Nakamura “reorganizes” city departments, still no full-time management at the airport

7 May

I didn’t get to the Airport Commission meeting last week. I want to attend these, but the time is bad for me. I missed the meeting where Maria Rock stood up and blamed the loss of 130 planes (with owners who paid to park at the airport) over  the last year on “aging pilots.” And, I missed the conversation over allowing the hanger that used to house the airport’s biggest client, Aero Union, to be leased to a group for a museum, for free.

Aero Union left a few years ago, lured away by MacClellan in Sacramento. And then, as a result of policies they practiced while operating in Chico, they were involved in a huge scandal and subsequently went out of business. But not before relocating to MacClellan. They made the usual excuses that tenants make – we need a bigger place! But from what I heard, they got some kind of sweetheart offer from MacClellan that Chico Airport wastn’ offering.

Apparently, MacClellan, once a huge US Air Force base and giant employer and ginormous chunk of Sacramento’s economy, having been declared a Superfund clean-up site and closed in the 1990’s, is trying to transform itself into a business park.  It’s still an “uncontrolled airfield,” meaning,  n0 control tower, but navigational infrastructure for small aircraft. In order to revitalize an entire part of Sacramento, MacClellan Park is offering all kinds of perks and benies to any business that will locate there. The key words I heard are “build ready.”  This means, the landlord/property owner provides all the infrastructure – streets, sidewalks, sewer hook-ups, electric lines, etc.

The Chico Airport, owned by the city of Chico,  doesn’t do anything for you. Instead they roll out a list of stuff you have to do in order to locate there. As a friend of mine who owns an airport business told me, “they think anybody who wants to start a business must be some kind of Sugar Daddy.”

It doesn’t take much to see that there’s no management at the airport. “Airport Manager” is one of the “hats” left by Dave Burkland to Brian Nakamura. That’s all it is to them – a side job.  And it’s obvious – look at the aerial map of Chico Airport – it screams “BLIGHT!”  Empty lots scattered among the crappy old buildings, never having been cleaned up since the last business – what? burned down? Entire sections of the airport look abandoned.

I had to laugh when I read the conversation with the museum people. They want the hulking old Aero Union building. Now we find out what kind of landlord the city of Chico is – the building is condemnable. Only about two years since Aero Union vacated, and the roof is about ready to fall in. That’s just for starters. The whole building is a mess.  See what you get if you let your residential rentals get into that kind of condition – a tenant can withhold rent over a leaky faucet.  But when the city of Chico rents a building, they walk away – “it’s your baby now!”

The building needs about $200,000 worth of work on the roof, just the roof. Nakamura remarked that they might not have the money to do the roof right now – but at tonight’s council meeting, he’s asking for a supplemental budget allocation of over $500,000 to cover the new salaries approved for his departmental reorganization.

Now we know why Aero Union left, but that’s old history. Another large business tenant that has relocated more recently is Build.com, which was moved to Otterson Drive lock, stock and barrel. They said they wanted a bigger building, having had to use two separate buildings at the airport to accommodate their phone bank. I’m not really sure, but the new building they’re in at 402 Otterson is shared with other businesses, I’m not sure how much more space they’re getting.   Nor could I get any info on how much they’re paying.

Chances are, given the business properties available right now, Build.com is paying more per square foot in their new location. It looks like the average in the real world is about $1/sq ft.  The airport is offering Build.com’s old space for 75 cents a sq ft. I was at a meeting where $taff discussed renting space in the old Municipal building, and I remember, they offered that space below market too.

First of all, I see this as using taxpayer subsidized property to undercut the rental market, and that’s bad. Second, I see what they’re doing. They rent cheap, so they can be slumlords. They don’t do anything for their tenants, even maintain the building. They’re letting a group move into the old Muni building right now at a really cheap rent, giving them carte blanche to remodel. Sure, that seems great, but when they move out, we are stuck with whatever they do.

I don’t think the city should be in the real estate business. I don’t think the city should be in the airport business either. At the very least, we need a full-time manager out there. But, look at Nakamura’s reorganization – the airport is left within the city manager’s department. Just an extra hat?

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