't make a go of it in Palo Alto.

The people supporting City operation are likely similar to Los Altos resident Bob Briggs: self-described "airplane addicts". Like all addicts, they'll say anything to get someone else to pay for another fix. That's why you read all the pie in the sky proposals for hotels and golf courses magically making the airport a money-maker for the city in this thread.

Maybe there's an objective case to be made for City operation of the airport, but so far there's no evidence at all in support of it. Some people advocate that the government should provide drug addicts with free fixes for their habits. I don't think anyone thinks that our local airplane addicts should be similarly subsidized by Palo Alto taxpayers.

We need to close the airport and put the land to use for the benefits of all residents.


Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2007 at 8:19 am

The assumption that the airport is only used by the wealthy to park their private jets is false.
Many flight students and others who do not own their own planes use the airport, by renting planes from a club. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Even those who do own planes are not necessarily wealthy by Palo Alto standards. If you look around you see a number of older Cessnas and other modest planes which cost less than some of the luxury cars PA residents drive. Also, some people share ownership of a plane.
I would encourage those who are not familiar with the airport to spend some time there and learn who is, in fact, actually using this resource.
Finally, the idea that every resource only benefits those who use it directly is misguided. By that test, we should not have any childrens' festivals or after-school activities, because these resources are not used by PA residents without kids!


Posted by Anna, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 20, 2007 at 8:31 am

By any standard, the people who use the airport are well-off. It costs in excess of $100 per hour to rent a plane. This is a lot of money anywhere - including in Palo Alto.

While it is quite true that the city subsidizes many different groups, in no other case is the subsidy focused so directly on people with such large disposable incomes.

Moreover no airport supporter has yet addressed the fact the vast majority of airport users aren't even Palo Alto residents. Why should the city, which already is having major budget problems, be subsidizing the hobbies of wealthy enclaves like Atherton, Los Altos Hills and Woodside?

For most residents, the airport is at best a source of minor nuisance noise from the whining of the small planes that drone overhead on weekends. That the relatively rich people looking down on us from above think they are further entitled to a subsidy from us to do so adds insult to injury.


Posted by Lease Bargainer, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 20, 2007 at 8:52 am

Right now, the County is charged a dollar per year for the lease of 100 acres of valuable land owned by the city.

Whatever the alternative use of this land - parkland, recreation, open space or commercial development - its value to the city and to us residents is far in excess of that yearly dollar rent. In the case of commercial development (or a swap for the Municipal Services Center land suggested above by Paul Losch), the value is likely in the range of millions of dollars per year.

With the city in a revenue crisis, it needs to realize every opportunity to increase income from its assets. At a very minimum, if some private entity takes over airport operation, as suggested by the Airport Working group, a rent more reflective of the true value of the land should be charged. Recall that the airport isn't something benefiting the poor residents of East Palo Alto as much as its subsidizing the hobbies of wealthy non-residents as pointed out by Anna. Let's do something smart in our city for a change.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2007 at 8:58 am

Why not put in a couple of restaurants, Starbucks, fastfood places, etc. near the airport so that we can get some of the non-resident users a place to spend their cash and contribute more revenue for the city.

Even a plane spotting terrace, with pictures of the different types of planes, basic aerodynamic physics, telescopes, air traffic control diagrams etc. could make a great parent/child activity with perhaps the advantage of encouraging young people into the world of flying and science. We have invested money in educational notice boards at other facilities around town, why not the airport. Use what we have as an additonal source of income and keep our residents interested in what is going on rather than the eletism that presently surrounds it.

I remember my daughter's kindergarten class going on a field trip to the airport arranged by one of the parents who ran a business flying into and out of the airport. We went up the tower and learnt a lot. Kids and parent chaperones all had a very interesting field trip, much better than one to a pumpkin patch. If the run of the mill Palo Altan knew more about what went on at the airport, I am sure they would be more in favor of it.


Posted by Warren, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2007 at 9:34 am

No, that's just wrong.

Your typical student pilots (the heaviest users of the airport) are just ordinary local residents (often from Palo Alto) with a burning passion to fly, as well as a willingness to sacrifice financially in order to pursue it. I've known young pilots willing to skimp on everything else just to be able to fly regularly -- it's not about being wealthy, it's about having a love for flying.

