At its August 28 meeting, the Santa Monica City Council heard from an overflow crowd of concerned residents opposed to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) proposal to the City in regard to safety enhancements at the Santa Monica Airport.
The City has been engaged in a long dialogue with the FAA concerning safety as well as mitigation of noise and pollution at the airport. City Manager P. Lamont Ewell gave a brief summary of the discussions that have occurred over the last seven years and concluded that “unless there’s a change” in the FAA’s proposal, “staff will be prepared to recommend that [the FAA plan] be rejected.”
The FAA is proposing construction of two 155-foot Runway Safety Areas (RSA), comprised of a 130-foot Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS) bed and a 25-foot lead-in to the bed at each end of the runway. The extended runways, according to a staff report, would run too close to local homes. A similar proposal was rejected by the City on June 12.
D. Kirk Shaffer, FAA Associate Administrator for Airports, was present at the Council meeting and explained the FAA’s stance that EMAS are the best solution to the safety issue.
“Given the terrain that the runways stand on, it would not be feasible to add RSAs [at ends of the runway],” said Shaffer.
Residents of the airport area in both Santa Monica and Mar Vista, on the other hand, were determined to have their grievances heard. In addition to a demonstration outside City Hall organized by CRAAP (Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution), residents jammed into City Hall, with over 75 people listing their names to speak before the Council. Due to crowding and a City Hall policy that there can be no standees, extra chairs were set up in the lobby so people could watch the meeting on a TV screen.
Resident after resident spoke out against the FAA proposal, with many people stating that they felt the FAA had little regard for human safety. Some read off lists of runway over-run accidents at the airport; others complained about breathing fumes from jet exhaust and having to wipe soot off their furniture.
Representatives read statements from Congress members Henry Waxman and Jane Harman and Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl. Waxman’s statement said: “I am deeply disappointed that [the FAA proposal] provides the barest minimum of safety.”
Most residents also agreed that the airport was designed for small planes and that jet planes should be banned, as they are more hazardous, and create noise and environmental pollution.
Shaffer disputed the residents’ claims that jets are unsafe, stating that “jet engines are more reliable than piston engines” and that there isn’t that much jet traffic at Santa Monica Airport because it is not a commercial airport.
However, Shaffer also insisted that it would be unfeasible to ban any form of plane at Santa Monica Airport because according to Federal law, “It has to be used as an airport open to all users.”
Councilmember Robert Holbrook told Shaffer: “I think you’d like to help us more than you expressed. Let’s find a compromise.” He observed that Shaffer had answered another question by saying that he had “authority” to make changes to FAA policy and if so, that he should “use” this authority.
Mayor Richard Bloom told Shaffer to remain in dialogue with the City and meet with City staff to reach a conclusion. Shaffer agreed. The Council then voted on a motion, passed unanimously, to ask staff to make suggestions for an improved safety proposal.