An attempt to place a City-backed initiative on the November ballot to maintain the City Council’s power to determine the future of the Santa Monica Airport (SMO) is still held at the gate and not yet ready for takeoff, as council members were in a holding pattern on Tuesday night in trying to figure out how best compete with another voter measure backed by a national pilot’s group.
As the County Registrar is expected to complete verifying the signatures of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assoc. (AOPA) ballot initiative by or near July 23, City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie and the Santa Monica City Council are trying to figure out how to best phrase a competing measure to outdo the pilot’s group in November.
Council members ultimately did not come to terms July 8 on how the City-backed ballot measure should be phrased. The difficulty, it appeared, was how to create a measure that would give voters a sense of inclusion in the decision-making process of SMO’s future while allowing the City Council to maintain some leverage in determining the ultimate use of the publicly owned land.
After a little more than one hour of a staff report, public testimony, and council deliberation, the City-backed SMO ballot measure idea will come back to the dais again on July 22 – coincidentally the evening before the County Registrar expects to have a determination of whether the AOPA initiative will be allowed to be voted upon on November.
Of course, there is a chance the County Registrar determines there are not enough signatures to validate the AOPA’s proposed ballot measure, meaning City Hall might be able to avoid drafting a competing initiative altogether. Accordingly, it is possible Moutrie and the council will have a meeting the evening of July 23 to determine whether or not the City needs to finalize its ballot initiative.
The ballot initiative backed by the AOPA claims the City Charter should be amended in order to incorporate voters into the decision-making process of how SMO should be used.
A statement issued by the Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions (SMOHDD) right after the City Council discussion on July 8 stated the initiative both it and the AOPA is backing aims to have voters be “consulted before any decisions to close and redevelop the 227-acre Santa Monica Airport can be taken.”
It is the hope of SMOHDD that voter approval would be required before the council members makes a determination on the future use of SMO for anything other than aviation uses.
Effectively, the SMOHDD/AOPA initiative aims to maintain the status quo at SMO unless voters decide otherwise. Even more, the proposed ballot initiative appears to challenge a recent decision by the City Council a few weeks ago to move forward with plans to shut down SMO.
Moutrie had stated at the last June 24 and July 8 meetings that the AOPA-backed initiative would challenge the council’s powers in determining the future use of City-owned property.
The city attorney made a few suggestions of what interim uses SMO could be subject to until a specific plan for the airport is adopted. For example, the council could prohibit new construction of buildings at SMO or allow for park and recreational uses.
“Only extremely limited development of the airport land … would be allowed in advance of the preparation of a specific plan for the airport land,” Moutrie said. “We’re recommending that because that’s what the LUCE contemplates for the airport.”
Council members were on board with the idea of developing a competing ballot initiative, but no consensus was reached in how to draft one that would be more appealing to voters than the one submitted to County officials by SMOHDD and backed by AOPA.
After all, it is not difficult to achieve a majority vote when voters are asked in an initiative if they would like to have the power to decide something or be included in the decision-making process. Such a question is exactly what is posed by the SMOHDD/AOPA measure.
Accordingly, the council understands it has its work cut out to come up with that 10-second elevator pitch to convince voters the City-backed measure is the one they should support instead of the SMOHDD/AOPA initiative.
Council member Ted Winterer summed up the challenge, saying the AOPA-backed initiative on its face tells voters they are empowering themselves by voting in its favor.
Should the County Registrar validate the AOPA-back initiative, the City Hall hopes to have its own measure ready to go, one that also empowers voters but not at the expense of the council’s ability to function and operate.