Yes, it can cost $100 to rent an airplane for a hour, but think for a minute: that is no more expensive than dinner for two at a nice restaurant downtown. Thus, for a professional couple, renting a plane for an hour a week isn't any more extravangant than eating out one night a week.

Anna, the only "insult to injury" is in your own mind -- no one is looking down on you or anyone else. They're far to busy keeping up ATC!

Seriously, if you haven't experienced the exiliration of piloting a small plane, then you really owe it to yourself to take an introductory flight lesson. It is wrong for you and others to so aggressively aim to destroy that which you do not know or understand -- something wonderful that your fellow Palo Alto residents and others cherish greatly.

As for subsidies, no one is saying that Palo Alto should subsidize the airport disporptionately as compared to other valued community resources. Regardless, today, this is all a theoretical argument -- Palo Alto is years away from subsidizing the airport, and that argument is based on an unproven assumption that the airport cannot be made self-sufficient.

As for land use, relative to other proposed ideas (offices, housing, hotel, an expanded golf course) the airport is far more friendly to Baylands wildlife environment. Do you any idea how many wild animals live on the airport property?

Plus, do you know how bad the air usually smells out there (sewage, etc.)?

And do you know how hard the Sierra Club would sue to oppose any encroachment of the baylands?

Combine all these factors with the flooding issue and then surely everyone can appreciate that the existing airport land is by no means a choice site for development.

We need to keep the aiport open -- it is an excellent use of a marginal site, and one that benefits the residents of Palo Alto as well as those of surrounding areas.









Posted by Jake, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2007 at 9:48 am

Shades of the debate on whether to close the yatch harbor -
if I remember correctly, the number of boats registered to
non residents was information which influenced that election.
Maybe the on decision on the airport will be left to a vote
of the good citizens of Palo Alto?


Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 20, 2007 at 9:52 am

Warren is wrong about the subsidy. The city CURRENTLY is subsidizing the airport. The county is charged a dollar per year for the land the airport sits on.

No matter what alternative use the land were put to - even mere open space - its worth is far in excess of a dollar per year. Under any reasonable accounting, this is a subsidy to airport users - right now. How much worse will it be if the city takes over the operation of the airport and has to deal with maintenance and the like - as warned by the consultant hired to review the Airport Working Group report?!

Warren is entitled to his hobby [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff]. He's not entitled to have the rest of us help him pay for his expensive habit. Neither are the wealthy residents of Atherton and other towns who constitute the majority of users of the airport.


Posted by aw, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2007 at 10:11 am

Slow down everyone! There's a radical new test on City services being proposed here. Let's see how the rest of our traditional amenities measure up against the median user must have median income and cost-neutral tests...

Golf course, Foothill Park, Lucie Stern, Arts Center, Community Gardens, Cubberley Community Center, Lawn Bowling Green, Spay and Neuter Center, tennis courts, pools, Opportunity Center, Avenidas, shuttle bus, recreational program, continuing ed…

Every single one serves a narrow slice of the community. Is our future vision to shut all these down?

So what if some airport users are rich. Maybe they underuse other services.

So what if some airport users live in Woodside and Atherton. I learned to fly at PAO and I ride my bike in Woodside and Portola Valley; we're linked as a region. I do use the airport, the playing fields and the tennis courts. I don't use the libraries anymore (shabby, weak collections and bad circulation policies), don't use FHP, use Lucie Stern once every 5 years, don't have a community garden plot, don't lawn bowl, don't have a studio at Cubberley and don't golf. I'm unenthusiastic about a subsidized local history museum. Anyone want to put it all on the table? Not me.

That said, if we do want amenities I support raising the tiedown fee at PAO. I support raising the fees for community garden plots, for Cubberley and greens fees at the golf course. I'd look at break-even parking fees at FHP and Arastradero. I'd even fully fund a main library… guess I am out of step with many of you!


Posted by Dave M, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2007 at 10:23 am

A big part of the reason the city is in major budget trouble is that it provides so many activities, costing so much money as aw points out.

