Mountain View Voice

News - September 20, 2013

Fate of Moffett's 1,000 acres may be sealed by next month

Four groups will present proposals to take over hangars, airfield

by Daniel DeBolt

In what could have a huge impact on the region, several different groups are making moves in a bidding war for Moffett Field's runways and massive hangars.

Possible users include Google's executives, who want to park their planes in a restored Hangar One, and two groups hoping to spur private space industry at Moffett. And there's the Air and Space West Foundation, which wants to build a museum in Hangar One and whose director is also said to be interested in bringing private jets to Moffett Field.

Earlier this year, NASA put use of Hangar One and the operation of the expensive airfields up for bid with help from the General Services Administration.

The consequences of the bidding for Mountain View and the local region are huge, possibly bringing more air traffic to the skies, more jobs, a major museum or a new venue for public events, depending on who has the winning proposal.

There's a big obstacle to taking over the 1,000-acre airfield, three massive hangars and a golf course: money. Hangar One, which has been stripped of its siding, must be restored at a cost estimated to be well over $30 million. Then there's a $500,000 fee just to make a bid — bids are due Oct. 16 at 3 p.m. A winner will be announced in December.

Google aside, "right now it's not clear who has the money to make a bid," said Lenny Siegel, director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, who also sits on the boards of the Air and Space West Foundation and the Save Hangar One Committee.

"It's going to be very challenging to bring forward a viable business proposal," added Bill Berry, former NASA Ames deputy director.

Siegel says he may resign from the Air and Space West Foundation board if director Larry Ellis proposes to bring business jets to Moffett in order to make for a viable proposal. Siegel has long advocated for Moffett's runways to be torn up and redeveloped with "badly needed" transit-oriented housing.

"I personally would like to see it used as much as possible for public benefit," Berry said, saying that he would favor giving Moffett to the local community the way the Presidio was in San Francisco. "But that's not going to happen now."

"I know Lenny and I have differing opinions on this stuff," said Steve Williams, a pilot and blogger who has been involved in efforts to save Hangar One and build a museum inside. "I think we still need to look on community involvement in this whole process as a positive thing, even if different people in the community have different plans. Ultimately the responses to the RFP (request for proposals) are going to have to be based on the requirements of the RFP and really, there's no way around that."

Ellis, the director of Air and Space West Foundation, did not respond to requests for an interview.

While many have stressed the importance of public input in the process, Berry said there was little to do except "sit back and watch."

Private space center

"We believe the right use for the airfield is for space entrepreneurship," said Sean Casey, co-founder of a group that wants to take over the 1,000 acres at Moffett to build the Silicon Valley Space Center's "Innovative Design Environment for Air and Space" or IDEAS. Led by seasoned NASA players, his group has been organizing conferences and working with businesses in the private space industry since 2011.

"Silicon Valley is not about museums, Silicon Valley is about building companies," Casey said, taking a dig at the Air and Space West Foundation. He also blasted proposals to have the World Expo at Moffett Field. "The reason people come to Silicon Valley is to build the future, not focus on the past," Casey said.

Like those involved with the museum bid, Casey said he could not guarantee that SVSC's plan would not include use of the airfield by private business jets.

Another group looking to expand on the numerous public-private partnerships at NASA is called the International Space Development Hub (ISDhub), led by retired teacher John Lee, financial guru Armen Pazian and Amalie Sinclair.

Both groups have been around for several years, are seeking partners and investors and are tight-lipped about funding for the bid. "The money is going to come from our friends here in Silicon Valley," Casey said, saying the Valley's investors prefer to fund companies located nearby. "It's a typical investment."

While ISDhub lacked specific plans, SVSC gave brochures to the Voice with floor plans showing space for two jumbo jets in Hangar One, along with a six-level, 100,000-square-foot structure in the middle of the hangar bay with offices renting at $13 a square foot and hangar bay space at $4.30 per square foot. In Hangar Two and Three there's room for two airships and a combined total of 320,000 square feet of office structures, with the office space costing $4.30 a square foot and workshop and lab space at $2.10 a square foot.

NASA would allow a 90,000-square-foot building to be developed on the airfield, likely to be used by business jets. There's also a golf course that comes with the airfield, which ran up a $194,000 loss over the last year, according to records released Sept. 18.

For long-term funding, ISDhub's Armen Papazian has advocated in papers posted to the group's website that the United States Federal Reserve print more money to fund space exploration and colonization.

"We can afford to create and spend as much money as necessary to invent our future in space," Papazian writes. "We must embrace this enormous molecular universe as our own true and palpable context, for now and the foreseeable future. We must transcend debt-based money and drop scarcity as an economic world view to unlock the resources of our galaxy."

Among the groups associated with ISDhub is one aiming to build an elevator into space.

Both groups seem open to having public events at the new facilities.

"Anybody who uses the airfield needs to realize the public has a tremendous interest in space and space exploration," Casey said, noting the huge crowd that gathered last week at NASA Ames for the launch of NASA's LADDEE spacecraft. "Why Washington continues to de-fund space exploration is a mystery to me."

Google is still interested

Google's executives have been leasing Hangar 211 at Moffett to house a fleet of private planes since 2007 but their flight director, Ken Ambrose of H211 LLC, said NASA has not responded to requests to renew the lease which expires next year. That comes after accusations against NASA for favoritism towards Google. Use of Hangar 211 was never put up for bid before the lease began in 2007. The outcry by Republicans Sen. Chuck Grassley and Congressman Darryl Issa also meant that H211 recently lost access to discounted jet fuel at Moffett supplied by the Department of Defense, which likely saved Google's operation tens of thousands of dollars every year.

H211 had proposed to restore Moffett's massive icon Hangar One for its airplane fleet but was met with silence from NASA last year. Having already been accused of favoritism by members of Congress, NASA then put use of Hangar One and the expensive airfields up for bid with help from the General Services Administration.

Google's executives apparently remain interested, but have been tight-lipped about their plans. At an information meeting for bidders on Aug. 15 in San Francisco, "There were about 8-10 people there who seemed to have some sort of Google affiliation," Siegel said.

"We remain interested in staying at Moffett, and are hopeful something will work out," said Ambrose in a Sept. 16 email.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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