A third time is not always the charm. The Santa Monica City Council inched significantly closer to a ballot initiative to challenge and compete with an aviation-backed measure to determine the future of the Santa Monica Airport (SMO), but a final product is not quite ready.
The major hurdle that was almost cleared at Tuesday night’s meeting: crafting the language of the City-backed ballot measure to effectively challenge another initiative supported by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assoc. (AOPA) and Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions (SMOHDD).
Prior to the July 22 meeting, council members were presented with three ballot measure options from the City Attorney.
During the public testimony, many speakers who supported a City-backed ballot initiative supported the second option proposed by the City Attorney, which was phrased as follows:
“If all or part of the Airport land is permanently closed to aviation use, no new development of that land shall be allowed without voter approval, except the City Council, acting in accordance with law, may approve the development of parks, public open spaces, public recreational facilities, the maintenance and replacement to their present size of existing permanent structures, and the continuation of existing cultural, arts and education uses.”
According to a City staff report on the proposed City-backed ballot measure, the aim of the initiative would be preserve council authority to manage SMO and its ability to possibly shut down part or all of the airport, prohibit new and non-recreational development on the 227-acre land until voters “approve parameters for how the land will be used,” and compete with aviation interests.
John Jerabek said the ballot measure backed by the AOPA and the group he leads (SMOHDD) gives Santa Monica voters the power to decide the future of the “most important land-use question” in the history of the City. He added the City Council wants to take that decision away from voters with its plan to place a competing measure on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Resident Frank Gruber said the City should avoid words such as “framework” or “guidelines” in the language of any ballot measure it backed. Instead, he suggested the measure should be framed as such to give voters the sense they collectively have a legitimate say in the future use of the airport land.
“The language has to be clear. I think what you have to do is make sure the public knows they control the parameters of any development [on airport land],” Gruber said.
Gruber’s thoughts were echoed later in the public testimony with another speaker suggesting whatever initiative the council advanced should be phrased in language that would be easiest for voters to understand.
Another concern: the potential of expensive litigation should the City Council ever decide to close any portion of SMO.
On the dais, council members discussed how to craft the most clear and concise language for voters to understand they collectively had the power to determine what SMO could not be used for should the airport be shut down.
Council member Kevin McKeown started that discussion by suggesting specific language to indicate to voters that airport land would not be used for development they did not support.
McKeown proposed the following question be proposed to voters: “Shall the city charter be amended to: (1) prohibit new development on airport land, except for parks and recreational facilities, until the voters approve limits on the uses and development that may occur on the land; and, (2) affirm the City Council’s existing authority to manage the airport and to close all or part of it.”
Council members unanimously approved the language of the question to be posed to voters.
Following that vote, council members nipped and tucked over the specific language of the actual ballot measure and came up with the following language:
“Subject only to limitations imposed by law, the City Council shall have full authority, without voter approval, to regulate use of the Santa Monica Airport, manage Airport leaseholds, condition leases, and permanently close all or part of the Airport to aviation use.”
The proposed language continued:
“If all or part of the Airport is permanently closed to aviation use, no new development of that land shall be allowed until the voters have approved limits on the use and development that may occur on the land. However, this section shall not prohibit the City Council from approving the following on Airport land that has been permanently closed to aviation use: the development of parks, public open spaces, and public recreational facilities; and the maintenance and replacement of existing cultural, arts, and education uses.”
The council is expected to revisit the measure’s language at its next scheduled meeting.
Council member Ted Winterer was not present at the July 22 meeting.