The fact is that the city can't afford to continue to be so generous with money it no longer has. No one that I know thinks we should stop offering a generous menu of services. However we have to start prioritizing sometime. Somewhere, sometime, the Council has to learn to say no to someone.

None of the services mentioned by aw is focused so narrowly on upper income people, or I would venture, on people who don't live in Palo Alto.

The Airport Working Group's self-serving report presupposes greater financial exposure for the City attending a proposed city take-over of operations. If the Council can't say no to this, they are incapable of making any distinctions in how they spend our money.

Keep the community garden. Keep the soccer fields. But let's close the airport and focus city services that benefit a broader range of residents.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2007 at 10:34 am

If we are talking about the costs of facilities, any facilities, then what we need to do is talking about raising revenue, not closing down something that is of value to various members of our community.

We have the VTA closing route 88 which will be a burden to members of our community.

We have the bowling alley being sold, which will be detrimental to members of our community.

We have some fine resources and services which need to be paid for. The airport is one of them. We should be looking at ways to finance the running of these services, not closing them down. Do we want to be a carbon copy of our neighbors? No, we want to stand out as being different. We need to find ways to pay for what we have, not destroy our uniqueness.

Lets find some new sources of revenue. Lets build an auto row, or big box stores, or charge modestly for the shuttle, or charge modest entrance for FHP (yes, even for residents) and pay for what we want to keep.

Home prices in Palo Alto are higher than our neighboring cities, we deserve to have the benefits that we pay for when moving here. We can pay as we go for facilities as we use them, they don't need to be free. We have to value our predecessors' decisions to make Palo Alto a great place, by keeping their vision attractive and self funded.


Posted by Warren, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2007 at 10:53 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

As it stands, the land generates $1 per year of profit for the city plus the tax and jobs benefit of all the airport-related economic activity. That amounts to net cashflow for the city, not a subsidy!

Sure, one could imagine theoretical developments that would generate far more cash for the city (while destroying Baylands habitat). But one could also imagine improving operations of the airport so as to put money into the city budget.

I certainly agree that the airport should be as self-sufficient as possible, ideally generating cash for the city. No question: Palo Alto should not subsidize the airport disproportinately to other valued community resources. It shouldn't cost the city more than something like Foothills Park.

However, what I strongly disagree with are uninformed and biased, anti-aviation lobbyists rushing to judgement to shut down the airport (out of jealousy or spite for some imagined economic slight?) years before the city would actually be in a position to make a sound and informed fiscal decision on the issue.

All this inflammatory rhetoric about wealthy outsiders exploiting us poor Palo Alto residents via their use of the aiport is just a bunch of hogwash designed to elicit emotional reactions in support of a predetermined outcome. So what if Atherton residents fly out of PAO too?

What matters is that there are indeed Palo Alto residents who value this resource, and we deserve to have our interests represented at the budget table too, not unfairly maligned as "expensive habits" or "romantic fantasies". In reality, flying at PAO is something accessible to all Palo Alto residents -- not just the elites. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]





Posted by Dave M, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2007 at 10:56 am

Does Resident propose we buy and run a bowling alley because a private operator can no longer make a go of it? Tastes and needs of a community change. Private business adjust to these changes to provide more of what customers want.

Government on the other hand is slow to change and will continue to do things the same way because that's the way it's always been done. We got used to providing virtually everything to everybody in Palo Alto over the past few decades because we had a lot of extra money. We aren't in that position any more.

We can't afford to subsidize a bowling alley, and if we have to cut something, an airport used mostly by wealthy non-residents is a fine place to look first.


Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 20, 2007 at 11:22 am

It's neither rhetorical nor inflamatory to point out the fact that most of the planes at the Palo Alto Airport are owned by non residents. Neither is it rhetorical or inflamatory to point out that these airplane owners are much wealthier than the rest of us. (According to the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association the net worth of the average private plane owner is in excess of $10 million.)

The city can't afford to subsidize everything to the degree it subsidizes Foothill Park. I would wager that most residents would choose Foothills park any day over the airport.

