Palo Alto's plan to take over operation of Palo Alto Airport has fallen behind schedule because of vacancies and turnover in the city staff, according to a new report from the city manager's office.
The small but busy airport is currently operated by Santa Clara County under a 50-year lease that is set to expire in July 2017. County officials have indicated that they don't want to renew the lease, prompting the city to consider an early takeover to ensure that the Baylands facility doesn't deteriorate.
In December, the City Council directed staff to hire legal consultants and conduct environmental analysis to begin the process of taking over airport operations from the county. Staff was hoping to complete the takeover by July 2012. A recent business plan by the firm Ralph E. Wiedemann & Associates estimates that the city's profit from the airport could be as high as $16.2 million by 2037 if the takeover occurred in 2012.
That money would have to be reinvested in the airport under federal law.
But the city's schedule now looks highly unlikely. According to a report from City Manager James Keene's office, the city has completed the draft report of an environmental analysis on the site and has retained two law firms to assist with the airport takeover. Even so, the city is about six months behind schedule because of vacancies and retirements. The city is now looking to early 2013 as a more realistic time frame.
The new report states that staff believes the previous schedule was "overly aggressive, optimistic, and not practical given the project complexity and scope."
"There are many reasons for the current scheduling status," Danille Rice wrote in the report. "No one could have predicted the number of unanticipated key staff vacancies, retirements, and competing priorities."
Palo Alto officials are still considering which business model to adopt for the airport operations. The Wiedemann report identified three options: running the airport with city staff; turning over airport management to fixed-base operations; and hiring a third-party to run the facility.
The City Council is scheduled to discuss the takeover of the airport in the fall.