Sierra West Airlines was over $15,000 past due in rent payments less than a year ago according to documents received by The Leader from the City of Oakdale requested under the Public Information Act.
At that same time, in March 2013, the Oakdale City Council voted to raise rents for all the airport hangars, but city officials cut a closed-door deal with Sierra West allowing the business to pay only $1350 per hangar rent for each of the two facilities that would have been billed at $2,000 each or $4,000 total.
Sierra West Airlines, which also operates at the facility under the names of Pak West Airlines and Carreer (sic) Aviation according to city records, rents Hangars L-1 and L-2 which include office space and Hangar L-3 at the airport.
City Response: Prior Errors But Now Current
“What happened before I was here, I can’t explain,” said Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer, who took over as city manager in February 2013. “I can tell you now Sierra West is current with its payments.”
The figures came to light when researching a previous story regarding the city’s legal fight with another airport tenant, Bob Metz, over a contested eviction.
In that matter the city attempted to evict Metz for alleged non-payment of rent for a $180 hangar. After Metz paid the city and disputed the eviction, the city then changed the eviction notice to the fact there was no long term lease for the facility.
Other documents obtained from the city and its lawyers that were released to The Leader on March 18 showed Sierra West as much as $8,800 behind for just one facility as of March 12 – Hangar L-2. (The others weren’t provided.)
“That shouldn’t have gone out to you,” Whitemyer said in an interview when presented with the number. “Those are in error. Finance was billing the city rate of $2,000 and rolling forward the $650 (remainder) every month.”
Whitemyer said the city noticed the billing error after The Leader’s request.
When the other two hangar invoices were requested during the interview, Whitemyer said that the others had been “adjusted and corrected” on March 19 to show Sierra West current.
Whitemyer also added that the error would have no effect on the city’s expectation of revenue from the airport.
“We never anticipated getting those funds,” Whitemyer said. “Once we get a revised lease, our budget will be modified accordingly.”
Sierra West Airlines has been operating on a month-to-month lease and has seen numerous delays in their attempt for something long term.
According to Whitemyer, negotiations are continuing but he doesn’t have the staff as other city leaders did just two years ago. In that time it has seen the departure of its part-time airport manager, no full-time devoted public works director in place, and a series of interim city managers and severe city hall support cuts.
Talk But No Movement
The airport has a long history of controversy, delays, and miscommunication, especially in the area of rents and a fixed base operator (FBO) for the city – which the city has been seeking for four years but with no movement.
Currently the 68-year-old facility does not offer any formal repair services, aircraft rentals, flight school, and other airport management duties.
In 2010, the city solicited bids for a FBO for what some council members have described as a dusty rural airport with those wanting to make it a modern business model airport.
At an April 2011 Oakdale Airport Commission meeting, it was announced that Sierra West had bid to operate as the FBO for the airport, promising hundreds of thousands of dollars of improvements for a 16-year lease paying $3150 per month and to provide repair and other aircraft services within a three-year period.
At the following May 2011 city council meeting, there was disagreement between council members who questioned Sierra West’s commitment that mandated the providing of aeronautical services — a major contention by airport users — had been deleted from the previous lease in place. The council finally agreed to delay the item and directed the city staff to “tighten up” sections and “make a better lease agreement.”
No decision was made toward the Sierra West lease proposal.
Later that year the city dissolved its airport commission made up of five individuals appointed by the city council. Three of the five had direct ties to the airport. The chairperson of the commission at the time, Kendra (Robinson) Peterson, was the daughter of the owners and served as one of Sierra West’s vice-presidents.
In 2012, then city Operations Manager Dee Tatum presented a proposal by Pollock Pines resident Robert Metz representing Time Air LLC to lease a large hangar at the airport for 20 years with a starting lease of $1000 per month. Part of the lease agreement was to establish repair and flight services at the airport.
Councilman Mike Brennan said his desire was to bring in a FBO to the facility but he wanted more information on Time Air’s intention to that goal. When Brennan learned there was no one from Time Air at the meeting he had the matter pulled, describing it as a waste of time.
The following year, in a joint report presented to the city council by then-Operations Manager Chuck Deschenes along with Engineering Technician Michael Renfrow, reviewed the airport facilities and the rate structure for hangar leases. The project recommendation called for raised hangar rents and a proposal to (again) be put out for a FBO. Deschenes informed the council that the airport was in need of upgrades with the vision to increase airport activity, enhance revenue streams, and continue to be self-sufficient and competitive.
The council voted to raise rents set by staff, however this year it was later learned that the city did not enforce those raised rents while it was (still) in negotiations with Sierra West.
Sierra West – Wants Lease, Not FBO Duties
“The ball keeps getting dropped,” said Sierra West General Manager Justin Barnes about the delay in getting the lease deal completed. “We have faith working with Mr. Whitemyer.”
Barnes also mentioned a rotating series of those in charge and representing the city as a cause for the delay in a long-term lease.
Barnes said Sierra West has no intentions of being the FBO for the airport, instead concentrating on continuing the company’s own internal operations.
The Oakdale facility for Sierra West conducts training for its own pilots and is responsible for all the administrative duties for the company in the area. Charter on-demand services are flown out of Modesto due to larger planes not allowed in Oakdale.
Barnes added that the company is current with all its rents due to the city and was unaware of the past due amounts from last year.