I value First Class Ocean Cruises to exotic islands, but that doesn't mean I have a right to be represented at the city's budget table in hopes my expensive tastes will be subsidized by a new Palo Alto City Cruise Line.

I'm glad people like Warren like flying so much and that they've found something to be passionate about. But I don't think they should expect all of us to share their passions...or to pay for them.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2007 at 11:30 am

No, of course I do not think the city should subsidise a bowling alley, that was not my point.

What my point was is that whether it is a bus route, a bowling alley, a popular restaurant (Cafe Verona?), then something closing is a detriment to the local residents. (btw, the bowling alley is popular and I don't think it needs to be subsidised, the reason for its closure is more to do with zoning than anything else). No, we need to keep our fine facilities and to do more to encourage their use rather than make it difficult for them to operate.


Posted by Dave M, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2007 at 11:39 am

Warren suggests that those of us who want to close the airport are motivated by "jealousy and spite". [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I for one, am glad that people enjoy flying airplanes - though I wish they would change the rules so that they didn't cause so much disruptive noise when flying overhead.

But I don't think we should be subsidizing these people. Despite Warren's musing that, "one could also imagine improving operations of the airport so as to put money into the city budget", the Working Group that spent most of a year trying to "imagine" such a situation could not come up with a plan that stands up to economic scrutiny - as pointed out by the city's objective consultant and by Paul Losch in this thread. Paul's posts are dispassionate, rational and factual. It is the airport supporters who seem biased and who have their viewpoints beclouded by passionate emotional attachment to their avocations. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Warren, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2007 at 12:36 pm


We're missing a key point: the number of airport users is far larger than then number of people who actually own airplanes. Most people who fly out of Palo Alto don't own planes -- they only rent them! PAO aircraft ownership does not equal PAO usage.

A second point is that many commonly flown general-aviation aircraft cost well under $50k. That's less than most luxury SUVs, so clearly you don't have to be a $10 millionaire to own a plane. Furthermore, it is fallacious to assume that the "average" plane owner rents a tie down at PAO. The imagined "average" owner is a statistical fluke resulting from billionaies with their private fleets -- a "median" value would far more realistic -- and likely much lower.

But, for the sake of argument, let's assume that PAO aircraft owners are all wealthy non-PA-residents with money to burn. So why not use this opportunity to squeeze these fat-cats for cash? Why not institute high tie-down fees and other surcharges for non-resident owners and use that money to help cover airport operating costs?

Finally, please do recognize that not all Palo Alto residents share a passion for parks, libraries, pools, childrens theaters, parades, open space, or whatever your favorite cause happens to be. So what could possibly give us the right to spend collective money on all that stuff, but not a single cent of it on the one thing pro-aviation residents care about most? Such a position would seem hypocritical -- all city residents have some moral claim to those funds.

Of course, we can reasonably argue all day about how wide or narrow the aviation slice should be based on a variety of factors, circumstances, and alternatives. But one group of residents has no right to deny another group of residents some claim to those city funds (albeit limited).

All we Palo Alto resident aviation enthusiasts ask is that, to the extent that city funds are spent on minority interests, we get a share of that pie -- if it is needed. A Palo Alto-run PAO should not expect more than that, but clearly, it is entitled to nothing less.



Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 20, 2007 at 12:44 pm

I'm still waiting for my cruise ship subsidy. If some of our wealthy neighbors from Atherton want to come along, let's charge them more as long as I get my cut of the budget. What right do the rest of you have to object to my minority interest in luxury crusing? I am entitled to nothing less than whatever I need to sate my cruising taste.

What's the difference between this and Warren's plea for money to pursue his flying jaunts?


Posted by Dave M, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 20, 2007 at 12:56 pm

We don't have to assume anything about who has planes at the airport. According to the city, most users of the airport are non residents. And anyone who can afford $100 an hour for rental or $50,000 and up for purchase of a plane is doing pretty well financially.

We have to make choices in what activities we fund and subsidize through our limited city revenues. My position is that given the range of choices we have, subsidizing the airport should be very low on our list. Perhaps some lower income residents or homeless have some "moral" claim on our city funds. But anyone wealthy enough to fly airplanes does not.

