Universities’ findings conflict with Grand Jury report
Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 07/24/2011 09:12:10 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – Efforts to transform the former Norton Air Force Base into a civilian airport and bring businesses to the surrounding area could reverse the devastating economic impact of the base’s closure on the region, according to a new report.

The San Bernardino International Airport is expected to produce an estimated $1.2 billion in annual economic activity, according to the joint research project by Cal State San Bernardino and Cal State Fullerton.

Researchers studied the airport’s potential impact on the region. The report was submitted to airport officials in June.

In it, researchers said the airport includes a total impact of 9,355 jobs and $500 million in annual payroll.

“This report largely vindicates what we’ve been doing at the airport,” said Mayor Pat Morris, who is the board president of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority.

The SBIAA is a joint-powers authority – composed of San Bernardino County and the cities of San Bernardino, Colton, Loma Linda and Highland – tasked with redeveloping the aviation portion of the former air base.

Its sister organization – the Inland Valley Development Agency – oversees development surrounding the airport.

Norton Air Force Base was one of the city’s major employers from World War II until its closure in 1994.

Named after Capt. Leland Norton – a San Bernardino native who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force to fight the Nazis before the
United States entered the second world war – the base functioned through the Cold War as a link in the U.S. Air Force’s logistics chain, and employed thousands of military personnel who lived in and around San Bernardino.

As the Cold War wound down, the military started to reduce its bases, and eventually Norton Air Force Base was among those that were shuttered.

The base’s closure resulted in a loss of 15,458 jobs paying $1.5 billion annually, and a loss of $1.9 billion in economic activity, according to the researchers.

But the study – based on data from the state Employment Development Department, audits by the IVDA and the SBIAA between 2004 and 2010, and a December presentation from the agencies – shows that business around the airport produced 4,110 new jobs between 2002 and 2010.

Employers include Stater Bros., Mattel and Pep Boys. The airport alone added 500 jobs in 2006, according to the study.

“I think it’s remarkably revealing how positively the development of our airport has benefitted the community,” Morris said.

For airport officials, the study is a fairer assessment of their work than a San Bernardino County Grand Jury report in which they are painted as having made questionable financial decisions with taxpayer dollars.

The civil Grand Jury commissioned an audit of the airport following complaints it received two years ago of irregularities occurring there.

San Francisco-based Harvey M. Rose Associates, which performed the audit, said the airport authority entered into multiple contracts with Scot Spencer, a convicted felon who has served time in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud. The auditor also found that the airport authority fast-tracked and increased the scope of an airport terminal construction project based solely on the developer’s projections, creating a “clear conflict of interest” because increases in project costs equate to increased money for the developer.

Between January 2006 and January 2011, the cost of the terminal project grew from $22 million to more than $100 million, and costs continue to rise, according to the Grand Jury report.

Airport officials at their upcoming public meetings will continue to address what they say are inaccuracies throughout the report.

They also intend to reply formally by Aug. 30.

“The sadness of what the Harvey Rose report did, they didn’t say one positive thing about the airport,” Morris said. “It was a completely negative report.”

Airport interim Executive Director Donald L. Rogers said the study from the Cal State universities presents a measure of the airport’s performance, whereas the Grand Jury report is a critique of the airport’s processes.

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