Oakdale City Council members spent nearly two hours at their May 2 meeting hearing concerns and discussing a proposed long-term lease at the Oakdale Municipal Airport, also known as Dan Donnelly Field, involving an existing tenant as local pilots spoke out against the approval.
Public Works Director Joe Leach presented a 16-year lease with extensions that could take the lease to 38 years for Sierra West Airlines, the current tenant of three buildings at the Oakdale Airport.
According to the lease, Sierra West Airlines would pay $3150 per month and is subject every four years for cost increases based on the Consumer Price Index. Sierra West agreed to make over $200,000 in upgrades to the facility and provide repair and other aircraft services within a 3-year period. Sierra West Airlines has been operating on a month-to-month lease and has seen numerous delays in their attempt for something long term.
During the presentation, Councilman Jason Howard questioned why a portion of the lease that mandated the providing of aeronautical services — a major contention by airport users — had been deleted from the previous lease.
“There’s nothing holding their feet to the fire,” Howard said, pointing out that the previous lease used the wording “shall” in reference to the services.
Howard also questioned the bid process, feeling it was done hastily resulting in limited bidders.
“We didn’t do an effective job,” said Howard. “We should scrap the whole thing and go to a much wider net.”
Howard acknowledged that the city has treated Sierra West “horrible,” but said he had a duty to act for Oakdale citizens.
Justin Barnes, general manager of Sierra West, informed the council that the company has been working on a long-term lease for more than a decade.
“It’s been one thing after another,” said Barnes. “We’re a business and can’t wait much longer.”
Barnes added that he felt the lease at the airport has become a “political issue” and informed the council that Sierra West was the lone business and needed the long-term lease to get bank funding to make the necessary improvements.
Oakdale Airport Commission Member Dick Jorgensen described to the council the current condition of the airport as “appalling.” Jorgensen continued that he was then not speaking as a commission member, but as a community member and a tenant.
“I strongly urge you to seek disapproval of the lease,” Jorgensen said. “It was a hastily and ill conceived bid process.”
Jorgensen said he believed Merced and Turlock airport operators were losing their lease and may be interested in operating the Oakdale Airport.
Jorgensen, who has made it known of his disapproval of Sierra West’s operation, said that Sierra West was using the facility for inexpensive storage and felt there was a conflict of interest, as Airport Commission Chairperson Kendra Robinson-Peterson is a vice-president for Sierra West and is the daughter of the founder, Deborah Robinson and president, Ken Robinson.
Anther outspoken pilot and airport tenant, Bill Bradford, also criticized the bid process that awarded the lease to Sierra West.
“This has to go to a wider range of audience,” said Bradford, who stated he had over 200 fixed base operators that function within a 200-mile radius.
According to Leach, former Deputy Director David Myers handled the original request for proposals (RFP) that went out in mid-December of 2010 and ended in early January 2011. Many are criticizing the time of year the bid was solicited as well as the scope in which it was advertised.
Oakdale pilot Jeff Liljenquist also advised the council of his displeasure with the decline of the airport and disapproval of Sierra West continuing to operate at the airport.
“If this airport was used properly,” said Liljenquist, “it could be a great asset to Oakdale.”
Kyra Robinson Busam, also a vice-president for Sierra West and daughter of Ken and Deborah Robinson, stated that Sierra West was not a fixed base operator of the airport. She pointed out to the council that Sierra West was an Oakdale business and its employees had Oakdale ties. She added that Sierra West previously operated Hayward Jet Center as a fixed base operator, but she also questioned if another business without any other associated aeronautical business on the grounds could be successful at the airport.
“If ‘Joe Blow’ thinks he can come in and be able to pay rent on (airport) services alone without fueling services, he’s not going to make it,” said Busam. “We went through the ‘RFP’ and we’re the best thing out there.”
Councilman Tom Dunlop said the issue deserves attention.
“I’m not very happy with the airport,” Dunlop said. “If Sierra West leaves, what’s going to happen to the airport?”
Dunlop suggested that the city may be better off selling the airport and using the profits toward police and fire services. He added that he supported approving the Sierra West lease.
When councilwoman Katherine Morgan questioned if there was an increase in the rent Sierra West was currently paying, Barnes informed her it was a $100 per month increase. Morgan said she supported Oakdale businesses such as Sierra West.
Other speakers, who were not pilots, also suggested to the board that they delay the approval and research the issue further.
Steve Stumor, who is proposing to rent at the airport and establish a restaurant, advised the board that the facility needed a long-term tenant to be financially viable and business friendly.
Councilman Mike Brennan faulted the city for the airport’s current condition and its lack of desire to properly secure a long-term lease, requiring Sierra West to have to go month-to-month. He also suggested dissolving the current airport commission.
Brennan said he had a “handshake agreement” with Barnes and believes Sierra West can carry out the airport requirements, adding that fuel services should also go to Sierra West.
“Whoever fills the shoes, should have the gas (services),” agreed Jorgensen.
The council finally agreed to delay the item and directed the city staff to “tighten up” sections and “make a better lease agreement,” voting 5-0 to re-address the lease at the May 16 meeting.