Google plans to leave Moffett for SJ airport | February 15, 2013 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - February 15, 2013

Google plans to leave Moffett for SJ airport

by Daniel DeBolt

After plenty of difficulty in dealing with their federal government landlords at Moffett Field, Google's leaders are nearly set to build a facility for their planes at Mineta San Jose International Airport.

A San Jose City Council vote in April is set for the plan recommended by airport director Bill Sherry. It beat out two other proposals for the 29 acres along Martin Avenue and would place an $82 million facility at the airport in a partnership between Signature Aviation and Google's leaders, represented by Blue City Holdings, San Jose, LLC. The 270,000-square-foot facility is designed to achieve LEED gold status and would serve other private planes besides Google's fleet, which include several Gulfstream jets and two former airliners made by Boeing.

The plan comes after NASA and the White House did not embrace a proposal in late 2011 for Google's executives to restore and lease Hangar One at Moffett Field for their fleet, an endeavor estimated to cost over $45 million.

"They are doing this because NASA didn't say yes," to restoring Hangar One, said Lenny Siegel, a member of the San Hangar One committee. "This is an indication that the proposal got rejected."

The proposal for Hangar One from H211 LLC - the company formed to operate the Google fleet at Moffett — was considered a blessing by those who had been fighting to preserve Hangar One for years and could not get Congress, NASA or the Navy to fund its restoration. The iconic structure was recently stripped to its bare frame in an environmental cleanup.

"I think this is a the equivalent of a great gift falling out of heaven right in our laps." said Congresswoman Anna Eshoo at the time. "There is not any other option on the table today to preserve Hangar One."

The proposed terminal would apparently be a boon for the San Jose Airport, which will see $2.6 million a year in a 50-year lease, plus as much as $700,000 a year in taxes and fuel fees.

"We're pleased that the evaluation process for the development of Mineta San Jose International Airport's West Side is now complete, and the recommended outcome will prove to be incredibly prosperous for SJC, the City of San Jose, and Silicon Valley," said Sherry, San Jose airport director of aviation, in a statement.

The airport's $1.4 billion upgrade to the terminal area, completed in 2010, opened up a significant amount of land on the west side, he said.

"Now, our focus must be the proposed private development and $82 million investment of the West Side by Signature Flight Support, to support the private aviation needs of local high-tech and other companies, most notably the personal aircraft of the principals at Google," Sherry said.

Since 2007, Google's leaders have housed the fleet at Moffett Field, paying $1.3 million a year to rent Hangar 211 from NASA, which has struggled to pay for airfield operations. But the deal has been controversial one, drawing bad publicity.

Critics have called it favoritism for Google's executives, who are able to use a federal airfield usually reserved for used by the government and government contractors. The lease has been justified though the use of Google planes for NASA's research, including the gathering of data from the atmosphere and observing meteor showers, but it is unclear how often of how consistently the planes are used that way.

Siegel said H211 is still interested in using Moffett, possibly in addition to San Jose's airport. But he and former NASA Ames administrator Bill Berry expect Hangar One and the Moffett runways to be declared excess property by NASA soon. Siegel says the community should be ready for such a move by creating an advisory board on possible future uses for Moffett.

H211 director Ken Ambrose did not respond to requests for comment.


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