We can fund parks even if we can't fund cruise lines. I don't think we should be funding private aviation enthusiasts so we can spend more on parks.

Perhaps Warren disagrees. But I bet most people agree with me.


Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 20, 2007 at 1:10 pm

I don't golf. In fact, I hate it. Why should we have a golf course for a bunch of rich people? I never use Byxbee Park (the old dump site). Why should that old dump be tied up by those who like to hike out there? - in fact, I see very few people out there, when I go to the dump. Who gives them the right to evict the recylcing center (which I do use)? I rarely use city parks. Almost never use the libraries, since the Internet arrived on the scene. I also don't use the airport. However, it doesn't bother me when other people enjoy all of the above, and I don't mind paying for them.

I am not rich, by a long shot. Yet, it doesn't bother me that some rich people like to use PA amenities, including the airport. I detect a lot of class envy in this thread.

I agree with those who are stating that the airport has real potential to add to Palo Alto. The goal should be to make it as close to cost neutral as possible. Building more hangers out there would achieve a lot.

The whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. The airport is an important part of the whole.


Posted by Warren, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2007 at 1:17 pm

"What's the difference between this and Warren's [insistence upon proportionate representation with respect to spending of taxpayer funds]?"

Nothing. It is same principle behind why the city funds Foothills, Lucie Stern, and so forth. Lots of people want such things to continue to exist, and likewise for the airport (well perhaps -- we'll see).

Palo Alto has a long tradition of discretionary spending in support of things which each only benefit a minority of residents.

There is an important difference here though -- in the case of the airport, closing PAO would eliminate all access to general aviation within the city, whereas there is little Palo Alto could practically due to block or ensure community-wide access to cruising, not matter how much money is spent (Dredge the harbor to accomodate oceanliners?).



Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 20, 2007 at 1:32 pm

What makes Warren think we should have proportional claims to the budget for each of our pet interests?

There is no conceptual difference between parks, airports and cruise lines, which as Warren points out, each benefit some residents and not others (though I would question whether park-goers are a minority as flyers and cruisers clearly are).

But that doesn't mean we have to treat all activities and interests of residents equally. Few think we should fund cruises even for the most ardent travellers among our residents. Almost everyone thinks we should fund parks even if a lot of residents are only mildly enthuisastic about them. I think airports are more akin to cruiselines than parks.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by deja vous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2007 at 1:43 pm

I've been following this conversation at a distance, amused at how similar this debate is to the old Mandarin Immersion debate. One small slice of the community (notably a well-to-do slice either financially or academically) feels they are entitled to their interests and the rest of the community should accommodate them and allow them their passion. Meanwhile other slices of the community say this isn't a priority, nor is it the best use of limited resources. John's comment to make the airport "cost neutral" takes the cake.


Posted by Pete Averil, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2007 at 1:44 pm

Nice thread here.

I tend to agee with those who want to close the air field. I am a car racing enthuisiast and I bet I am every bit as passionate about my cars as the flyboys on here are about their airplanes.

Right now I have to haul my cars down to Monterey every weekend if I want to race or test them. It sure would be a boon to me if they'd shut down the airport and build a nice track out there. And there is a surprisingly large contingent of car nuts in Palo Alto who I am sure would agree (not to mention Atherton and Saratoga).

Under Warren's argument, apparently I have a right to demand city support for my passion. But I'm not holding my breath or selling my transport trailer.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2007 at 2:14 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

We are talking about an airport which should be a viable concern. We are not talking about starting an airport from scratch. We are not talking about giving a group of enthusiasts who may or may not live in Palo Alto a slice of pie no one else is getting. Whether these people are wealthy or not is irrelevant to the debate. We are not even talking about the opportunity centre, although I can myself see some similarities.

I have no idea how to run a small private airport. I do however see an airport which is well used with take offs and landings happening fairly regularly on a daily basis. I happen to know a couple of people who do use the airport, but know very little about the way they use it only inasfaras they use it for business reasons. What I also see is the potential for this airport to do better than it presently is. If someone in the past decided that putting an airport in Palo Alto made economic sense, then presumably they had the vision and tried to make it work. The airport didn't just appear, there had to be all sorts of hurdles to get it. Now that it is here, maybe it is not paying its way. What should really happen is to find ways to make it pay its way.

