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Donald W. Douglas founded his aircraft manufacturing empire in Santa Monica just 17 years after the Wright Brothers first flew in 1903.
Courtesy photo
Donald W. Douglas founded his aircraft manufacturing empire in Santa Monica just 17 years after the Wright Brothers first flew in 1903.

Opinion, Santa Monica, Columnist, Santa Monica Airport

What Say You? Closing Santa Monica Airport

Susan Cloke, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Susan Cloke, Columnist

Posted Mar. 29, 2014, 7:31 am

Susan Cloke / Mirror Columnist

At the Santa Monica Council Meeting on Tuesday, council members unanimously signaled its intent to direct the closing of Santa Monica Airport (SMO) and to work to protect neighbors from noise and pollution impacts until SMO can be closed.

Councilmen Kevin McKeown and Tony Vazquez moved the City staff recommendation with modifications including an offer to the FAA to repay the grant to extinguish any lingering grant obligations.

During the public comment at the Council meeting assertions had been made that the City was closing SMO so they could build “Century City West.” McKeown called the statement a “canard.” And the McKeown/Vazquez motion directed that concept plans and zoning focus on low intensity uses.

The City anticipates that the decision and design process will be a public visioning process and the language of adopted motion states, “Continue to receive and assess community input of preferences and possibilities for the potential future use of the land.”

It was an hours long meeting with many speakers. Speakers from the organization Airport2Park saw this as a once in a century opportunity and called for using Airport lands for parks that serve all.

People representing neighborhood organizations called for the closure of the airport due to noise and pollution and public health concerns.

Santa Monica residents and residents from adjacent communities spoke about noise, pollution, and public health concerns. Scientists also expressing concern for public health joined them.

Pilots and pilot organizations, aviation related businesses, and many Santa Monica residents spoke of the importance of the Airport to the City, to the fact that the Airport provided emergency medical transportation for patients in need, that it was an important alternative for receiving help and supplies in case of earthquake. They also presented information on new technology and innovations that would make the airport quieter and would reduce pollution and health hazards. Other people spoke of the educational and inspirational importance of the Airport to young people.


The history of SMO is one of excitement and adventure, of the golden days of aviation. The Wright Brothers first flight, in North Carolina, was on Dec.17, 1903. By 1917, even before it was an airport, WWI biplanes used the Santa Monica field as an informal landing strip.

Donald Douglas formed the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1920 and produced military and civilian aircraft. It 1923 the site was dedicated as Clover Field by the Army Air Corps, named after the WWI pilot Lt. Greayer Clover, who was killed in action in the war.

Portions of the existing property were purchased by the City with monies from a Park Bond measure in 1926. After that the Council changed the name to Santa Monica Airport (SMO).

SMO first becomes famous when the Douglas World Cruiser biplanes leave from SMO and circumnavigate the globe.

In 1929 SMO got the attention of the whole country and the international aviation community with the race of woman aviators from SMO to Cleveland. Among the aviators flying in that race were Amelia Earhart and Pancho Barnes.

During WWII Douglas was a major defense contractor with 44,000 workers. The plant had three shifts, seven days a week. Sunset Park and other neighborhoods in Santa Monica were built to provide housing for the new workers.

It was also during that period that the Federal Government became involved with SMO to protect the war effort.

The first City/Federal Government Grant Agreement was signed in1941. In 1948, with the War over, the City resumed operation of the Airport.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the first civilian jets arrived at SMO. Neighboring residents, infuriated by noise and pollution sued the City and the City adopted a series of regulations to respond to resident concerns.

Airport controversy continued and by 1974 the City had established the “Airport Neighbors Forum.” Based on the Forum’s recommendations the City adopted ordinances designed to protect the neighborhoods from noise and other impacts.

With continuing controversy and after additional litigation the City entered into the Santa Monica Airport Agreement (1984) obligating the City to operate the Airport through 2015. That agreement recognized the City’s authority to mitigate aircraft impacts through noise limits, curfews, a helicopter ban, and pattern flying restrictions.

The Present

The City Staff report states: “For years, community members assumed that the City could close the Airport in 2015 when the 1984 agreement with the federal government will expire.

