Westside residents gathered to protest the health risks of living near the Santa Monica Airport (SMO) on Sunday, April 18. Planes flew overhead the 12100 block of Sardis Avenue while speakers and residents proclaimed that air pollution and noise have reached intolerable levels.
Marking the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, protesters demanded the elimination of jet planes and the eventual closure of SMO. About sixty residents from Santa Monica, Mar Vista, Venice, and West L.A. applauded speakers and elected officials in the North Westdale neighborhood. Many people touted protest signs and gas or hospital masks to highlight the increased air pollution.
The University of California Los Angeles released a study last year in which real time air pollutant concentrations were measured downwind of Santa Monica Airport. The study confirms that elevated exposure to the particles can present health risks to children and the elderly by penetrating deep into tissue and travel to the brain.
The study shows that ultrafine particle emissions were 10 times higher than normal about 300 feet downwind of the runway, where takeoffs generally start. Many homes and businesses are located less than 300 feet from the runway. During the two-hour rally almost a dozen planes flew overhead causing the speakers to pause and protesters to wave signs towards the interruption.
Los Angeles City Councilmembers Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz spoke fervently about health hazards and government responsibility. The council members called for the city of Santa Monica to reevaluate the impact on the area and respect the laws set in place to protect citizens. Rosendahl, who represents District 11 including Pacific Palisades, Mar Vista, and Venice, compared the airport to a “motorcycle in a kid’s playground.”
“Ninety years ago the leaders at the time built this airport,” Rosendahl said. “We were bean fields and orange groves. We are no longer that. We are the most dense urban seaside community in the United States of America and it’s time that the airport shut down.”
This is not the first time Rosendahl appealed to constituents with the desire to close SMO, nor did he forget to mention planes have been routed to avoid flying over Santa Monica. District five Councilmember Koretz said he was “amazed” by the terrible smell of plane exhaust. No Santa Monica officials were present at the rally.
Martin Rubin, who organized the rally, is the director of the activist group Concerned Residents Against Air Pollution (CRAAP). Rubin, with wife Joan, want the City to authorize studies concerning environmental pollution, noise, and health safety. He said pollution has increased 18-fold if multiplied by the number of jet operations.
“It’s not [just] an airport here, these are homes,” Rubin said. “These are homes where people have lived for years raising their families. New generations move-in, children are being raised.”
There are no city laws establishing distance between residents and the runway, “they could back it up against your door,” Rubin said. Houses should have a minimum buffer of at least 660 meters, he said, according to local studies. Rubin called for the City to pay for a “comprehensive health risk assessment” to be performed by an unbiased, third party group, such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
Santa Monica’s recent attempt to ban category C and D type aircrafts due to the inability to meet “noise levels” is being challenged. The Federal Aviation Association and other interested parties are fighting the ban claiming it discriminates unfairly against the aircrafts. Rubin said he supports the ban, but it needs to go further as it will only limit about half of the jet planes that frequent SMO.
“They brought them there without any precaution or investigation as to what the effect would be on the downwind communities and that’s just wrong,” Rubin said of the jet planes in a phone interview. “Obviously it’s just for the comfort and convenience for the wealthy to have this as a convenient landing airport.”
At the rally Rubin heaped blame on the city, as well as the plane owners and jetsetters who use the airport daily. Many high-profile people use the airport, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who commutes into SMO three to four times a week to visit family.
Ray Pearce, a resident since the ‘50s on Sardis Avenue, spent $10,000 installing double paned windows in his home to “keep out the noise.” Pearce originally spent only $8,500 to purchase the house. He reminisced about the corn and bean fields that once covered the now-dense residential area just east of Bundy Drive.
State Assemblyman Ted Lieu condemned the FAA for not acting when reports have shown the pollution is a detriment to area residents. He said the role of the FAA is not to help corporate America, but protect residents.
“Shame on those who are using this airport without caring that they are killing people,” Lieu said to the crowd. “Shame on those elected officials, those corporate CEOs, those that take advantage of the residents here because the FAA allows it.”
Mirror Staff Writerkatherine@smmirror.com