Thursday, April 18, 2013
Google’s airport dreams take off: San Jose private terminal approved
n a move that benefits Google executives and other corporate high-flyers, the City Council on Tuesday night approved an elite corporate jet center at San Jose’s airport, without adding an extra curfew provision that had been omitted in the bidding process.
In a 10-1 vote, the council approved a 50-year lease agreement with Signature Flight Services to build an $82 million facility on the west side of Mineta San Jose International Airport.
Only San Jose City Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio was opposed, saying there were other ways the city could help the cash-strapped airport repay its exhorbitant debt without disturbing citizens with more flights.
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About two dozen residents who live near the airport’s flight path urged the council to reconsider the project by adding back the extra curfew provision, increasing the curfew violation fines, or reducing the length of the lease.
“If the city approves the Signature aircraft lease, it will accomplish one good thing and two bad things,” said Ed Hodges, co-chair of the Citizens Against Airport Pollution, a community group that has battled the city over airport noise issues for decades.
The airport will get $3 million a year in rent, he said, but also generate thousands of additional flights every year during the curfew hours, and less trust with neighbors.
Residents Tina Morrill and Tom Sawyer both questioned not only the length of the 50-year lease, but what they considered the influence of big money in the process.
“This whole thing really appears to be a 1 percent giveway to the 1 percent corporate jet (companies) against the 99 percent of us who are trying to make a living,” said Sawyer.
Signature’s project includes seven hangars for corporate jets, with five of those hangars to be used by Blue City Holdings, its primary tenant. That company will manage aircraft for Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, whose private jets are now parked at Moffett Field, where their lease is up next year.
But Mayor Chuck Reed, among others, insisted that neither company had sought to undermine or exempt their companies from adhering to the 11:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. airport curfew, which allows aircraft that generate less than 89 decibels to fly during those hours.
Nor had city officials ever given them that impression, he said.
“I have never seen the council waver on the curfew — never — not in open session and not in closed session,” Reed said. “We have fought for the curfew and we will keep the curfew,” he told the council and audience members.
The council last Tuesday had been poised to sign off on the deal, but delayed it after a last-minute memo surfaced from Aviation Director Bill Sherry.
In the memo, Sherry told the council that while all airport leases include a provision requiring compliance with the city’s curfew ordinance at the airport, the bid documents omitted an additional curfew provision that applies only to fixed-base operators at the airport and their tenants.
That added provision, which has been in effect since 2004, requires obeying the curfew, even if the curfew is subsequently terminated. Three other fixed-based operators at the airport have been subject to that provision, which after Tuesday’s council vote will now be dropped from their leases as well.
Like Reed, Sherry stressed that both Signature and Blue City Holdings will abide by the curfew, even without the second provision.
The Signature facility is projected to provide at least $3 million annually in rent and other fees to the airport, which has been working to attract more planes and revenue to pay off the costs of a recent $1.3 billion renovation.