“However it is now clear that legal disputes about the City’s authority to close the Airport will inevitably extend well beyond 2015, and their outcome is uncertain. And, beyond the legal controversies, some level of environmental assessment would likely be required to close all or part of the Airport and that would take time.”

The Future

Looking at the bigger picture of aviation, the one that affects everyone, not just Santa Monica, all of aviation has changed.

Gone are the romance and adventure and exhilaration of flying. Once Americans put on their best clothes and sat in comfortable seats on airplanes where all passengers were ‘first class.’ On long flights ‘real food’ was served on china plates. There were no security lines and family and friends walked with travelers across the tarmac and waved good-bye as people boarded the plane. Now we only know about those days from old movies.

SMO was wonderful for Santa Monica. It helped to grow the City. It provided employment, revenue, innovation, and civic pride.

The Santa Monica of today is still a place of innovation and creativity and civic pride. The challenges before us now are different. The challenges are ones of sustainability and stewardship and protection of the environment.

The questions now are how to continue the ethos of innovation and creativity and be the protectors and stewards of sustainability and the environment.

It will be a Santa Monica responsibility to decide the future of the airport land. Of equal importance, it will be a Santa Monica responsibility to determine the process of decision-making.

That process, the visioning of the future of the airport lands, needs to meet the criteria of environmental stewardship, public protection and creativity and innovation. Imagine an inclusive process, one inviting everyone to the table and searching for ways to come to agreement on how to use this unique public land for the benefit of all Santa Monica.

What Say You?

Post a comment


Mar. 29, 2014, 9:52:44 am

Bruria Finkel said...

I participated in the discussions of the small groups that were set up, by the airport commission, and found that the locals who set on the committee were open to adjustment and greater regulation of noise and pollution, while our neighbors to the south and east were adamant to close the airport. personally I think the airport is an important asset for our city, I had a studio for years at the Barker Hangar and my daily interchange with the pilots and people involved in aviation was an inspiration I learned to fly. I believe that we can cartel noise and pollution and restrict times of entry and exit to the airport activity, and keep this important asset and life saving corner of our city for generations to come.

Mar. 29, 2014, 9:53:01 am

Bruria Finkel said...

I participated in the discussions of the small groups that were set up, by the airport commission, and found that the locals who set on the committee were open to adjustment and greater regulation of noise and pollution, while our neighbors to the south and east were adamant to close the airport. personally I think the airport is an important asset for our city, I had a studio for years at the Barker Hangar and my daily interchange with the pilots and people involved in aviation was an inspiration I learned to fly. I believe that we can cartel noise and pollution and restrict times of entry and exit to the airport activity, and keep this important asset and life saving corner of our city for generations to come.

Mar. 29, 2014, 10:13:53 am

Scott said...

I live just north on 28th. I actually like that it's there, there's such an important place in aviation history in samo, and frankly the people who use it help the area demo and retail utilization. But I also like the sound of planes more than most...

Mar. 29, 2014, 11:53:11 am

Rob said...

There are many wonderful aspects to the airport, but unfortunately the private jets are ruining it for the rest of us. It simply isn't feasible to have jets operating so close to the community. Lose the jets and I'd be all for keeping our historic airstrip.

Mar. 29, 2014, 11:57:54 am

Marcy B said...

I agree with the previous post....lose the jets, lose the jets, lose the jets. Unfortunately we've reached the point of closing the airport, when in fact it's just a problem of jets. Lose the jets or close it down.

Mar. 29, 2014, 12:09:38 pm

Jack said...

I'm so sick of the people of Santa Monica acting like this is their decision and their decision alone. The planes come in over LA residents, depart over LA residents, and LA gets the brunt of the pollution. And SMO planes count as part of the queue at LAX. Your little ballot referendum better somehow include the thousand of people in LA who want this airport gone.

Mar. 29, 2014, 12:40:33 pm

Mike said...

About those emergency use fears......Hercules transport planes can land on grass. In times of disaster the Army Corp uses those or helicopters. So a big grass park would be just fine by me.

Mar. 29, 2014, 12:47:38 pm

Kathy Frayler said...

