Future of Tracy's Airports Up in Air

TRACY, Calif. -- One city, two airports, two different worlds.

One sees regular traffic, houses nearly 100 planes and has a sky full of potential. The other is mostly used for training new pilots and remote-controlled aircraft, and the city has tried, unsuccessfully, to unload it.

The Tracy Municipal Airport and the New Jerusalem Airport -- both under the jurisdiction of the city of Tracy -- eventually could be built up to complement each other, but currently they leave a lot to be desired.

Amid promise and turmoil, the Tracy City Council could enter into a deal later this month to improve New Jerusalem with a developer who happens to control a majority of property around it. Meanwhile, city officials are optimistic they can energize the Tracy Airport, even after the only commercial business there shut down last week.

Tracy City Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker is making the Tracy Airport her pet project, looking for construction of a new entrance, a shade structure in the park and the opening of a concession stand.

"It's not like there's nothing going on around here," Tucker said. "This is the city council's airport. We've got to make some investments, and we want some action items brought to us that have money to spend from the general fund."

In October, four members of the city's airport commission abruptly resigned, and without enough members to call a quorum or new commissioners appointed, their regular monthly meetings have been canceled. Jaime Locquiao felt it was time to leave because the commission's "voice is not freely heard, staff members overstep their authority, and controls are in place to watchdog the commission."

"After carefully reading the bylaws, I now strongly feel that staff has acted inappropriately in an attempt to control the actions of this commission," Locquiao wrote.

City staff was directed by the council not to fill the vacancies as a concept for a new Transportation Commission, which would provide a higher level of advice on various transportation issues, was explored.

Meanwhile, the only business at the airport shuttered its operation at the end of January.

Lloyd McFarlin, president of Port City Aviation, the parent company of the Tracy Flight Center, informed the city he was moving his operations after 15 years of continuous service.

Without city staff's support for growth, basic infrastructure and maintenance, the airport ultimately will have little or no value to the residents of Tracy and therefore holds no value for business to grow there, he wrote.

"Our efforts here at Tracy have been as much a labor of love for aviation as a labor of business, so it is with many mixed feelings that brought us to this conclusion," McFarlin wrote. "I am not going to get into a conversation laying blame here nor there."

He felt the airport had great potential when they started selling fuel and other items back in 1992 and still believes so.

One city official said McFarlin left with multiple years remaining on his lease and owing the city about $12,000. He also relinquished his rights for selling fuel.

In a report done last year by the Boyd Group, which specializes in examining aviation resources, two short-term priorities were listed for 300-acre Tracy Municipal Airport, including the reclamation of fueling rights and building more hangers.

Rod Buchanan, the city's assistant director of parks and community services and airport manager, said the city has taken over selling fuel at the airfield, and hopes to attract more pilots with lower fuel prices than airports in Livermore and Byron.

Of 75 full hangars at the airport, 24 are under private control, and the city generates about $150,000 in revenue annually. Electricity and drainage already are in place in three areas identified as possible sites to add more hangars, with plans to add 44 more

T-hangars -- so-called because of their interior shape -- which would generate $180,000 more in the near future.

One company even has expressed interest in securing a lease from the city to build a corporate hanger, according to city documents.

Through federal grants and sheer determination, the entire lighting system for the runway and airfield have been replaced, including special lights indicating to pilots if their approach for landing is too high or too low.

The council authorized in January the hiring of an airport coordinator who would be able to address and monitor day-to-day airport operations more closely.

The New Jerusalem Airport sits on about 400 acres southwest of Tracy just beyond Interstate 5 and Highway 33, and is the larger of the two airports. Much of the property is leased out to a Sacramento farmer, and the only access is via dirt roads, some through private property.

The only thing visible from Durham Ferry Road indicating an airport is a windsock, which indicates to pilots the direction of the wind.

The 4,000-foot-long runway, which runs east-west, is full of bumps and sprouting weeds, not the best scenario for aircraft landing at about 65 mph. City employees, with help from workers on an alternative work release program through the San Joaquin County Jail, continually seal cracks.

And that's an improvement from five years ago.

"When I came to the city five years ago, the weeds were up to here," said Buchanan, a pilot himself, gesturing toward his chest on his 6-foot-2 frame. "Now they can land safely, taxi around and take off again."

Until a gate recently was installed, it was mostly used as a racing site by local youths.

The Boyd report called the New Jerusalem "not an airport but instead a strip of concrete located in agricultural fields" with no future in the region's airport infrastructure and virtually no value to the community.

The report recommended the city sell the airport and reinvest the money in the Tracy Municipal Airport, but federal officials won't release the site from surplus property restrictions that would allow the city to transfer ownership.

Last month, the Tracy City Council authorized city staff to begin negotiating with Richland Inc. and explore a long-term lease or development agreement that may include an option for sale of the property.

At their own expense, Richland might pay to hire a consultant or attorney to assist with getting federal approval for sale or other use of the property, according to city documents.



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