The Palmdale “Intercontinental” Airport — Is There Life After Death?

           We want to assure our readers that we aren’t making this up. We couldn’t if we tried. To borrow Hillary Clinton’s expression, there has got to be a “vast conspiracy” out there, bound and determined to provide us with material for our never-ending dispatches about what the City of Los Angeles once dubbed the Palmdale “Intercontinental” Airport, back around 1970 when the city blew some $100 million on the condemnation of 17,000 acres of high desert land for the aforementioned airport. But it never got off the ground. Last time we looked, after some eight airlines tried to make a go of it without success, the city of Los Angeles threw in the towel and surrendered its certification to the feds, thus seemingly putting an end to the Palmdale airport story. Or so we thought. 

         Actually, it turns out that Parkinson’s second law holds true in this case – it’s easier to get into things than out of them. It turns out that you can’t just mail the airport certificate to the feds and go home. No sir. Once you climb into bed with Uncle Sam you don’t just get to say bye-bye and split. According to an article in today’s Los Angeles Times (Dan Weikel and David Zahniser, Palmdale Airport Land Sought for Solar Farm, L.A. Times, Feb. 23, 2009, at p. B1) you have to get the nod from the FAA which first has “to assess the planned use of the property, whether the land is needed for aviation, where the [solar] project would be situated in relation to airport operations and the availability of other land for future airport operations. [¶] If the land is going to be leased, other criteria apply. FAA officials say non-aviation uses should not last more than five years, though exceptions can be made.” 

         The “project” that these folks are talking about is the proposed creation of a “solar farm” on some 4000 acres of land carved out of that 17,000-acre airport site, a use that the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power likes because it would help it generate ”green” power and meet the objectives of “Measure B,” a ballot proposition on the ballot submitted to city voters, favoring power generation without the use of fossil fuels. So as far as the DWP is concerned, what’s not to like? But if that solar farm is built on leased land, it would take a lot more than five years to amortize the cost, especially since (according to the solar farm’s opponents) the cost of solar “green” power would be higher than that of coal-generated power. 

         So far, the FAA spokesman ain’t talkin’ being as nothing has been formally submitted to the feds. Stay tuned on that one.

         Meanwhile, back at the ranch, at least one L.A. County Supervisor, would like to see the air service to Palmdale reestablished, since Palmdale is his constituency. Or at least that the city “should keep its promise to the people of the Antelope Valley or give the [subject] land back to the its rightful owners”  from whom it was taken over 30 years ago. Goodness, gracious — what a droll idea. See Gideon Kanner, We Don’t Have to Follow Any Stinkin’ Planning — Sorry About That, Justice Stevens, 39 Urban Lawyer 529 (2007), explaining how under California law once you take land by eminent domain you don’t have to give it back, not even if you don’t carry out your ostensible “public project” plans, or even if you lied about it to begin with.

         Oh, we almost forgot. It turns out that “any revenue generated by non-aviation use belongs to the airport or airport system.” Uh, oh. What now?

         And so it goes, and goes, and goes . . .

Update. of February 24, 2009, reports in an Associated Press story that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has requested a review of the legality of building a solar power plant on the 17,000-acre site of the “Intercontinental” Airport. We can’t wait for the result.

Second update. The “Measure B” propositon has grown controvesial as election day approaches. As non-residents of Los Angeles, we are not sufficiently informed on the merits of that proposition to express an opinion, but we note in passing that the Los Angeles Times has come out editorially against it and it is being criticized as a power grab by DWP unions.

Third update. As of this morning (3/4/08) it appears that City proposition B (dealing with “green” power generation) has been defeated by the voters in yesterday’s Los Angeles municipal election. What that probably means is that the 4000-acre “solar farm” will not be built on part of the 17,000-acre tract of land that the city took 30 years ago for the Los Angeles “Intercontinental” Airport. How now, brown cow? Stay tuned — there is bound to be more on that one.