In 1996, when NASA proposed to open up Moffett to air cargo operations, 67.5 percent of Mountain View voters opposed commercial or other civilian air operations there. Opposition to non-governmental use of the Moffett runways in Sunnyvale, directly under the Moffett flight-landing path, was also intense. In response, NASA consulted with residents of neighboring communities to create a development plan based upon partnerships with high-tech companies and educational institutions.
However, last year NASA headquarters sought to unload the now-underutilized airfield. The White House told NASA that it, not the Navy, would be responsible for restoring historic Hangar One after removal of its siding. And Congress cut the budget.
Our Congressional delegation fought to preserve Moffett Field in its present status as a limited-use federal airfield, and they appeared victorious this May when NASA and the General Services Administration announced they were seeking private bidders to restore Hangar One and operate the airfield. This seemed tailor-made for H211, the private-plane operator owned by Google's top management. Based in Hangar 211 since 2007, H211 had offered to restore Hangar One in exchange for the right to park its fleet there. But it's not clear whether H211 will make a bid under the NASA-GSA request for proposals (RFP).
As the Voice reported on May 30, the RFP could lead to the establishment of a base for business jets at Moffett Field. Unless the residents of Mountain View, Sunnyvale and other neighboring communities make themselves heard, we could be stuck with unwanted flight operations slipped under our noses as part of the laudable objective of restoring Hangar One.
While many of us can live with a continuation of the limited-use federal airfield, a private jetport would only be constrained by promises in the 11-year-old environmental impact statement that is not only subject to change, but also would necessarily be updated to cover major changes at Moffett Field. It is time to ask, once again, "Who needs the Moffett runways?"
Today the runways are used by the Air National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing, even though the costs are high and many of its staff live in the Central Valley. Lockheed-Martin Sunnyvale and Space Systems Loral have shipped large satellite payloads out of Moffett, but it's not clear how essential Moffett is to either. And while Moffett is sometimes a convenient place for Air Force One to land when presidents visit Silicon Valley seeking campaign donations, that's no reason to keep the runways open.
Perhaps the strongest argument for keeping the Moffett runways in ship-shape condition is to be prepared for an earthquake or other natural disaster. Moffett was a key staging area in the wake of the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. However, studies since have shown that Moffett's under-maintained runways are "moderately susceptible" to liquefaction. It would take a large investment to harden Moffett to resist the various earthquake scenarios likely in the future. It would take a steady flow of business jet operations to cover the cost.
We must act now and let our community leaders, NASA, and the GSA know of our desire to see that Moffett is used for the community's needs and higher purposes vs. subjecting our communities to unwanted noise, environmental pollution, and accident risks sanctioned under the current GSA lease proposal request. At the very minimum, the federal agencies should undertake a comprehensive environmental impact study comparing the consequences of the status quo with leasing proposals as well as with alternative uses such as transit-oriented housing badly needed by our communities and companies.