4 compete for 3 seats on airport board

Four candidates are in the running for three seats on the Santa Maria Public Airport District board of directors. Incumbent Carl Engel Jr. and challengers Charles Adams, Hugh Rafferty and Girard Geoffrey Brenneman are on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Two incumbents, Don Lahr and John Will, are not seeking another term.

Santa Maria’s airport is somewhat rare because it is operated by a special district, not a city or county. It is governed by a five-member board of directors who are elected to four-year terms.

Name: Hugh Rafferty

Age: 70

Occupation: Retired aerospace engineer

Lived locally: 28 years

Rafferty has had an interest in aviation since his time in the 1970s working on automated air traffic systems for IBM.

Since his retirement as an aerospace engineer, Rafferty, 70, also worked at Lockheed Martin, and has spent his time in community involvement.

He said the board needs to prioritize projects, such as the airport business park plan, to evaluate whether now is the right time to proceed with the light industrial and research building development.

Before any projects move forward, he said, an open dialogue is needed with Chris Hastert, the new airport general manager, who was named last week.

There is a potential for increased commercial and business flights, Rafferty said, and the airport’s capabilities – including the U.S. Customs facility – need to be promoted.

Rafferty has lived in Orcutt for 28 years. He’s been married for 46 years and has two children and four grandchildren.

Name: Girard Geoffrey Brenneman

Age: 59

Occupation: Dentist and businessman

Lived locally: 28 years

In running for an airport board seat, Brenneman, 59, said he’d like to a part of the solution to problems he sees on the current board.

“I don’t believe the board has been a good steward of district resources,” he said

Brenneman, a Santa Maria dentist who has been in practice for 28 years, said if elected he would dedicate himself to improving relations between airport management and businesses, aircraft owners and tenants at the airport. Brenneman has been an aircraft owner and pilot for more than 34 years.

The board has dealt with budget deficits for almost a decade, and has dipped into its reserves, Brenneman said, a tactic that could lead to fee and tax hikes.

Cost overruns on capital projects like with the new baggage claim facility, he said are proof of poor management. He said he supports the airport business park concept for light industrial and research buildings, but not as an airport-backed project.

He’s been married for 11 years and is a father of four.

Name: Carl Engel Jr.

Age: 60

Occupation: Business owner

Lived locally: All his life

Engel, the lone incumbent seeking re-election to the board, lists the new baggage claim and passenger waiting area facilities as the accomplishments he is proudest of during his eight years on the panel.

“I hope to continue these efforts with re-election to the board for another four-year term,” Engel said.

Along with his brother, Bob Engel, he is a second generation owner of Engel & Gray, Inc., a trucking, construction and composting company that has been in business in Santa Maria for the past 62 years.

Engel, 60, was born and raised in Santa Maria, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly in business administration, with a concentration in economics. He is a member of the Rotary Club of Santa Maria, the Santa Maria Contractors Association and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Significant issues the board faces over the next four years, Engel said, include closure and re-location of the airport trailer park, a two-year runway lengthening project, development of the airport business and research park, and attracting more airlines to the airport.

Engel said he believes running the airport like a business is the best way to serve taxpayers.

He’s been married for 40 years and has one son and two grandchildren.

Name: Charles Adams

Age: 49

Occupation: Self-employed

Lived locally: 10 years

Adams said he would bring “some good business sense” to the board if elected.

Adams, 49, said that means no deficit spending, no cost overruns like with the new baggage claim facility, and decisions based on whether investments will see a return.

“Will it pay for itself or not?” Adams said.

The airport business park plan for light industrial and research buildings is a good idea, he said, but the timing is “terrible.”

“There are vacancies around the airport,” Adams said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

He would favor leasing the land in favor of investing airport money on the development in the current economy.

Adams, a pilot for 14 years, has lived in Santa Maria for 10 years. He’s been married for 17 years and is a father of two.

Julian J. Ramos can be reached at 739-2219 or at jramos@santamariatimes.com.

October 15, 2008

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