Heavy machinery has started working nights on a $3.5 Million dollar project to pulverize concrete at each end of the Santa Monica Airport runway. This project is political nonsense and the latest step in the city’s effort to close the airport and satisfy a small, privileged and vocal group of cranky neighbors. The airport is losing valuable emergency response capabilities with zero public benefit.
The loudest anti-airport activists, have lived next to the airport for over twenty years, pay the least amount of property taxes and have the most to gain if they sell their property when the airport closes.
After reaching an agreement with the FAA in 2017, Santa Monica shortened the runway, with paint, restriping the runway to 3500 feet, to prevent larger corporate jets from landing. This was effective in reducing jet traffic and noise. The 5000 feet of hard surface runway, was left intact, enabling larger aircraft to still land in an emergency.
The City council has approved the grinding up of each end of the runway and the planting of “hydro seed.” It will consume water, attract birds that will be an added risk to current aircraft operations and create concrete dust pollution. An Air National Guard Captain said, “we will just not land there.” That could have catastrophic consequences for everyone.
As a pilot and working journalist, I flew into New Orleans on an Air Force C-130, after hurricane Katrina devastated the city. The Louis Armstrong Airport became the greatest aviation show I had ever seen. Helicopters and airplanes of all shapes and sizes, dancing in and out, 24 hours a day. Aviation made the difference between life and death, survival and suffering. With every natural disaster, famine or conflict, aviation increases the odds that lives will be saved. It is a simple choice, timely transport for critical supplies and care, or not. After an earthquake there will be no method to travel in and out of Santa Monica other than by air.
The City of Santa Monica has spent over thirty million dollars fighting with the FAA to close the airport. Now there is a Consent Decree agreement, between the FAA and the City, to close the airport in 2028. City council member Sue Himmelrich said, “there is a concern that a future City Council would keep the airport open,” as justification to spend $3.5 million. When asked if this is a waste of money she said, “a drop in the bucket.”
Our memory is short term and we have never experienced a major earthquake. The Santa Monica Airport commission requested permission to have a “celebration picnic” on the grass, after the runway concrete was removed. This was denied by the airport manager but exemplifies the detachment and lack of understanding of the value of an airport.
Former airport manager Bob Trimborn said, “every year I would send City Hall a balanced budget and every year they would send it back showing the airport lost money.” The City redirected over $6 million of airport funds directly into the City attorney’s office, to fund law suits with the FAA to limit flight operations and close the airport. The City created a budget deficit, then loaned the airport money at high interest rates, to make the airport even more in debt. The history of misappropriating airport funds is long and legal actions are still on going. So far, the City agreed to return over $3 million to the airport fund. Within the past three months, a public records request discovered another series of misappropriated funds and the city agreed to return over $100,000 to the airport fund.
Now that the airport fund is solvent, the City wants to spend $3.5 million of airport money to pulverize the runway. The story remains the same, the City spends airport funds, to destroy the airport. The FAA stated; airport funding cannot be used to remove runway – the disputes continue.
Air pollution is often offered as a reason to close the airport. In 2010, an Air Quality Management District (AQMD) study, with six test sites in and around the airport, reported there were, no significant differences between air quality on, near or far from the airport locations. The AQMD report stated air quality was “considered to be typical of background conditions in the study area…due to nearby vehicular traffic.” In 2017 the Santa Monica Airport Commission (made up of only anti-airport residents and no pilots) voted to spend $54,000 on their own air quality study. While working on the air quality testing equipment at the Airport, USC Professor Scott Fruin said, “Ultimately the City is the client and they get to decide if they release part of the data or any data at all. They could also choose to not release anything.” Despite several public record requests, the City refuses to make this study public. More airport funds wasted.
Infrastructure is an invaluable asset for generations to come. The Expo train rail line to Santa Monica was only possible due to the railroad “right of way” that was kept intact since 1875, when steam powered trains rolled into Santa Monica. Without the protection of this 145-year old right of way, the Expo line would not have been possible.
To limit the emergency capacities of the only airport between the Santa Monica and Newport-Inglewood fault lines to the North and Marina Del Rey, liquefaction zones to the South, makes zero sense.
Mark Smith has been a Santa Monica resident for 20 years. He has been an active pilot since 1981 and worked as network news photo journalist and producer for over 30 years. He is currently CEO of a solar energy installation company