After talking to NASA officials, General Services Administration officials and Congressional staff, longtime Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board member Lenny Siegel says that Sunnyvale and Mountain View should begin to brace themselves for the big decisions over Moffett's fate that have been looming for years.
"What I know is that something is happening, but I'm getting conflicting rumors about what is happening," Siegel said Monday.
Siegel said it was possible that President Obama's administration has been waiting until after the election to accept a deal from Google's founders to restore Hangar One in exchange for a long-term lease and use of the runway for their private planes, operated by their company H211, LLC.
If such a deal had been accepted previously, "Obama would have been criticized for playing favorites with some of his supporters," Siegel said, referring to Google's founders.
The other scenario is that NASA will move forward on its wish to dump the airfield and Hangar One with the help of the General Services Administration. NASA has complained of the cost of operating and maintaining the hangars and runways at Moffett for years.
"Because NASA has determined that these properties no longer have a mission need and are therefore excess to the Agency, NASA's enhanced use lease authorities are not available for these properties," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden wrote on April 6 responding to questions from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo about H211's proposal. "Given this determination, we believe a process under GSA's expertise and array of authorities will best address the interests of the community, NASA, and the federal government at large for these properties."
Siegel wrote to the Sunnyvale and Mountain View city councils on Monday to call for a "joint planing process" to prepare for federal action.
"Should the federal government make a decision soon, I fear that our communities will be unprepared to respond," Siegel writes.
Siegel suggested a citizens advisory committee like the one formed in 1997 on the future of Moffett Field when the Navy left the airfield to NASA. But Siegel recalled that there was a lot of disagreement on that committee for how Moffett should be re-used, with some arguing for it to be opened up as an airport and others saying the runways should be torn out and the area redeveloped.
"While our communities are unified in our insistence that Hangar One be restored, there are widely divergent local views about the future use of the Hangar, the runways, and other Moffett facilities," Siegel said.
Mayor Mike Kasperzak questioned the need for such an effort right now.
"Until we really know what's going on, planning isn't a bad thing, but I think planning in a vacuum is not very productive," Kasperzak said. "People say, 'we could build housing out there,' but if it's still going to be runway we could do all the planning in the world and it doesn't matter. Or we could work with the administration to try and maintain the status quo, which I think is the city's interest."
Nevertheless, Siegel said it was worth the trouble and the expense to be prepared and suggested that the cities hire consultants with expertise in federal property transfers.
"There will be costs associated with such a planning process, but those costs will be minor compared to the direct and indirect costs to our cities and residents if the federal government takes action without fully informed local engagement," Siegel wrote.