AllianceCalifornia, one of the longest-running and most successful public-private partnerships in the history of California Military Base Reuse, has celebrated many milestones since 2001. I know because I was there. Since Norton AFB closed, AllianceCalifornia has been responsible for over 15.2 million square feet of new development, comprising small and medium-sized businesses, family-owned companies, as well as Fortune 50, 100, and 500 firms. It includes warehouse facilities, manufacturing, offices, research and development sites, e-commerce facilities and even houses the corporate headquarters of Southern California’s largest private grocer, Stater Bros. Markets.
In recent months, I have intently read, listened to and studied a multitude of comments related to the Eastgate Air Cargo Facility. Clearly, the majority of the public comments were in support of the project. And yes, many expressed concerns or opposed it. Understandably, it is not a project one sees every day. This feedback was welcome and crucial throughout the process, but I believe it is important to address a common—and misguided—assertion that Eastgate is a warehouse.
I have been directly involved in the development of warehouses and e-commerce facilities at AllianceCalifornia that were vital to creating new jobs after the closure of Norton AFB. But Eastgate is not a warehouse. Not only is this phase of our partnership with Hillwood an aviation project, it is required to be one. Since the summer of 2018, SBD International Airport has been engaged with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and our many partners in one of the most technical and challenging federal entitlement processes we have been through since the closure and transfer of Norton AFB. The result, Eastgate, will ensure aviation operations and jobs for the region.
When we signed a partnership agreement with Hillwood in November of 2002, many thought change would occur—and it did. Though jobs and new development returned quickly, it would take 14 years to successfully replace more direct jobs than were lost when Norton AFB closed. Because the airport and aviation were at the heart of this base community, AllianceCalifornia and SBD International Airport feel an obligation to restore the ability to regenerate and reimagine aviation jobs. This has been our charge, and with Eastgate, the community will soon see major growth in airport and aviation employment opportunities.
Norton AFB was many things, with operations including aircraft maintenance, supply, aerospace, audio-visual, and yes, air cargo. Above all, the base had plenty of wings, and the Eastgate project embraces this rich history. Like Norton AFB, Eastgate is also many things—but it is not a warehouse. Warehouses aren’t mandated to have wings, or aircraft, or taxilanes, or aeronautical use covenants, or deed restrictions, or reversionary clauses that will transfer ownership of the property back to the Department of Defense if we violate them.
Warehouses don’t have the highly skilled aviation employees that next-generation air cargo facilities like Eastgate will. Eastgate is not a warehouse. It is not an e-commerce facility. It is a critical chapter in the AllianceCalifornia partnership that will continue to create and retain new aviation jobs in our region – all 100 percent privately financed without public subsidy.
While air cargo is not a new element to SBD International Airport’s business, we are excited to finally see our years of planning, study and capital improvements come to fruition. Recently, I have had the pleasure of working on important air cargo facilities with UPS and FedEx that have given new life to old hangars here. Their air and ground operations have made SBD International Airport one of the most active air cargo gateways in Southern California, and we are very proud to be their home. These partners paved the way for Eastgate and for SBD, making it the fastest-growing air cargo airport in the United States in 2018. With Eastgate, an AllianceCalifornia partnership nearly 20 years in the making, we are finally able to advance the aviation age and revitalize the former Norton AFB and the surrounding community.
We have always had wings—and it will be exciting to see more of them in flight again.