I've lived here for more than 40 years, and the airport is no longer what it was. If you really care about preserving the history of our city, the best way to honor the airport of old is to close the corporate jet-port that SMO has become. (But keep Spitfire!)

Mar. 29, 2014, 3:11:03 pm

jerry spencer said...

I lived in santa monica and always knew the airport was there. I am sick of the whining and complaining by other residents who ALL moved in after the airport was built. you knew it was there so if you don't like it, don't move there! while I don't have a plane, I recognize the airport is a necessary transportation artery. they have bent over backwards to address the problems, both real and imagined, put forth by the neighbors. we live in paradise. if you can't handle what comes with it, then move!

Mar. 29, 2014, 3:35:47 pm

Chuck Barkley said...

The only two issues I have are the airport and Jerry Spencer's whining.

Mar. 30, 2014, 10:27:25 am

JS said...

I live directly under the flight path in Venice and am listening to the Jets as I type this. It is constant but I have learned to adjust to the noise. The pollution is what concerns me.

Mar. 30, 2014, 3:03:03 pm

EDITH KANE said...

lots of pollution noise 4 crashes in three years Closed Closed pollution over all the gardens

Mar. 31, 2014, 11:01:34 am

Mike said...

HC, right, I am not a pilot. I live on the westside and my concerns were about emergency access if the airport were to close. I spoke to a military transport pilot and he was the one who told me about the Hercules. He also mentioned the 3000' minimum figure you did, but SMO's runway is 5000', and at that length this pilot told me a loaded Hercules would have absolutely no issue landing (or taking off from) grass. So if the footprint of the runway were converted to grass as the centerpiece of a public park, access could be maintained for time of disaster. Obviously there are other factors to take into account, but the point I'm making is that this pilot allayed the primary "emergency use" concerns I had.

Mar. 30, 2014, 6:21:30 pm

Ingrid Muellr said...

Thank you, Susan, for your fair interpretation of the SMCC session. But: the 'Century City West' name was already taken by the Playa Vista/Phase I and II Development. Nothing 'developed' will be accepted by communities around SMO but a greener City of Santa Monica, benefiting all.

Mar. 31, 2014, 5:46:38 pm

Martin Rubin said...

Deny, deny, deny was the mantra we heard put forth from flying enthusiasts at the SM City Council meeting. No air pollution impacts, no noise, no safety concerns. I'm glad they came out in large numbers to show their inability to grasp reality. On the other hand, the community representatives had done their homework and were able to present credible material to the Council. It was a quick 6 to 0 vote.

Mar. 30, 2014, 10:40:27 pm

HC said...

Mike, you're obviously not a pilot. A C130 needs a minimum of about 3,000' of runway in the best of circumstances.

Mar. 30, 2014, 10:41:28 pm

LA said...

Not in my backyard!

Mar. 30, 2014, 10:45:08 pm

Papa Charlie said...

Close the airport and lower the LAX Class B to surface over Santa Monica. I'd love seeing a steady train 747s and A380s on the Sadde 6 arrival at 2,000 or less over SM. That would drive the Nimbys batty!!

Mar. 30, 2014, 10:48:37 pm

You're Dreamin said...

I guess Ingrid has the personal wealth to fight billionaire developers that have already bought the Mayor and the entire council and force them to make a park over mixed use office and retail. And unicorns are real.

Mar. 31, 2014, 7:27:25 pm

Stephen Winick said...

I have lived near the airport since 2002 and I knew the airport was there when I bought my house. All of a sudden big jets were coming and going. Harrison Ford is OK because he uses his jet for his use. My issue is the charting of jets. These jet's only mission is to be used at the community expense and the more they are used the lower the cost of ownership. So these charter companies just like major airlines want their planes in the air all the time at the community expense. Forget kids, organs, and emergencys that is just a minor use but that all we hear about from pro airport. Get rid of the jet's and Harrison Ford can leave his plane with his friend Clay Lacy in Van Nuys.

Mar. 31, 2014, 7:31:47 pm

Jim G said...

Get rid of the jets.

Mar. 31, 2014, 7:39:11 pm

The rest of us said...

