City to lobby for new Calfire air-attack base

Calfire’s helicopter crew demonstrates victim extraction using a screamer jacket. 

Hollister City Council members approved a professional services agreement with Ford Aviation Consultants during last week’s meeting to help city staff lobby legislators to get Calfire to build the new air attack base at the Hollister Municipal Airport.

Ford Aviation Consultants has agreed to provide assistance with this project. Owner Carol Ford is a board member of the California Association of Pilots and has professional relationships with important legislators, according to the city. The professional services agreement caps at a $5,800 cost to complete the task, with the Airport Enterprise Fund as the project’s funding source.

“We’re hiring a consultant and whoever it is because they know legislators and in November half of those legislators could be gone,” said Councilman Ray Friend during discussion of the agenda item. “So when are we going to pay them, after November? Because it’s going to be three years before they make a decision and those people might not be there.”

“Hopefully the decision is made a lot quicker than that, because the lease was signed eight years ago for the property,” replied Airport Director Mike Chambless.

Back in 1998, Calfire, known as the California Department of Forestry at the time, entered negotiations with the City of Hollister for a land lease of a large portion of the airport. Negotiations took 10 years to complete and an eight-acre lease was finally signed in 2008.

City documents in the extended agenda for the council meeting state the lease will benefit the community due to a doubling of the capacity to handle air tankers operating on a fire.

This would have made a huge difference with the recent Soberanes Fire. Unfortunately for the city, the leased land remains undeveloped, and Calfire isn’t required to pay rent on the leased land until the new base is completed and occupied.

“The firefighting effort for the Soberanes Fire was effectively cut in half because this project was not done,” Chambless said to the council. “The first stop on this tour is to the representatives of the Pacific Grove area and the Pebble Beach area, to have conversations with them about this issue. This effort is to get Calfire to do what they promised to do almost 18 years ago when we started talking about this.”

Friend still had some questions.

“I understand that Mike, but you’re asking us to hire these people,” Friend said. “Shouldn’t people in Monterey be hiring these people?”

Chambless expressed hope in lobbying efforts.

“Well the thought is that with their assistance, I can get into the right offices in Sacramento and tell the story to the decision makers,” Chambless said. “We’ve talked to our local representatives, the three of them. We haven’t really gotten anywhere. Our Calfire air attack base covers 96 representatives’ coverage areas. Those are the 96 people I want to tell the story to, because I don’t think they know it yet.”

Council members voted 4-1, with Friend voting no.

Leave your comments