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Flying Club, Eviction Target, Fearing a Financial Collapse

With a court freeze on funds and planes in a dispute with Fullerton, 'they've gutted us.'

August 05, 2004|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

A popular flying club on the verge of eviction from Fullerton Municipal Airport was also on the brink of collapse Wednesday after having its bank account and several leased airplanes attached by an Orange County court for payment of more than $147,000 the city says it owes.

"They've gutted us," said Tom Polley, general manager of Ray's Flying Club. "They've succeeded in putting us out of business."

The action is the latest in a long battle between the city-owned airport and the 120-member nonprofit club, which had offered plane rentals, tie-downs and flying lessons at a low cost, as well as free airplane rides for underprivileged children. The two sides have been at odds since 1999. Club members say the dispute has mainly centered on the fact that Ray's charged pilots less than the airport to tie down their planes. Airport managers describe it as a tenant-landlord dispute over safety.

In June, an Orange County Superior Court judge sided with the city, upholding its planned eviction of the club from the airport. Late last month, the court issued an order attaching the club's identifiable assets for payment of attorney fees, court costs and back rent.

"The preliminary verdict is in our favor, and the city incurred fees that need to be reimbursed," said Deputy City Atty. Christian Bettenhausen, who is handling the case for Fullerton. "That's what we're seeking to recover."

Julia Kemp, an attorney representing Ray's, said the club plans to challenge the amount demanded and the accompanying order of attachment at a hearing Aug. 27. "We think the amount is outrageous," Kemp said, and the parties owning the attached airplanes "were not notified. They weren't given due process to oppose the procedure."

In the meantime, according to Polley, the airplanes in question -- eight single-engine Cessnas and Grummans, one he owns and seven he owns with a partner -- have been moved to undisclosed locations beyond the city's reach.

While the planes are, for now, outside the city's control, Polley said, their inaccessibility deprives the club of income it needs to survive. In addition to the payment demanded by the city, the club has $70,400 in other obligations.

"We're dying," he said. "We need some help. Otherwise we'll just pack up and call it a day."

The club's next monthly barbecue is set for Aug. 14. "It will probably be our last," Polley said. "All we're doing is hoping for a miracle."

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