Storied Area Becomes a Pawn
A commercial airport like the one in Fresno is different than other city departments when it comes to operations and regulation. In a nutshell, the national and international scope of a major airport’s service attracts the feds’ keen interest.
Let’s take a brief historical look at how those 201 acres came to be under the combined purview of City Hall and the FAA (the details come from that 2006 letter to Souza).
1.) Between March 19, 1942 and Oct. 25, 1945, the War Department bought 531 acres (in what we now call east-central Fresno) for Hammer Army Base. The 531 acres became the northeast corner of the base. The entire base was 1,600 acres, consisting of Fresno Municipal Airport and other War Department Purchases.
2.) The War Assets Administration on March 2, 1948 transferred 360 of the 531 acres to the State of California. The deed stipulated that for 10 years the land was to be used for Fresno State College (which was in the early stages of moving its main campus from Van Ness and McKinley Avenues to Shaw and Cedar avenues).
3.) The state Department of General Services on Sept. 5, 1969 transferred 352.5 of the 360 acres to the City of Fresno. The deed required the city to use the land for public purposes. The city included the 352.5 acres on its Airport Layout Plan.
4.) On Sept. 14, 1976, the state Attorney General issued an opinion that the city could develop the land for air cargo. The Attorney General warned that City Hall would violate the deed restrictions if it leased the land for uses unrelated to the airport.
5.) The state in 1978 issued a new deed, which modified the stipulation that a public agency must hold the land.
6.) The state in 1984 amended its 1969 and 1978 statutes to delete the public use and public agency requirements. However, according to this 2006 letter from the FAA to Souza, “the City has no record of a deed that reflects the 1984 change, so the deed continued to require public use.”
7.) Fresno’s city attorney on Nov. 16, 1988 issued an opinion to the Airport Director that stated the city has a legal obligation to use the land for airport purposes. The city attorney stated that the inclusion of the acreage Airport Layout Plan, the issuance of two bonds and the city’s acceptance of Federal Aviation Administration grants bind the land to the airport.
8.) The city between 1997 and 2002 sold 200.91 acres of the 352 acres to Gap, Inc.
I’m writing this piece on Memorial Day Weekend. Permit to add that it’s clear from the FAA summary that those 200.91 acres, in their own way, did their part in defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.