Board might create panel to oversee Stockton airport

STOCKTON — San Joaquin County is interested in creating a commission to oversee Stockton Metropolitan Airport.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Tuesday a motion by Supervisor Leroy Ornellas to examine possible new governance at Stockton Metro.

Supervisors posited that such a body could bring commissioners with diverse expertise to the airport, but they cautioned against ceding board authority or hindering quick action by adding another layer of bureaucracy.

Ornellas pointed out that a new body could be similar, in some ways, to the commission overseeing the Port of Stockton. Board members didn't hammer out any details of a new commission during discussion of a routine review of the airport.

"I just see that as an opportunity to really look at changing the management of that facility," Ornellas said.

The port's appointed commissioners have financial, legal and other specialized knowledge that could benefit the "underperforming" airport, Supervisor Larry Ruhstaller said. "I want to get it more efficient and get expertise the (airport) director can use on a day-to-day basis."

The seven commissioners overseeing the Stockton Port District are appointed by the city of Stockton and the county.

Stockton Metro is a separate county department overseen by the Board of Supervisors and has been so since 1956, according to county staff. Before that, it was jointly owned and operated by the county and the city.

In the Tuesday morning discussion, supervisors said they did not want to give up authority over Stockton Metro.

Any future body should involve sharing governance — the same as how the county interacts with its planning commission, said Supervisor Steve Gutierrez, whose District 1 includes the airport.

There has been much activity at the airport in recent years.

Allegiant Air brought domestic passenger service to the airport in October 2006, and more than 58,000 passengers used the airport in 2007, according to county staff.

Earlier this month, the board approved a deal to build a 550-acre business park next to the airport. It is projected to bring an estimated 14,000 jobs to the county.

The county review of the airport was triggered by the departure last year of former Airport Director Barry Rondinella and is part of the procedure when filling vacancies at the top of a department, according to county staff. Currently, the head of Stockton Metro is interim Airport Director Steven Hicks.

He said airports in other parts of the country have commissions, particularly on the East Coast and in the Midwest.

Torrance Municipal Airport-Zamperini Field in Southern California has a long-standing advisory commission that is appointed by the Torrance City Council. The airport doesn't have cargo planes or commercial airlines, but it has maintenance facilities, aircraft used for training, charter flights, 300 city-owned hangars and is the headquarters of Robinson Helicopters, said Shant Megerdichian, Torrance facilities manager.

The City Council has the last word on the airport, but the intent of the commission is to increase public access, he said.

After the San Joaquin County meeting, Ornellas said he'd been thinking about changes at the airport for more than a year.

But a loss of autonomy or bureaucratic hurdles don't have to be part of a new commission, he said.

"It would get community input from community leaders," Ornellas said. "The (airport) director will have a springboard, a sounding board, before it comes to us."