Mountain View Voice

Opinion - June 7, 2013

Community counts in Moffett's future use

Hangar One may have been spared the wrecking ball, but the fate of Mountain View's iconic structure is still very much up in the air. There's a real possibility that Moffett Federal Airfield will become an airport for private business jets, thanks to a much-delayed "request for proposals" that was released last week. Up for lease is not just Hangar One but the entire 1,055-acre airfield and all three of its historic aircraft hangars.

Companies will have a chance to bid on leasing and restoring Hangar One and its 16 acres, or leasing both Hangar One and the airfield, including Hangars Two and Three and the nearby NASA golf course. Under either option, the new lease holder would be obliged to restore Hangar One, the RFP says.

It's a relief to see some movement, after officials spent more than a year sitting on a proposal from the founders of Google, who through their private plane fleet operator H211 LLC offered to pay over $30 million to restore the iconic structure in exchange for a long-term lease.

The prospect of Mountain View's landmark, currently reduced to a bare metal frame, resuming a useful life is a good sign. Whether a restored Hangar One on a renamed Moffett Field will end up as a billboard for some deep-pocketed lease-holder is another story.

While giving away naming rights must certainly give preservationists pause, there is some indication that community concerns were considered in the RFP. The document makes clear that the Moffett airfield would not be open to cargo flights, which should be a relief to the residents that soundly came out again such a use when it was proposed in the 1990s. Allowing its use as an airport for private jets might be the only way to make the expensive proposition of running the airfields and restoring Hangar One a viable financial decision. NASA officials have complained that the airfield, currently in limited use by the likes of the Air National Guard, Google and NASA, is a money-loser.

One key element that's missing from the lengthy request for proposals is the need for a public benefit. Moffett Field exists because the neighboring community worked together to create it. After a campaign to bring the Naval Air Station to the area, in 1931 the city of Sunnyvale bought 1,000 acres of land with money raised by residents of Mountain View and the rest of Santa Clara County and sold it to the United States government for $1 to create Moffett Field. Residents of Mountain View and other nearby cities have fought for years to save Hangar One from demolition and deserve to enjoy it once it is restored.

This history should be honored by allowing the public to give input on the bids, and by requiring some public use. As one of the largest freestanding structures in the world, Hangar One has plenty of space for both private aircraft and a proposed Air and Space museum. There could be room for a public event space, and to return the Moffett Field history museum to its original home in Hangar One.

It's a hopeful sign that H211's Ken Ambrose had expressed interest in the past in sharing Hangar One with a museum, although it's unclear whether H211 will be among the bidders. When reviewing the bids to lease Hangar One, we hope NASA officials bear in mind the importance of honoring Moffett's long connection with the community and preserving its historic legacy for future generations.

Comments

Posted by psa188, a resident of another community
on Sep 27, 2013 at 9:08 am

Since the summer of 2005, the Navy's position concerning Hangar One was made clear at many public meetings in the Mountain View area. For the past eight years, the reaction from the public continues to be strongly in favor of restoring Hangar One. Despite overwhelming public support for the hangar, a federal buck-passing exercise has been going on for almost a decade. Both the Navy and NASA have been metaphorically tossing the restoration of the hangar around like a hot potato. Everyone gives lip service to restoring the hangar but nobody wants to pay for it. It's a national disgrace that NASA and the Navy have been blowing off fixing Hangar One.

An offer by the H211 to step up to preserve the hangar should have removed the cost argument from the discussion. You'd think that NASA would jump at the chance at free money to make this PR nightmare go away but you would be wrong.

NASA's behavior sums up what's wrong with government. An offer was made for private funding to re-skin the hangar. Paying for the re-skinning was the sticking point in the discussions Then money comes along, and what does NASA do? Stall, diddle and procrastinate. This is why people hate government.

A proper Restoration Alternative would involve re-skining Hangar One in addition to all of the environmental work described in Alternative 2- "Implementation of Institutional Controls," which is fundamentally flawed because it justifies an already-reached conclusion by ignoring the community's strong desire to see the hangar preserved. It's time to discard Alternative 2 and prepare an Alternative 3 that meets the joint goals of protecting the environment and preserving history. These goals need not be mutually exclusive.

Although we can argue about the number of flights allowed at NUQ, we don't want to lose the Federal airfield adjacent to Hangar One. The MV Voice reports that "[Lenny] Siegel has long advocated for Moffett's runways to be torn up and redeveloped with 'badly needed' transit-oriented housing." I respectfully disagree. Keeping NUQ open for NASA, Air National Guard and emergency flights as it is now is a fair compromise between "no growthers" and aviation advocates. It's virtually impossible to build new aviation capacity in this country so let's not destroy what we have.

This should have been settled years ago. NUQ has lots of restrictions on flight operations and it is doubtful more flights would come to NUQ. Air cargo is down in North America. On August 26, Aviation Week reported, "North America and the Asia-Pacific area proved to be the weakest regions in terms of international AFTKs (Available Freight Tonne Kilometers) and cargo demand in the first half of the year, contracting by 2.7% and 2.9%, respectively."

So, please, let's not try to scare people into believing that fleets of air freighters are about to descend on NUQ if only those pesky restrictions were lifted, it's NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Just drive down to SJC at 7:00 PM and watch what's left of the cargo "rush." I'll save you the time, it's down to two Fedex and one or two (depends on day) UPS flights. This region does not generate the same small amounts of air freight that it did in the 1990s and SFO, OAK and SJC can handle it for years to come.


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