Mountain View Voice

Opinion - October 7, 2011

Could Moffett Field hit the auction block?

There may be a silver lining in the economic downturn that could provide a much better opportunity for the restoration of Hangar One than is possible now under NASA stewardship.

According to a recent story in the New York Times, last year the Obama administration released a list of more than 12,000 properties it viewed as surplus that eventually could be sold in order to help reduce the federal deficit.

And it is no surprise that Mountain View's Moffett Federal Airfield is among the candidates the government believes could be attractive to a private party, given its size and key location in Silicon Valley. With plans already underway to develop a major education complex and high technology office park at Moffett, which includes a commitment for 1 million square feet of space by Google, the property suddenly takes on a new sparkle.

So what would a new owner do with Hangar One? Right now the landmark building is losing its outside skin and soon its skeleton will be open to the elements, leaving it to corrode and rust away unless it is rescued by a new owner.

Although such a scenario is highly speculative, we would not rule it out. The Times story said there is bipartisan support for the government to offload property and buildings that are no longer needed.

Google, whose headquarters is located a stone's throw away and just across Stevens Creek from NASA, is already paying more than $1 million a year to lease space in a hangar for its small fleet of private jets. And even if modest restrictions continued on the number of take-offs and landings permitted at Moffett under a private owner, we believe many area companies would leap at the chance to own this substantial complex.

It would also be a relief for NASA to sell the Moffett airfield. The agency has complained that it must pay over $7 million a year to run the little-used airstrip.

The local committee that has worked hard to save Hangar One is attempting to convince Congress to join in the fight. They have said that NASA is extremely handicapped by the government rules that govern possible contracts with private parties to share development rights for the Hangar in return for helping with restoration costs. A private firm would not have that problem.

Some might say that the current Congress, which has been hamstrung all year by partisan squabbles, could never agree on disposing of the hundreds of federal properties around the country. But at least at this stage, Republicans and Democrats have been saying that they do agree on the issue, and there are bills in the House and Senate to reduce the red tape involved in selling federal property.

Perhaps this movement in Washington is a glimmer of hope for Hangar One, although at this stage it is not clear if there is even a remote chance for this dream to come true.

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