Skywest leaves with million dollar federal grant – that’s what commercial air service has really meant to this town, money to pay management salaries

24 Sep

I been waiting forever for our beloved council to show some interest in Chico Airport, so I dusted off the old broom and headed over to their joint session last night at City Chambers.

The agenda was pretty vague – something about hiring a new manager –  but I got what I suspected I’d get – a bunch of idiots trying to breathe life back into commercial air service. 

If you ever used Skywest, you know two things – the service was horrible, and the planes were always mostly empty.  I don’t fly, but my husband has relatives in Germany, so we’ve experienced the airlines. On one trip home, the flight was late getting into SF, so my husband and 14 year old son missed their Skywest connection. Skywest told my husband  he would not get another flight that night, they wouldn’t pay for a hotel room, nothing. They didn’t even apologize. I don’t drive, so I had to ask a friend to take me to pick them up.  When our cousin came in from Germany earlier this year we not only drove to SF to pick him up we drove him back to catch his outbound plane.  

Whenever my husband has used Skywest, the plane has had less than half a dozen passengers total. Once he was flown back alone, by a couple of pilots who chattered at him the entire flight. 

What I already knew before last night, is that this conversation is being perpetuated by the very few people who can afford to use Skywest on a regular basis.  But, here’s the thing: it’s being facilitated by the city staff and council because they know that commercial air service comes  along with a $1 million dollar annual grant from the feds.

This I suspected, but having tried to read the budget many times, I could never figure it out. Well, there it is, right out of Mark Orme’s mouth. That’s what Skywest service and the airport in general mean to Scott Gruendl and Mark Sorensen and their staff – a million dollars in “free money” to pay their management salaries. They been embezzling the airport fund for years, it’s been in the red for at least six years, to pay Dave Burkland and then Brian Nakamura’s ridiculous salaries. It started with either Tom Lando or Burkland. With the approval of council, they let the old airport manager retire (early?), and then took his job, along with at least a $35,000 pay increase, I remember seeing the breakdown. At that time, the city manager was given a number of “hats” – he was the city manager, the airport manager, the head of the Redevelopment Fund (!). etc. I think it happened under Lando, because we watched his salary go from about $65,000/year to over $150,000 in about four years. 

Mark Sorensen seemed to be making sense when Skywest first announced their pullout. He said we didn’t need commercial air service at that time, and needed to come up with an alternative plan  for the airport. But last night he seemed to have drank the Kool Aid – when he should have been talking about the financial condition and budget of the airport, where all the money has been going for the last four years he’s been on council, he kept directing the conversation back to commercial air service. At one point little Tami Ritter asked a very pertinent question about the airport budget, and as soon as Frank Fields was done answering her question, Mark Sorensen jumped onto the mic to wrangle the conversation back to commercial air service. He acted as though Ritter was coming from another planet.

At one point, Sean Morgan said “if Skywest hadn’t left, we wouldn’t be talking about this (the airport)”. I think he was trying to say how important commercial air service is. They did get a pretty hot reaction to Skywest’s announcement. But not from the general public, just those privileged few in this town who can afford to pay over $250 for a trip out of town. 

I heard Morgan loud and clear – these people don’t have a clue how to save our airport. They just want to kick and scream for commercial service, to get back on that sweet federal teat. Orme said the feds are going to cut us off, and they’re not even saying, how soon. I think Orme isn’t telling us everything. I think the feds might be a little miffed at us because we didn’t use any of that money to fix the airport all these years. An old airport commissioner, Greg Fischer, got up to tell us how great things are at Redding airport – they didn’t lose Skywest service, and Skywest is talking about bringing in the new jets, because Redding used their airport money to hire a fulltime manager and FIX THE AIRPORT! Wow, how did they think of that!

Meanwhile, our tarmac is way behind the times, too short for the new jets. Orme went on – there’s a projects list of equipment that must be replaced. An example – a $150,000 water tank. It’s been going for years, he said, management has known about it, but has continued to take that million dollar grant to pay exorbitant salaries Downtown. 

Mark Sorensen signed those contracts. He lobbied for the hiring of Brian Nakamura at $212,000/year, plus all but 4 percent of his pension and benefits payments. Knowing we didn’t have the money to pay him, and his salary would need to be embezzled out of funds that went into the red – like the airport, development, and sewer funds.  All the while, Sorensen has tried to lay the blame on lower level staffers, he’s been responsible.

Not just Sorensen, of course, but I’m sick of hearing about what a fiscal conservative that guy is. He will support a sales tax increase in 2016.  Vote for him at your own peril, your lifestyle is about to get a lot more expensive in order to pay for theirs. 

Orme tried his best to put a positive spin on this situation – remember, he’s the city manager now, and his salary as ass man was coming out of that grant too. He kept saying what a great asset the airport is, but tempered that every time with stories of how crapped out it’s gotten. He kept asking for council to give direction – cause it’s council’s responsibility.  

He said  there are investors interested in the airport, but in the end, he was talking about government money again – the only interest in our airport is it’s location for fighting forest fires. He mentioned two investors – a government forestry agency, and Airspray, the local company that owns and operates the fire planes. Those contracts are negotiable, any time they find our airport is inadequate, they can leave for Redding or Sacramento. 

The media isn’t covering this story. I saw Jason Atchoo from Ch 7 at the meeting, he was there when we left, and his story later was a piece of fluff. Just a rehash of the commercial air thing, no film from the meeting, nothing about the million dollar grant we’re losing. 

You’ll notice Laura Urseny has posted her story -http://www.chicoer.com/news/ci_26594263/plans-chico-airport-surface-at-meeting

but doesn’t talk specifically about the million dollar grant. She says the airport “has been in deficit for years,” and mentions that commercial air service qualifies the airport for federal grants, ” to help improve the airport , such as with runway work…”   But not one word about how much they’ve been getting, or where that money has actually been going. She does mention that Chamber Madam Katy Simmons put the hand out for a study – that’s just the beginning. 

The commercial air advocates are going to come forward to ask for more money. They want a “passenger use study” out of the city, to start with. None of that was seriously discussed last night because the meeting was public. I predict most of the airport discussion is going on behind closed door with the “stakeholders” – again, those who can afford  to pay $250 for a trip out of town.

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses to “Skywest leaves with million dollar federal grant – that’s what commercial air service has really meant to this town, money to pay management salaries”

  1. Michael Jones September 24, 2014 at 5:28 am #

    I like the Sacramento airport just fine. The drive is relatively short, and then you can fly directly to your destination. What was SkyWest faster for, just if you wanted to get to the Bay Area?

    • Juanita Sumner September 24, 2014 at 6:52 am #

      yes, if you wanted to go to Sacramento they offered a shuttle service. And, if you took Skywest to SF for a connection, you never knew if you would be able to get back – a lot of people have been stranded and had to either get a room overnight or rent a car to drive home.

      They talked last night about getting service to LA instead. A lot of people are blaming Skywest’s poor service on the scheduling at SF airport. But, all Skywest had to do was guarantee you a flight, they wouldn’t. If you missed your Skywest flight by two minutes they left you, even though they were privvy to the schedule and knew when connecting flights were late.

      We don’t need service here, we have two great airports within an easy drive – Sacto International to the south and Redding to the north. They need to attract manufacturers to the airport, but they never even discuss that. When they say “tenants” they mean airplane related businesses, mostly government firefighting entities or their hangars-on.

      get it – ha ha – hangars-on – oh I’m rolling right outta here!

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