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Accusations Fly In Airport Battle
0312 Airport 1

Finger pointing regarding bias, threats, mismanagement, and outright lies continue to fly in the latest drama involving the Oakdale Airport.

On Friday, Feb. 28 hangar tenant Robert Metz prevailed in a Stanislaus Superior Court hearing obtaining a March 15 stay from the city evicting him from hangar “L-4” at the Oakdale Airport.

Metz contends the city wants him out at all costs, despite an approved plan in 2012 by the city’s airport liaison, Mike Renfrow, for him to perform fixed base operator (FBO) duties for a $1,000 a month lease at the facility hangar.

The city contends that there is no fixed term lease and that Metz has only been paying the old rate of $180 per month for the 4,800 square foot hangar.

For years the city has made it known it has been searching for a fixed base operator to perform repair, rental, flight school, and other airport management duties at the airport.

Sierra West Air has been operating out of the two largest buildings at the airport but does not perform anything associated with FBO responsibilities or any taxable services. The hangar used by them contains items from the owner’s property rental business.


Metz Proposes FBO Business

In 2011, while the city was searching for a FBO for the airport, Metz submitted a proposal to the city to operate Time Fly’s LLC to lease property and provide major airframe and engine repair, restoration, rental and flight training. Metz claims to have over 37 years general aviation experience and Time Fly’s has been operating 20 years repairing distressed aircraft nationwide. The flight school was scheduled to be operated by Bun Moreland, a former USAF pilot with 40 years of experience.

In August 2012 the city council discussed Metz’s proposal, however because he was never notified that the matter was going to be discussed in public forum, Metz did not attend the meeting.

During the Aug 6, 2012 meeting, Councilman Mike Brennan asked if Metz was present to answer questions. When he learned there was no one from the company present, Brennan passionately exclaimed the item should be discarded.

“If this guy can’t show up, pull this,” Brennan called out. “It’s a waste of our time.”

The item was not voted upon at that time.

According to court documents reviewed from the court action, Renfrow, who oversees airport operations for the city, wrote Metz an email on Nov. 16, 2012 stating a “contract” for him was at the public works yard. The email also stated, “The proposal you submitted for the Public Works RFP Hangar Lease will be a guide regarding lease terms and cost.”

Metz said he went to sign the lease, but it wasn’t there. Renfrow later told him the city had rescinded the offer but he did not know the reason.

Metz believes the reason for the refusal is that Brennan, who is the council liaison to the airport commission, has an animosity towards him for some unknown reason.


City Moves To Get Metz Out

In February 2013, Dawei Dong of AgAiRobot Inc. showed up outside Metz’s hangar and told Metz he had an agreement with Brennan to move into the facility soon.

AgAirRobot manufactures unmanned helicopters (drones) for agriculture spraying. Dong lived in Oakdale at the time.

Metz said he informed Dong he was leasing the hangar. Additionally, the FAA does not allow the operation of drone aircraft at Donnelly Field – Oakdale Airport.

In August 2013, Metz was then served with a 30-day notice based on unpaid rent and advised that the city was initiating eviction proceedings.

Metz, who contends he was current in his rent of $180 per month at that time and in negotiations for a long-term lease, continued to pay the rent after the notice and occupy the facility. Metz added he offered to pay the city $12,000 – a year’s rent – at the higher rate, in advance.

“When the city continued to accept the rent, they negated the notice,” said Metz’s attorney, Michael Moran of Chico.

In November 2013, the city served Metz an unlawful detainer. Court documents initially stated the action was for unpaid rent, but the city later rescinded the unpaid rent allegation and changed it stating that it was now for Metz not having a long term lease.

“The city just wants him out of there,” wrote Moran in court files rebutting the city’s move.


Sierra West Situation No Different

According to the city, Sierra West Air has been operating month-to-month for several years with no long term lease. Sources within airport operations have claimed that Sierra West is also not paying the full assessed rent on the property it occupies.

In March 2013, the Oakdale City Council moved to raise rates charged at the airport. According to March 2013 council documents, Sierra West was only paying $2835 per month for two office buildings and $385 for a hangar. The council voted to raise those rates to $3875 for the offices and drop the charge to $337 for the hangar.

