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California officials criticized over drone-testing contract

March 19, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy

The head of a Ventura County effort to win a federal contract for research and testing of unmanned drone aircraft voiced frustration Tuesday that his group has not received enough help from state officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown.

Bill Buratto of the Ventura County Economic Development Assn. addressed his frustration to a legislative committee.

"Where were you when we were trying to get a letter out of the governor’s office to support us?’’ Buratto asked the legislators on the committee.

He was told during the panel’s hearing that Gov. Brown’s office may become more involved in trying to resolve a dispute that has resulted in two competing applications from California to the Federal Aviation Administration, rather than one united proposal.

The FAA plans to pick six applications nationwide to establish research centers as part of its effort to determine how non-military drone aircraft can operate in the country’s air space.

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) said California would have a better chance in competing with the other 36 states that have made proposals if it had one application backed by state government.

"I see us divided,’’ said Grove during the meeting of the Assembly Select Committee on Aerospace. Texas’ governor, she said, has allocated funds to hire a consultant to help with that state’s application. In California, two local government groups, including one that runs Inyo-Kern Airport, have put together applications on their own.

Buratto became defensive when Grove began touting the Inyo-Kern proposal because it included the districts of some powerful members of Congress. She questioned whether Ventura County’s proposal was as politically viable.

Buratto said his group, which includes the Ventura County government, was willing to file an application jointly with the Inyo-Kern effort, but he said the other group was not treating his organization as an equal partner. He said state officials did nothing to help bring the proposals together before the February deadline for filing an initial application with the FAA.

"We tried to reach out,’’ he said. "We did what we could to get Sacramento to pay attention and we got none until March 19, 2013.’’

Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor, said this week that it would be premature to comment on the mattter. But Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), the chairman of the committee, said his staff has been told by Gov. Brown’s office that its economic development office would meet with the competing groups.

"I hope the governor’s leadership can help mediate any differences,’’ Muratsuchi said at the end of the hearing.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com


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