Saturday, October 22, 2016

Petaluma Municipal Airport hangar leases show rift between city, airport commission

Ron Mangon of Mangon Aircraft in Petaluma says he has outgrown his current location and wants a larger hangar at the Petaluma Airport. Mangon has been trying for two years to expand his company’s operations to include a larger flight school.

It looked as if his plans were set to become reality when his project was scheduled to be voted on by the Petaluma City Council during their Oct. 17 meeting. But a few days before the meeting, Mangon’s project was removed from the council’s agenda.

“The city told me the wording of the lease agreement was still in dispute and they had to revise it,” Mangon said. “I’ve been trying to get this together for over two years and these delays are costing me tens of thousands of dollars.”

Mangon and his family have operated an aircraft maintenance and mechanical repair operation at the airport since 1969. He currently operates a small flight school within the same hangar as his mechanical repair business. He is trying to expand the flight school and needs a second hangar to do that. He said the city’s difficulties stem from his desire to continue to use his current hangar for pilot training and education, in addition to expanding the flight school into his second hangar.

“I want to be able to show student pilots the mechanics of a plane as part of their overall understanding of flying a plane,” Mangon said. “I don’t understand why the city has a problem with this part of the flight school education taking place.”

Petaluma City Attorney Eric Danly would not respond specifically to the contract negotiations, but confirmed that the delay was due to Mangon asking for more then the original agreement stipulated. Danly said the city had been prepared to bring the item to the city council for a vote, but said “we received communications from Mr. Mangon’s legal counsel raising new requests not previously discussed with staff.”

“As a result, the lease approval has been taken off the council agenda so staff can review and discuss the proposed changes and determine whether staff can reach a final agreement with Mr. Mangon that can be presented for council action,” Danly said.

Councilman Chris Albertson, who serves as the liaison to the Petaluma Airport Commission, said there were some last minute revisions to the agreement.

“After months of discussion back and forth, Mr. Mangon’s attorney wanted some new language inserted at the 11th hour,” he said.

Yet Airport Commission member Sam Doolittle said he did not understand why the vote was delayed and added that the lease process for Mangon had “really taken far too long.”

“It’s over two years at this point … I think we can do a much better job here,” he said.

Airport Commissioner Kristin Winter said that the problems Mangon was having with the city pointed to an adversarial culture she claimed the city staff had towards the airport commission, as well as a basic lack of knowledge city staff had about the airport business.

“City staff will not engage with the airport commission,” Winter said. “They treat us as advisory only, and too often they make decisions regarding the airport that has left us out of the decision making process. They don’t know how the airport works.”

Danly said his office had recently prepared new hangar use agreements intended for new tenants at the airport. He said the agreements would not apply to current businesses with lease agreements at the airport. Danly told the airport commission the city wanted to switch to new agreements as existing agreements expire or tenants change.

Speaking before the commission on Sept. 1, Danly said the goal was to replace rental lease agreements with rental licensing contracts that would be “more flexible” and provide the city greater liability protection.

Many at the meeting, including Winter and former Airport Commissioner Don Smith, worried that changing existing agreements would allow the city an easier path to shut down businesses it did not want without a public hearing or vote of the city council.

“The city doesn’t know a thing about running an airport,” Smith said.

Winter said she worried the new licensing contracts would allow the city to “cut the locks off the hangar and drag the plane out” if a business’s license was not renewed.

Danly said there was no connection between the change in lease agreements and the contract negotiations with Mangon Aircraft.


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