The Mountain View City Council unanimously decided Tuesday night that the city should pursue a range of serious actions to save the iconic Hangar One at Moffett Field, even if it means a lawsuit against the Navy.
"I think we're at a very critical stage right now," said city manager Kevin Duggan. "The Navy is now moving expeditiously within the next few weeks to have the siding removed," he said, referring to Navy efforts to award a contract to tear down the hangar's toxic siding, despite there being no plans to replace it. "They will take a stronger and stronger position that they have no choice but to proceed."
"There are very few iconic structures in Silicon Valley," Duggan continued. "This clearly is a unique example of the history in the area being reflected in a structure. Once the siding is removed, there could be long-term harm."
Talks have reached a stalemate between the Navy and the hangar's current owner, NASA Ames, to find funds to re-skin the hangar, estimated to require between $15 and $40 million. The Navy says any delay in removing the Hangar's toxic siding could cost millions more in funds allocated to the project. Meanwhile, years of effort by every elected official in the area, including Rep. Anna Eshoo, have failed to put a better plan in place than leaving the hangar as a bare skeletal frame.
Local preservationists have called for a Hangar One summit between elected officials, NASA and the Navy to solve the problem, but the Navy hasn't responded to that request, which was made at the June 11 Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board meeting.
"It seems like we've been trying the diplomatic approach" for a long time, said council member Laura Macias. "This is tomorrow. I don't think we have time for the convening of important people."
The council agreed to have Duggan, city attorney Michael Martello and Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga look at all options, including "advertising that our very capable city attorney is looking at a government lawsuit," said council member Mike Kasperzak. Council members also wanted the city to work with Eshoo in contacting President Barack Obama's new Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus.
"The city attorney should contact the Palo Alto and Sunnyvale city attorneys for help in stopping this," added council member Jac Siegel. They should "look immediately at getting an injunction."
Lenny Siegel, a local expert on Superfund site cleanups around the country and at Moffett Field, said on Wednesday that a lawsuit was feasible. The Superfund law that governs the cleanup of the hangar allows lawsuits against the federal government to stop or delay such projects, Siegel said. And a legal argument could be made that the Navy has not fulfilled requirements for historic preservation.
"It only takes one city" to put forth "the lawyer who can make the precise legal arguments to prevail," he said.