Should new businesses be encouraged to use the airport? Should we encourage start up businesses, with sight seeing tours, air taxi services, photography services, advertising services, etc.all using small planes as their means to do their business. If I who have no idea how to run an airport can see its worth, surely someone who does know can start seeing its potential and take advantage of it.


Posted by Danny, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 20, 2007 at 2:33 pm

Resident obviously hasn't kept up on the ongoing saga of the airport. The whole reason we are having this discussion is that The Santa Clara County Airport Commission which has A LOT of experience running airports can't figure out a way to make Palo Alto's airport make sense financially.

So some aviation enthusiasts, foreseeing the loss of their playground, are proposing that the City - which has NO EXPERIENCE in the operation of airports - take over the running of the facility.

And they convinced the city to put together a "Working Group" to study ways in which this might happen.Web Link

Despite their best efforts (and some would say fond fantasies), they failed to come up with a plan for the airport that makes economic sense to either the consultant the city hired to vet their report or to thoughtful, neutral observers like Paul Losch in this very thread.

Maybe Resident thinks he/she can "see the worth" of the airport despite not knowing anything about how to run an airport. But as the city consultant pointed out, naive optimism tends to obscure the very real special expertise and high expenses attendant to running an airport.

Those who think they have a better idea than the County entity which has spent decades running airports about how to make the Palo Alto Airport economically sustainable have a very high hurdle to jump. We can't afford to be making risky gambles on sight seeing tours and air taxi services when the city can't even afford to pave its streets.


Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 20, 2007 at 2:44 pm

I think we should be asking some basic questions:

1. Once Palo Alto takes over the airport, what would be the cost, assuming no additional revenues? I would exclude the federal outlay, until it becomes clear that the FAA decides that it will no longer support general aviation (part of its mandate). My recollection is that the FAA paid for repaving and some fencing at PAO (severral millon dollars), which is does on a routine basis, across the country).

2. Assuming that there will be a cost to PA, how does this cost compare to other entities in PA which do not pay their own way, for example, the libraries, Byxbee Park and the Opportunity Center?

3. If the airport can develop a plan to become cost neutral, will PA agree to some zoning modifications to allow such?

4. Will PA allow outside private interests to submit proposals, assuming that PA is willing to play ball? Can the airport be made a profit center under such circumstances?

5. Will PA consider a new master plan for the East of Bayshore area? It has been locked up for a few decades by preservationists. Is this best for our future? Judy Kleinberg was looking at this, as I recall. Maybe we should follow her lead?

I find it unusual that Palo Alto, a creative town, might decide to throw overboard a potentially lucrative oppotunity. Of course, it did as much with the yaught harbor, but that was decades ago. Actually, bringing back the yaught harbor as an overall plan might be a very good idea. Why not try to enhance our image, and provide some fun for the boat people? At a minimum, it would enhance our property values, something I enthusiastically support, because I am mortgaged to the hilt!


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2007 at 2:46 pm

Governments are famous for not being able to run anything economically. Take the airport out of the hands of government and put it into the hands of a business consortium with expertise in making money and watch it flourish.

With that, I will close on this one.


Posted by Sally, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2007 at 2:56 pm

As Danny's post indicates, an even more basic question than John's is why the City thinks it can make the Airport financially viable (or "cost neutral", whatever that means) when the County with great expertise in the matter cannot.

Palo Alto has a lot of creative people in town. Few of them work for the City - which is being asked to run the airport. Every one who knows anything about running airports is skeptical that the Palo Alto Airport can sustain itself.

If we are to reopen the Baylands Plan, then everything should be on the table - not just airport operation. I doubt if the aviation is the highest value use for the land the airport sits on - either financially or environmentally. In any event, this is unlikely to happen since as John points out, preservationists have blocked any changes to the plan for the area for decades and are if anything stronger now than twenty years ago.

Yacht Harbors, Airports, Race Tracks...?? We are really ambitious for a city that can't figure out a way to build libraries, aren't we?


