Derailing restoration plans for historic Hangar One and causing anxiety over Moffett Field's future, NASA administrator Charles Bolden says Hangar One and the runways at Moffett Field are "excess to the agency" and therefore should undergo a "review" by the General Services Administration. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo made public Bolden's April 6 letter on May 9.
The GSA's involvement is not yet a done deal. "I am in direct contact with the White House to prevent the excessing and I hope this disastrous plan will be averted," Eshoo said.
Members of the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board expressed frustration over the possibility that the GSA's review, as Eshoo says, "would be a duplication of years of reviews and decisions" for Moffett, and reopen old conflicts between RAB members who had disagreed about how the airfield should be used in the future.
"I'm 79 years old and I've been dealing with this issue since 1997," said RAB member Art Schwartz at the May 10 meeting. "If it takes as much time to complete it as it's taken up to now, I might not be here."
"We've vetted this thing so many times I think we know what we want this place to look like," said Carl Honaker, former Moffett Field Naval Air Station executive officer. "I don't think we need to go back and open those old wounds again."
"We can not leave such a review to unresponsive federal agencies," said Lenny Siegel, chair of the Save Hangar One Committee, in a letter.
Honaker noted that it takes as long as 10 years for the GSA to dispose of federal properties, an unprecedented number of which are being dumped in a cost-cutting move. Others said they understood the GSA's process could take three years.
"The GSA may be able to throw a really nice party in Las Vegas," Honaker said referring to a recent scandal, "but they are the most horrible real estate manager you could ever ever imagine."
RAB members expressed concern about the consequences for Hangar One, as a restoration proposal from Google's founders may not wait for the GSA's review. The delay could mean decay of the icon's steel skeleton which will soon be entirely stripped of its siding in an environmental cleanup.
Bolden's announcement came as a response to Eshoo's continued push to have NASA headquarters sign off on the proposal to save Hangar One, which the community has struggled to do over the last decade. But because there is no "mission" for Hangar One, Bolden says it cannot be leased in the long term to the founders of Google, who through their private plane operator H211 LLC have offered to pay to restore the iconic structure, estimated by NASA at over $45 million.
"I've asked repeatedly for NASA to evaluate the H211 proposal out of concern that the private funding to restore the Hangar would no longer be on the table, leaving Hangar One as a gigantic skeleton in the heart of Silicon Valley, a symbol of the administration's failure to capitalize on opportunities," Eshoo said in a letter to Bolden on April 26. "I'm particularly concerned that the investments already made by the federal government are at risk by NASA's actions," noting the $25 million spent on siding removal by the Navy.
"When every other public agency in the U.S. is trying to get public-private partnerships, NASA is ignoring them," said RAB member Bob Moss.
'No mission need'
So far Bolden has only singled out Hangar One and the Moffett runways as areas that could be surplussed, so there is still some question as to what area will be under review, said Bill Berry, RAB co-chair and former NASA Ames administrator.
"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," Bolden wrote on April 6 responding to Eshoo's request for such a lease for H211. "A GSA process will best address the interests of the community, NASA, and the federal government," he said.
In his second letter to Eshoo, which is also signed by GSA acting administrator Daniel Tangherlini, Bolden says "GSA is the recognized government expert in development and reuse of properties" and "would follow a clear and thorough process that involves extensive community consultation to determine stakeholder interests." Bolden does not use the word "excess" to describe Moffett in the last letter, possibly indicating that he will be leaving that to the GSA to determine during the review.
In response to questions about whether there was precedent for such a review, GSA spokesperson Traci Madison said in an email that "GSA is always willing to work with federal agencies to improve management of federally owned properties. However, for GSA to take any action in disposing of the property, a report of excess must first be filed by NASA."
If declared excess, Madison said the property is first offered to another federal government agency, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Army. If there are no takers in the federal level, than a long list of public users get priority, such as a homeless shelter, airport use and park space at a price discounted as much as 100 percent. Then the city could get a chance to buy Moffett before it's offered in a public bidding process.
Part of Mountain View
If NASA does give up Moffett, City Council member Jac Siegel said the city of Mountain View could be given the western half of the airfield, including Hangar One. The Federal Aviation Administration could take it over, though Siegel says another commercial airport at Moffett would be a hard sell when San Jose airport is at only 65 percent capacity.
"We are definitely in line to possibly get half of that airfield," Siegel said. "That property out there would actually become Mountain View. That is something we need to prepare for."
RAB members said they hoped NASA headquarters would work directly with the community instead of using the GSA. Otherwise, they said NASA would face considerable pressure.
Bolden's announcement "is of significant concern to the local communities and will likely meet the strongest of local opposition," wrote Mayor Mike Kasperzak in a letter to Bolden on Thursday.
"NASA has not moved to excess Moffett Federal Airfield or Hangar One. However the agency is working closely with interested members of Congress and the General Services Administration to evaluate the appropriate future stewardship of these properties," a statement released Tuesday through NASA Ames public affairs said. "The local communities, federal, state and local agencies, local members and and other interested (parties) would all play a key role in this process to determine how to maximize the benefit for all stakeholders.
"NASA is committed to a process that will best respect the airfield's current uses, the community's interest and the taxpayer's value. Again, NASA has not moved to excess Moffett Field or Hangar One. A disposition of property would only take place after formal notice by NASA and under GSA procedures that would ensure robust public participation and transparency in the process."