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State eyes land owned by Bob Hope Airport for high-speed rail project

California High-Speed Rail Authority officials said this week they plan to propose to Bob Hope Airport officials that the state agency purchase the nearly 60-acre "B6 parcel" — also known as the "Opportunity Site" — north of the airfield's terminal, an area which is already being marketed for sale.

"You are sitting on something that is an amazing public and private benefit to the future," said Michelle Boehm, the rail authority's Southern California regional director. She said transit officials don't want to lose the "once-in-a-generation opportunity to make something really great — not just great times one, but great times 10."

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Boehm's pitch capped off an informational presentation in which she updated members of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority on the rail project and touted the promised benefits of high-speed rail, including relief of congestion on the state's roads, rails and short-haul commuter flight routes throughout California.

However, airport commissioners asked her to be a bit more explicit.

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"What's the ask?" said Terry Tornek, one of Pasadena's commissioners. "Are you asking us to halt our disposition process? Are you asking us to reserve [two proposed station locations]?"

Transportation officials would like the airport authority to change its sales process and enter into an agreement with an option to purchase, Boehm said, in order to accommodate a multiagency planning process that would look at what part of the property could be used for a bullet-train station, as well as other potential public and private uses, such as extension of the Metro Red Line.

"It's a big ask," Tornek said.

In her presentation, Boehm noted that the Burbank airport is the only location in Southern California right now with "fairly good air-rail connectivity," which she said will be getting better. She said the rail authority is seeking to create such "multimodal transportation hubs."

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"The nucleus, if you will, of a thriving economic wave that could roll out across the area 3 miles away from that location, 5 miles away from that location," Boehm said of the hubs. "A rising tide that can lift all boats here in the northeast part of the San Fernando Valley, as well as in locations like Palmdale and Anaheim."

Tornek asked if Boehm thought the proposed partnership and the potential sale of portions of the B6 parcel to public agencies would provide comparable proceeds as what might be expected if the airport were to sell the property to a private developer.

The property is next to a roughly 49-acre parcel where city and airport officials say a replacement terminal should be built, and officials hope to use proceeds from the sale to fund the terminal project.

"We could realize potentially more value from the property in the future than the value as it stands right now," she said.

Boehm suggested that a nine-month "comprehensive planning process" could include discussions with the city of Burbank on zoning and entitlement issues. She also indicated the city of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County and other agencies may also be interested in purchasing portions of the B6 property.

Several airport officials expressed their doubts about the proposal. Tornek said it had been "something of a challenge" for the airport authority to work with just the city of Burbank on the future of the airport. Officials had sought to rezone the B6 parcel in hopes of increasing its value prior to selling it, but they abandoned that proposal earlier this year after it met resistance from the city.

Out of courtesy, Tornek said, officials should probably wait to receive the high-speed rail authority's proposal in writing, but he expressed concerns that what Boehm was outlining would take longer than nine months — perhaps as long as a decade.

Tornek said the rail authority's proposal was "inspirational ... or aspirational," but he added that "it's also terrifying, frankly, for me."

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