Anti-airport advocates are preparing for their first formal interaction with City Council members who will decide the fate of Santa Monica Airport (SMO) when its current contract with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expires on June 30, 2015.
A special City Council meeting dedicated to discussing the future of SMO is scheduled for April 30 at 5:30 pm at City Hall.
Attorney Jonathan Stein, who is representing Sunset Park Anti-Airport, Inc. (an independent expenditure committee), CRAAP (Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution), and CASMAT (Citizens Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic), said its members hope to urge the City Council to let the 1984 FAA agreements expire.
“The city in 1981 passed the City Council Resolution 6296, that said ‘hey, we want to close the airport, but in the meanwhile we want to reduce the footprint as much as possible,’” Stein said. “In 1984, the City entered into agreement which expires July 2015. Under that agreement, the city has to maintain the runway, it has to allow the flight schools to operate, and it has to sell jet fuel and other things.”
With the July 2015 expiration of those three main agreements, Stein said the city could use its propriety powers as owner of the airport to change how those parcels of land are used.
He noted that one of the parcels contains 3000 feet of runway (General Aviation Parcel) that the FAA has certain claims to, but he said there are no obligations on the other two smaller parcels.
“The westerly parcel (Marsha Parcel) has 2000 feet of runway, and the southerly parcel (Non-Aviation Parcel) has lots of aviation related businesses on it,” he said. “Those two parcels, beginning July 2015, are completely free of any requirements, and the city can do whatever it wants.”
Santa Monica Airport Commission Vice Chair David Goddard said he would speak at the meeting and advocate the “simplest solution to the problem.”
“The laws and agreements surrounding the airport have been portrayed as being very complex and as a result, we don’t have any options. That’s just incorrect,” Goddard said.
Goddard reiterated Stein’s arguments, but in more detail.
“In the 1984 airport agreement, there are three key provisions,” he said. “Section 9 says you must maintain a 5000 foot runway, Section 13 says we must provide aircraft parking and sell aviation fuel, and Section 14 says we must rent space to aviation tenants. When the agreement expires, so do those rights. We don’t have to do those things anymore.”
Goddard said he has read all current agreements and aviation laws, concluding, “nothing else requires us to do those things.”
“In 2015 when the 1984 agreement expires, those items clearly expire and at that point we don’t have to rent space to aviation tenants any more, we don’t have to sell aircraft fuel, and we don’t have to maintain a 5000 foot runway,” he said. “There’s a 1948 instrument of transfer that requires us to operate about 3000 feet of the runway at the airport, but the other 2000 feet isn’t bound by that agreement, so we can take back 2000 feet of the runway.”
He said residents would benefit if the City simply let the 1984 agreement expire.
“With those three things – if we didn’t have aviation tenants, we didn’t sell aircraft fuel, and we took back 2000 feet of runway – potentially the airport is now again a Class B airport that is ‘neighborhood friendly’ and the operations would be significantly reduced and we could all live with the airport as a neighbor without trying to shut it down, and without getting into litigation and lawsuits. That’s just the simplest approach to this situation.”
CASMAT founder John Fairweather said he would address the meeting to summarize the results of various surveys and petitions relating to SMO.
“There are three separate surveys done; one was the CASMAT survey that found approximately 81 percent people that took the survey were in favor of changing the airport,” Fairweather said. “More than half of them wanted it closed. There were about 1100 participants in the survey.”
He said more than 200 people responded to an Ocean Park survey.
“It found 85 percent of people want the airport changed, and then there was the City Visioning Survey that found more than 80 percent wanted it changed – either closed or mitigation,” he said. “Recently CASMAT did a petition in support of the Airport Commission’s recommendations and we got over 1600 signatures for that in support of this significant change of the airport.”
He said it was CASMAT’s goal to have the City Council “do something serious.”
“That’s opposed to what’s happened so far which is ignore the problem and follow staff recommendations that hasn’t resulted in any change that’s done anybody any good as far as the city’s concerned,” he said. “It’s time for the City Council to step in and give directions to staff as opposed to floating along down the river.”
Stein, on behalf of the main anti-airport groups, listed several other goals it wants the City Council to adopt as City Policy.
These include not renewing any aviation use of any city building whose lease expires July 2015, beginning a new and different planning process for July 2015 re-use of SMO runway and empty buildings, and beginning debate for re-use of the remaining 3000 feet of runway and structures after 2017.
CRAAP founder Martin Rubin said he would speak about what he feels is the most critical issue: public health and the effects the airport has on the environment.
“The City owns and operates the airport and it has the rights and the obligation to address public health issues of how the airport affects the surrounding communities,” Rubin said. “What’s missing is something to guard the impacts on the community. There should be a rule that states a minimum distance between the ground operations of an airport and residential communities. Right now they can back their tails up to a home, there’s no rule they can’t.”
Rubin said he hoped SMO would close completely in 2015.
“I think there are tremendous arguments for the airport closing and very little arguments for it staying open,” he said. “There aren’t any airports in the country that are situated with this kind of air traffic that have homes so close to the end of the runway. The tails of their jets are blasting right across the street from residential neighborhoods on Bundy Drive and on occasion, when the Santa Anas come, they’ll be blowing into Santa Monica, but that’s more rare to have the jets taking off the other way.”
Meanwhile, the Santa Monica Airport Association, a proponent group of the airport, has issued a notice “to advise the citizens of Santa Monica and West Los Angeles of the continued importance of operations at the Santa Monica Airport.”
SMAA Vice-President Joseph L. Chizmadia said SMO is “a gem for this community and provides a unique place for all its local residents.”
“The movement of people in and out of the Westside of Los Angeles and Santa Monica generates a huge economic engine for jobs, goods and services, and an emergency portal in case of a disaster,” Chizmadia said. “A shopping mall, apartment complex, or an industrial park serve a necessary function but do not replace the unique advantages of a transportation center. The continued negative irritations by local community groups need to be addressed in a formal and neutral forum so that issues can be discussed in a civil and productive environment.”
Chizmadia said pilots, fixed-base operators, businesses, and other support activities depend on the Santa Monica Airport for their livelihood and serve a beneficial purpose to the community.
“Let us all agree to come together and resolve our concerns as fellow neighbors,” he said.