July 27, 2012 8:40 AM
Brooke Edwards Staggs, City Editor

VICTORVILLE • It’s been discussed by local leaders — often heatedly — on and off for several years.

Now, armed with a recommendation from the San Bernardino County grand jury, talk of shifting control of Southern California Logistics Airport from Victorville to the regional Victor Valley Economic Development Authority has resurfaced.

“I think the VVEDA commission should respond to that recommendation,” said Brad Mitzelfelt, who serves as VVEDA’s chairman and 1st District supervisor for San Bernardino County. “In fact, I’m going to ask all of the member entities to be prepared to discuss it at a future VVEDA commission meeting, and for potential action.”

All four Victor Valley cities and the county are members of VVEDA, which was created to oversee redevelopment of a 16-square-mile area impacted by the closure of George Air Force Base. The federal government transferred the base property to VVEDA soon after George closed in 1992, and the regional agency eventually ceded control of what would become SCLA to Victorville.

A decade later, the city’s botched projects, handshake deals and tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds lost at SCLA became a focus of the highly critical June 29 report from the county grand jury.

“In hindsight, it was not a very wise move for all of the jurisdictions to delegate so much authority to one member without a lot of stipulations and restrictions on the use of funds, as well as oversight processes,” Mitzelfelt said.

SCLA is now more than $100 million in the red, with the grand jury expressing concern about its ability to avoid bankruptcy.

The grand jury called out $13 million that went unaccounted for in relation to hangars constructed at SCLA, stating the city dropped its inquiry into the missing funds in 2008. And though revenues from every local city are pledged to repay SCLA’s debt, at least one quarter of its $300 million in outstanding bonds funded Victorville’s own projects off SCLA property.

“If any of the entities were harmed, then they need to look at the remedies available to them,” Mitzelfelt said, which could include lawsuits in attempt to recover the squandered funds.

Mitzelfelt said he plans to encourage each VVEDA representative to have those talks with his or her city council and then come back to the agency prepared to discuss next steps — including whether VVEDA should try to take control of SCLA.

There’s one kicker: Every member of VVEDA must agree to the change — including Victorville.

At least three members of the Victorville City Council would have to agree to give up control of the airport. But of the current council members, only Councilwoman Angela Valles is in favor of that idea.

“Given the mismanagement of VVEDA revenues and SCLA bonds by persons associated with Victorville, I think it is entirely reasonable to turn the airport over to a new consortium of the communities who have a stake in this matter,” Valles said.

Councilman Mike Rothschild, who’s adamantly against the idea, pointed out that Victorville makes up the largest share of VVEDA and has put time and money into building it up into what it is today.

“I am against this because we have turned that airport around in the last three years and it is now operating in the black,” Mayor Ryan McEachron said, with annual operating revenues now positive. “We are fully occupied and it continues to be the largest attraction for jobs to the High Desert.”

Mitzelfelt acknowledged SCLA has great promise and that Victorville has addressed some of the issues raised in the grand jury report since the three -year investigation began. However, he said there needs to be a full review of how the agency operates to ensure there are safeguards in place going forward.

Top on Mitzelfelt’s list would be to replace VVEDA’s current staff with representatives who would be totally independent of any one member.

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