Posted by Warren, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2007 at 3:07 pm

"What makes Warren think we should have proportional claims to the budget for each of our pet interests?"

Silly me for having been taught, in Palo Alto schools nonetheless, that taxation *with* representation is a fundamental principle upon which our society and government are built. City funds are *our* funds, and we collectively have the right to decide how they are spent: be it on parks, pools, airports, race tracks, or none of the above.

We do still live in a democracy, don't we?


Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Sep 20, 2007 at 3:17 pm

I'm with Warren on this one.

Let's have a democratic vote on whether Palo Alto taxpayers should subsidize wealthy aircraft owners from Atherton. I'll happily live with the results!


Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 20, 2007 at 3:27 pm

"If we are to reopen the Baylands Plan, then everything should be on the table"

Sally, yes, I agree! If the airport is not a viable part of the plan, then it should go. Same for Byxbee Park.

My bottom-line view about the airport is that it should be part of the discussion, and that private entrepreneurs should be let the contract, within an integrated plan. I not asking that PA spend funds, beyond what they would do for other entities (e.g libraries). Come on, this is not rocket science! It is just about political will to look at potential solutions that make sense for all of us!

"preservationists have blocked any changes to the plan for the area for decades and are if anything stronger now than twenty years ago."

Sally, the preservationists are, if anything, LOSING their grip. Palo Alto is no longer in lock step with them. It will take time, but such special interest groups are on a downhill slide. Wait and see....


Posted by Jake, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2007 at 3:30 pm

I am trying to imagine the City running
the Airport: Let's see- hire Airport Director
at $150.000.00 +
12 years later Airport Director retires
( after mediocore, and detached performance )
with benefits and nearly full pay.
Repeat process.



Posted by Mike, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2007 at 4:34 pm

Sorry, Danny. I tried your web link to the working group study, but it is "damaged and could not be repaired". I was hoping those who insist there is a way to operate the airport profitably, would read what knowledgeable people thought about it.

Unlike the song, "wishing won't make it so".


Posted by Warren, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2007 at 6:05 pm

"I'm with Warren on this one." Glad to hear it Anna!

Although I would not quite put it the way you do... rather, I would hope fellow residents can see that PAO has a whole lot more to do with ordinary folks sacrificing themselves financially to pursue their dreams of flight than it does a few wealthy aircraft owners who may or may not live within the city limits.

If you have any doubts about what PAO is really about, then please, see for yourself! Come down and visit one of the local flying clubs and speak with a few of the students and instructors -- they're nice folks, and they welcome visitors. Go ahead, take a flight, if you really want to be informed.

And with that, my participation in this thread is complete -- gotta go earn some more extra cash for flying lessons, ya know! :).


Posted by Senor Blogger, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 21, 2007 at 2:12 pm

Great!
All the City has to do is turn the airport over to the UTILITIES Dept. to run........


Posted by NO-Airport-FAN, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 21, 2007 at 3:42 pm

We also need to remember that only about 80 Palo Altans are housing their aircraft at the Palo Alto airport. The rest of the planes belong to people outside Palo Alto. Palo Alto has no obligations to provide this extremely expensive site to non-residents who have contentiously refused to pay appropriately for the cost of operating the airport.

As pointed out in a previous posting, about $3.5M in Federal Grants have been spent on the Palo Alto airport. This money is not carried by the County in its cost-to-operate numbers. Further, the tower personnel and other capital costs have been paid by the FAA. The personnel costs come to over $1M a year also. These numbers are not carried by the County currently. There simply is no "true cost" calculation so that everyone understands just how expensive the Airport is to operate.

Then there is the Master Plan spending to upgrade the Airport. The pilots are doubtless going to claim that they shouldn't have to pay for upgrading the Airport--that cost should lie on someone else's shoulders.

Then there is the insurance problem. Every time there is an accident, the insurance goes up. Currently the County is the purchaser of airport insurance. Palo Alto would have to buy this insurance. The airport is not accident free. In fact, if one looks at the accident data that is on-line, it turns out that there have been a goodly number of accidents--many fatal.

Given the unresolved corruption of the Utilities--the Airport will likely fall victim of the City Management just like the Utilities did.

