Los Banos Talk
The Los Banos Municipal Airport is located along highway 152, and sits on prime commercial real estate and increasingly valuable property. At the time of its construction Los Banos was a much smaller city, and perhaps no one could have imagined how much it would grow, and how busy Pacheco Blvd. would become. The location of the airport today is incredibly inconvenient to say the least, but it affects and prevents so many other needed projects and changes.
Mayor Pro Temporee/Councilwoman Deborah Lewis talked about how difficult moving the airport would be in a Council Meeting held on April 5, 2021. The Airport according to last year's budget cost the City about $445,000, you can see the budget report here. The City reported earning about $183,000 in the Fy 2019-20 fiscal year from jet and airplane fuel sales. This would leave the City with a remaining cost of about $262,000 for that year. Councilwoman Lewis stated in the April 5th budget workshop that the City conducts wind studies etc. in order to qualify for FAA money/funding, and if the City was to shutdown the airport without having a new one up and operational at the time of closure that the City would have to pay back this money. I was unable to find how much the City receives in FAA funding, but from what I can deduce it would seem that the airport doesn't actually cost the City very much to run.
The issue is that the Airport continues to get in the way of other plans. For instance, Councilwoman Deborah Lewis doesn't like the idea of putting money into the animal shelter, since it will have to move at some point when the airport does. Additionally, the location of the airport prevents any 3 story building from being built on the west side of the city, which makes construction of a regional hospital virtually impossible. There were talks about moving the airport and hospital to another location, and upgrading both, but the issue has been kicked down the road by previous councils for years. There is a very good reason why the Municipal Airport continues to be kicked down the road, and it has to do with the expense and complexity of the problem, but everyday it goes unsolved the problem gets more complex and more expensive. In order to keep the cost of the airport down the city has conducted various studies and received money from the FAA. The problem is that now they can't just close the airport, they essentially have to move it or they will have to pay that money back. This essentially makes the cost to simply close the airport unaffordable, and makes continuing paying for it actually the cheaper option in the short term.
It is almost as if we are keeping the airport for the sake of not having to pay back the money we have obtained to cover some of the maintenance costs over the years. There are definitely some pros to having an airport. For instance in a situation in which multiple people needed to be med-flighted out of the city, the airport would be a true blessing. The remoteness of Los Banos makes having an airport practical, in that it provides a means for potential investors and government heads to more easily visit Los Banos. Initially is was built for farmers to use for crop dusting, but it created so many health hazards and issues for residents that in 1989 it became illegal to conduct crop dusting from that airport. Private jets are located at the airport and if someone wanted to fly out of that airport they could, but it costs considerably more than most other airports. I was just browsing ticket prices a few minutes before writing this article and prices were starting at over $1,000 for one way tickets.
So why not just move the airport i.e. build a new airport and shut down the old one once the new airport is finished? It comes down to money. The original or standing airport was built pre- Sept. 11, 2001, and regulations etc. for an airport were far less strict at the time, and since then the cost of building a new one has increased drastically. Spending large sums of money to fix an artificial problem, that won't stand to benefit average citizens other than by clearing the way for other projects isn't exactly a politically popular move. Most people would much rather see the money go towards a pool, or splash pad, or park but every day that we wait to take action the value of the land it sits on increases, regulations get stricter, the amount we have received from the FAA gets larger, the amount it would cost to move increases, and long over due projects like renovating the animal shelter or building a new one and the construction of a new hospital keep getting pushed back and shelved.
If you watch the council meetings, you may notice that every once in a while the airport rears its ugly head as an obstacle to some project or another, but its like the elephant in the room no one wants to acknowledge or the can of worms no one wants to open themselves. It's a challenging project absolutely, but its not getting any less challenging or going away by ignoring it either. Mayor Pro Temporee Lewis took responsibility for the lack of tangible action addressing the airport, when she said that there have been talks regarding moving it but we as council "have dropped the ball on it" and have kept pushing it to the side. She continued on to say how today was a new day, with a new City Manager, and that she wants to see tangible steps taken from staff to start the process of moving the airport.
The problem with the airport is not its maintenance cost, or even really its lack of utility. The airport doesn't cost the city much and for what it costs it brings value. The issue is its location, being quite possibly the worst possible location for it. It was built many years ago and without consideration of the distant future, and unfortunately our predecessors lack of foresight is now our problem to deal with. Unfortunately its not a fun or exciting project to deal with, and its going to be incredibly expensive and require a great deal of planning, money, and effort to move. It won't have any meaningful impact on most of our lives either. Most of us will not benefit from the new airport just like we don't benefit from the current one, but it's necessary to deal with if we want to do other things like build a new hospital, animal shelter, and allow for commercial development along both sides of west Pacheco Blvd.
I think arguably the most problematic thing about the airport is the fact that most people don't realize just how problematic it really is. For years local elected officials have paid lip service to citizens concerns about the need for a new hospital and animal shelter, but have failed to inform the public about the airport and how it complicates such efforts. They knew full and well, and have known for some time that these issues weren't really addressable until the airport was moved, but they continued to make empty promises and not take any true tangible steps towards actually addressing those concerns. Los Banos has a new city council and perhaps the decision to rip off the band aid will finally be made, but only time will tell.
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