I've never heard a more petty group of losers in my life. The rest of the world has real problems and you rich little babies whine about some airplanes yet you continue living in a congested, polluted hellhole known as LA. You're complaining about a skid mark in the toilet and ignoring the turd you forgot to flush. Silly idiots fight it out while the rest of the world laughs at you.

Mar. 31, 2014, 8:26:46 pm

SMO Neighbor said...

I am so tired of hearing that those of us who live near the airport moved there knowing there was an airport so somehow we have now waived our rights to care about the health of our families. The amount of information that has been uncovered in the past 5 years about the dangers associated with ultrafine particles in jet emissions is baffling and frightening. And the audacity of those priveleged few to say "why don't you just move?" To the pilot community, I say you have know since 1984 that this would end in 2015, why haven't you been planning for it? Why don't you just relocate? Surely that is easier than the 100,000s of us who pay taxes and subsidize the area to move. How about all the revenue we generate for the surrounding businesses? grocery stores, restaurants, clothing stores, schools, etc etc etc. Seriously get some perspective.

Mar. 31, 2014, 8:39:45 pm

john barnes said...

At least for the time being, please avoid making a left turn over Lincoln blvd and another left turn flying low over populated areas. If you have to make turns, please do so over the ocean and come back over Venice at a higher altitude,

Apr. 1, 2014, 9:24:34 am

strawberry girls said...

Bruria: For someone we know as compassionate and empathetic... this is just pathetic. You are being the typical SM resident who does not suffer from the constant noise, pollution and fear that those of us in LA are the brunt of. A few rich people benefitting as they ruin our quality of life...haven't you been fighting against that your whole life? We will send you a dvd of a typical day in our garden and, as you know, we don't live close to the airport. We are very disappointed.

Apr. 1, 2014, 9:44:25 am

Susan Griffin said...

I'm all in favor of closing the airport. And thanks for the history. The jets that so disturb us as neighbors of the airport were NOT here first--they arrived later, with their noise, danger and pollution. I'm sorry for the owners of small prop planes, but the jets have made the airport untenable for you, too.

Apr. 1, 2014, 10:58:44 am

Susan said...

I say the jets banned completely and small prop planes remain ( with no flight schools) no J E T S

Apr. 1, 2014, 3:15:19 pm

Ken Jonston said...

The airport needs to close completely. If this can't be done then the jets should be banned. The jets seem to be the most noisy, polluting and obscene. I often feel I'm living in a war zone, with the constant loud roar of jet engines. I doubt when the airport was built this is the kind of aviation they had in mind.

Apr. 1, 2014, 5:48:10 pm

anti aviation terrorist exterminator said...

To all of you anti aviation, anti American terrorists. The bought off corrupt assclowns ie, Santa Monica Mayor and city council have been to court twice. And both time they lost. What gives you right to steal the jobs, businesses and aircraft at SMO. Were you forced to sign your lease, rental or mortgage contracts? I have dealt with your kind in Idaho and in Utah. I promise that if you force our hand this will get ugly. You try take from us, we will take from you.

Apr. 2, 2014, 10:40:19 am

Fred H said...

To the anti-aviation terrorist exterminator: the irony of your moniker and schoolyard threats is that you do more to bolster the opposition than any other argument against the airport. The fact that you are piloting a plane above our schools and homes is reason enough to close SMO. Having seen your responses to airport-related articles many times before, I'm honestly wondering if you're not a figment created by the opposition! If you are real, congratulations, you have single-handedly turned me from a casual observer to a strong supporter of the close SMO movement.

Apr. 2, 2014, 4:37:03 pm

Rerry Jubin said...

I wonder how many of these airport haters fly commercially? 100% of them. That means they've contributed to the pollution, the noise and the terror of other people over other communities. But that's not their problem. They don't care about YOU or ME. They only care about THEMSELVES. I'd like to put them all on a government no-fly list. Hypocrites!

Apr. 2, 2014, 6:26:23 pm

Rey Mallord said...

The airport is not that bad. There is much more noise from pico, and the freeway. When I'm at SMC I can see the planes taking off but the noise is really not that bad. If the airport is closed I bet the amount of airp pollution from the cars that would be driving to a park or whatever is built there would be much worse than what the airport generates unless the airport is converted to a giant bike path

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