Moving the Palo Alto Airport to Moffitt makes the most sense.


Posted by NO-Airport-FAN, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 21, 2007 at 4:03 pm

> Take the airport out of the hands of government
> and put it into the hands of a business consortium
> with expertise in making money and watch it flourish

Between the airport's opening in the Baylands during the 1930s until the County took over the facility in the mid-late 1950s, the Airport was constantly in and out of financial difficulty. Looking at the file on the Airport that the Palo Alto Historical Society maintains, there are newspaper articles which document the management issues that plagued this airport. Every couple of years the private management claimed that without "government" money it would fold. Eventually, the County Government did step in an run the facility--based on an insane "donation" of land worth now upwards of $500M for about $1 per year.

Given that the site requires levies to keep the runway and tiedown areas from being under water, and that the site is considered "environmentally" challenged, it's just not possible to enlarge it to the point where it can "flourish".


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 22, 2007 at 5:11 pm

We lost access to the bay, and now perhaps to the sky, both times with class hatred leading the pack. My faith in the value of liberal education wanes a bit every day.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 23, 2007 at 6:48 am

I take Walter's point that some of the commentary around whether the airport should or should not be kept in operation has been directed at perceptions--real or imagined--of the lot in life of those who fly and use this particular airport.

It may not be necessary for me to do so, but I want to separate myself from the sorts of remarks that fit that description. My opinions and analysis of what should happen with the airport and the general asset we know as Baylands are grounded in information and points of view which I believe account for the humanity in this question, but don't personalize it.


Posted by Voter, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2007 at 8:26 am

There should be another use for airport land. Next year we will be voting to approve or reject a $50 Million bond measure to build a new Public Safety Building on Park Boulevard.

Since the voters may reject such a bond, I propose that some of the acreage of the airport along Embarcadero be sold off to raise the $50 Million necessary for a new Police and Dispatch facility.

We have an ordinance in PA that prevents Council from selling any land. The sale of the land should go to the voters first, instead of the $50 Million Bond Measure which may fail.


Posted by Danny, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 23, 2007 at 7:06 pm

We think you're a good guy, Paul Losch, really! You're right. Your remarks stand (very well in my opinion) or fall on their own merits. It isn't necessary to reiterate your liberal bona fides, which is apparent.


Posted by Tom, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 24, 2007 at 2:29 pm

Look, Palo Alto's takeover of the airport is a foregone conclusion. The city council is just way too ga-ga over this toy to look at it objectively. We can only hope that a future council will have the sense to pull the plug before the town loses too much money.


Posted by NO-Airport-Fan, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 25, 2007 at 11:44 am

> We lost access to the bay,
> and now perhaps to the sky

Rubbish. The decision to close the Harbor was simply a financial one. Perhaps other ideas could prevail one day that would allow money from other than local sources to be applied to maintaining the harbor. Unfortunately, the harbor is very small and there really isn't a lot of room for growth.

Same with the Airport. If the true cost of providing airport operations were determined, then the per tiedown cost would be between $2,000 and $3,000 a month! There are about 300 planes at the Palo Alto Airport paying about 1/10th of that figure. Why? Why are the people using this facility paying for it? Why are they being subsidized?

This whole discussion is about common sense accounting of the total cost of building/maintaining/operating such facilities (as the airport) on a "cost neutral" basis to the taxpayer.



Posted by Get a CLUE, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 26, 2007 at 7:03 pm

People,people lets stop being silly. The powers to be can not even run the City they have. Who in there right mind would let this City Manager or any other City management person try and run an Airport? If they can waste 240K on a Web page that is not worth the power bill it costs to turn your computer on to view it. How many MILLIONS of dollars would be lost. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Scott’s Seafood Mountain View to close, reopen as new concept
By Elena Kadvany | 12 comments | 3,595 views

Who Says Kids Don’t Eat Vegetables?
By Laura Stec | 9 comments | 1,835 views

Breastfeeding Tips
By Jessica T | 11 comments | 1,654 views

How Bad Policy Happens
By Douglas Moran | 20 comments | 1,147 views

The life of Zarf
By Sally Torbey | 8 comments | 770 views