If there’s one positive about having been at this almost a decade it’s that we’ve started to build a paper trail around here so when people try to rewrite history you can at least humble them with the first draft.
On a whim, I dove back into my archives circa 2004-2005 to see what, if anything, I had written about the Hot Creek litigation at the time. Just so we all have some context about the full history of the Town Council’s blundering prior to this week’s Council meeting and impending announcement about the settlement number.
I don’t even know where the electronic versions of these archives might be located, nor did I have any sort of log to help me figure out what was in each issue. And if you remember the old Sheets, information was sort of scattered all over the place. Some of the most compelling stuff was buried in the 25th line of the editorial with no preface.
Anyway, it turns out I covered it a lot more thoroughly than I’d imagined.
The lead headline of the Oct. 12, 2004 issue of The Sheet read: “FAA Says One or the Other.” I’ll reprint the first six paragraphs for your edification.
A blistering letter sent last week to the Town from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) District Manager Andrew Richards said, in effect, either cancel your airport development with Hot Creek or we will cancel your airport expansion.
When informed of this, Hot Creek’s Ray Johnson demanded blanket indemnification from the Town against any possible conflict which may arise with the FAA. Short of that, Hot Creek has indicated it will oppose the airport expansion. And will likely oppose any attempt by the Town to nullify its contract with Hot Creek.
It seems odd that this would come up now after everything that’s transpired concerning Mammoth Airport, but The Sheet’s theory is that by finally conducting a thorough Environmental Impact Report, the FAA has had the time and impetus to finally scrutinize the details of the Town’s 1997 Development Agreement with Hot Creek Aviation.
And what the FAA decided, was that RV parking, restaurants, retail, a service station and a 310-unit resort condominium hotel permitting residential use within 25 feet of active hangars and within 50 feet of an active taxiway was inappropriate. Imagine that.
“It is common knowledge that residential development in the vicinity of airports results in complaints from residents concerned about personal safety, aircraft noise, pollution and other quality-of-life issues. Bringing residential development onto the airport only exacerbates this,” wrote Richards.
“The Hot Creek Development appears to place higher priority on nonaeronautical uses over aeronautical uses at an airport with limited property resources … and effectively places a higher priority on developing a luxury resort over the interests of future aeronautical users.”
In his summary, Richards indicated he would like the Town to dissolve its development agreement with Hot Creek or risk a formal investigation and the withholding of both payments and future grants.
Two days later, former Mayor Kathy Cage offered this advice to Town Council in The Sheet: Be thankful no residences have been built out there. Moving hangars [back from the runway to meet safety requirements for larger aircraft] is relatively easy. Buy out Ballas. “It’ll be the best money he ever made.”
Kathy, if you’d only known there was even better money around the corner.
In that same issue, then-Councilman Kirk Stapp acknowledged “It was probably the most mismanaged Development Agreement ever done in the State of California.”
Stapp credited Ballas with being a good partner but said the FAA’s position made it clear that residential development at the airport was untenable.
Cage and Stapp’s recollections of Bill Manning dovetailed. Stapp referred to Manning as “Mr. Everything’s Wonderful.” Cage said “For years, everyone deferred to Bill on airport matters.” She recalled Manning’s reassurances that there were no problems with the D.A. “he told us it would make the airport more dynamic.”
The next week, from an Oct. 20, 2004 interview with Attorney Jim Reed, who helped write the D.A. for the Town: “Let’s face reality. This is a political game. The FAA knew what was happening all along, thanks to Bill Manning, but someone has belatedly figured out how to get to that agency. There are citizens who don’t want development. It is their right to lobby the FAA and otherwise pursue what they think is the correct course for our community. History may prove them to be more prescient than our elected leaders. It appears their efforts are having some success; hence the buck-passing and panicky reactions discussed in The Sheet.”
Finally, a few weeks later, in the Nov. 6, 2004 issue, The Sheet makes reference to a letter penned by the newly formed Airport Commission in response to the FAA compliance letter. “We are aware townspeople have listened to the information [published by the paper] and some have become confused as to the accurate story.”
Jan. 13, 2005: Planning Commissioner Therese Hankel said that regardless of design, she had a difficult time thinking that hotel-condo units down at the airport could not be used as permanent residences.
This didn’t jive with the Town’s narrative. So Mayor Rick Wood led the charge to fire her from the Commission six months later.
Ain’t history a bitch!