Information received from the city after a request under the California Public Records Act, showed Sierra West has only been paying $2700 for both offices and $350 for the hangar since the voted increase.

When contacted, City Manager Bryan Whitemyer stated that the Sierra West revenue makes up 31 percent of the total rents the city receives for the entire airport.

“We’re not going to stick them with a higher rate while we’re negotiating with them,” said Whitemyer when asked if Sierra West was paying the full rate. “If we lose their revenue, it doesn’t put us in a good spot. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Do we want to be a good partner with our Oakdale businesses?’”

Metz questions how the same logic doesn’t apply to him wanting to open a flight-aviation business in Oakdale.

According to Metz, the city declined his request because they thought he wasn’t viable to compete.

“The city can’t decide who can be a good business partner and who can’t,” said Moran when contacted.

Moran also argues that the city is in violation of law by accepting federal funding and not abiding by FAA provisions regarding leasing of facilities to qualified operators.


City Halts Negotiations Abruptly

With the city adamant about Metz’s departure, Metz has been trying to negotiate time to move his items from the facility while continuing to pay rent.

“I had one employee recently quit and I have a propeller I need on a four-week back order,” Metz said.

According to court files, Moran (Metz’s attorney) and City Attorney Robin Baral entered into discussions on Jan. 15 to arrange an exit plan for Metz to move out of the hangar due to the amount of equipment and aircraft inside the hangar.

Moran told Baral he initially thought Metz would be vacated by April.

During the first discussion, Baral reportedly told Moran there was “plenty of time”; however 18 days later, on Feb. 3, Metz was noticed by the city that he had to be out of the facility by March 1.

When Moran contacted Baral, he was not given any explanation for the change of plans other than the city had the right to demand him to leave earlier.

A court hearing was scheduled for Feb. 28.


Brennan Responds

The Leader obtained a Feb. 27 email (evening prior to the court hearing) between airport commission members and Oakdale City Councilman Mike Brennan regarding the Metz eviction.

“My comment is if I hear any committee member helping this vermin in any way, shape or form, (except for completely out of the airport) no matter how much they have assisted the City in improving the airport, they are off the committee and will be run out of the airport if at all possible,” Brennan wrote in the email. “Metz is a low life piece of … Please tell your airport acquaintances to distance themselves as far as possible from this excrement.”

Airport officials responded that they acknowledged there were “irreconcilable differences” during a “Metz-Whitemyer” meeting where committee members assisted in discussions.

Commission members told Brennan, “That you would threaten to run a committee member out of the airport is extremely petty politics, unbecoming to you.”

When contacted, Brennan said he sent the email because Metz had to be removed from the airport.

“He’s vermin,” said Brennan, “and what do you do with vermin? You eradicate them.”

Brennan stated he believed Metz has not given the city any reason to believe what he said he would do in the proposal. Additionally, Brennan believed Metz had not been paying rent and was living out of the hangar.

“If this was the Old West, we’d have cut off the locks to the doors, burn his stuff, and take him out and hang him,” Brennan said holding no punches. “That’s what he should get. He’s vermin, He’s a pest. You exterminate pests don’t you?”

Brennan admitted he considers himself biased because he doesn’t like Metz, even though he claims to never have met him.

When asked about Sierra West Air, Brennan said he thought they may be “non- conforming” to their contract by using their hangar as storage for the Robinson rental business.

“It’s up to city staff to inspect and enforce that,” Brennan said.

Brennan also admitted to soliciting Dawei Dong of AgAiRobot Inc. to move to the Oakdale Airport. It was only when he learned that drone aircraft were not authorized that he abandoned the idea.


Metz Denies Allegation

Metz said while he may occasionally drive his motorhome on to the airport grounds by the hangar, he does not live at the airport or in the hangar.

Metz said that Brennan should know who he is because in early 2012 he had lunch with Brennan and an airport committee member to discuss his proposal. Metz said he’s also attended committee meetings and talked with Brennan.

Metz and Moran stated they are considering a counter complaint against the city alleging violation of FAA regulations against him.