On Tuesday, March 24, the City Council will decide the fate of the Santa Monica Airport, as the July 1st expiration date of the 1984 operating agreement between the City and the federal government rapidly approaches. Although it is doubtful that the City will move to close the airport at this March meeting due to ongoing legal battles, the opportunity to alter the character of the airport and how it impacts the neighborhoods will surely be a priority in the decisions made.
Inquiries to City staff requesting more information regarding the content of the staff report have yielded nothing more than a statement that it would be “all inclusive.”
FOSP anticipates that the City will raise all below-market-rate leases to market rate. Currently, many long term tenants are sub-leasing portions of their leaseholds and turning huge profits while the City runs the airport at a deficit. Some community advocates are pressing the City to only offer month-to-month leases, with sub-leasing prohibited, to allow the City maximum flexibility in the future.
Measure LC amended the City Charter to (1) prohibit new development on Airport land, except for parks, public open spaces and public 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 authority to manage the Airport and to close all or part of it. Because the charter amendment was passed by voters, it cannot be changed by the City Council.
Will the different parcels be treated separately?
The majority of the runway is contained in the 1948 Instrument of Transfer parcel, which was transferred back to the City from the federal government after WWII. Aviation advocates claim that this parcel has land use restrictions.
The “1949 Quit Claim” parcel (this includes the western 2,000 feet of the runway) was not a part of the “1948 Instrument of Transfer” parcel (this includes the eastern 3,000 feet of the runway). It could possibly be transformed or taken out of service prior to the 1948 Instrument of Transfer parcel.
With the overwhelming victory of Measure LC in the November 2014 election guaranteeing expansion of parkland and recreational space at the airport, it is also possible that some underutilized land in the “Non-Aviation” parcel on the south side of the airport can be converted to parks or recreational use sooner rather than later.
In the light of current legal uncertainty, the Santa Monica Airport2Park Foundation has proposed that the city take a three-step approach to transitioning airport land to Measure LC compliant use. Phase 1, on July 1, 2015, would re-purpose tie-down space on non-aviation land to parkland, and cease all other aviation uses of non-aviation land.
This change would extend the existing 7-acre Airport Park to form a larger 21-acre park, which would become the second largest park in the city.
Santa Monica has about 1.5 acres of park space per thousand residents, a much lower ratio than many of our neighboring cities. Manhattan Beach averages 2 acres, Santa Barbara has 4.3 acres, and Newport Beach has nearly 6 acres of parkland per thousand residents.
Because Airport2Park’s suggested Phase I involves only the non-aviation land parcel, over which the FAA no longer has any control, it’s realistic to expect that the city could move forward with this proposed plan in July. For more details, see the foundation’s web site at www.airport2park.org.
Will current legal battles force the City to move cautiously?
More will be revealed when the City Council meeting agenda is posted on the city web site on Thursday, March 19 at http://www.smgov.net/departments/clerk/agendas.aspx
FOSP encourages everyone to attend the March 24 City Council meeting — it will begin at 6:30 PM at City Hall and can also be viewed on CityTV (channel 16 on Verizon or Time Warner cable). Public comment can be made in person at the meeting (2 minute maximum), but it is also important to submit your comments via email to Council@smgov.net by March 24.
By Cathy Larson, FOSP Airport Committee Chair
After an expenditure of more than a quarter of a million dollars, the Airport Charter Initiative backed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) qualified for the November 4th ballot. According to official campaign disclosure statements posted on the City Clerk’s website at smvote.org, the Washington, D.C.-based 8,000-member NBAA donated $125,000. The Baltimore-based 400,000-member AOPA donated $117,000. Santa Monica Air Center, Inc. and the Santa Monica Airport Association, Inc. each contributed $10,000.
According to the Santa Monica Lookout, “The proponents have spent $256,000, including $180,000 on hiring petition gatherers. One of the companies hired to collect signatures was Arno Political Consulting, a Carlsbad-based petition drive management firm that has been the subject of controversy (“Santa Monica Airport Referendum Steeped in Controversy,” May 1, 2014). Signature gatherers from Reno, St. Louis, and Syracuse, NY, told FOSP members that they were paid up to $20 per signature during the last few days of the petition signature drive.
The Santa Monica City Council responded by approving a “counter-initiative” to also be placed on the November ballot. The initiative which receives the most votes will take precedence (assuming they both receive over 50% + 1 of the votes cast).
City Airport Charter Amendment — The City’s measure prohibits new development on airport land, except for parks, public open spaces, and public recreational facilities, until the voters have approved limits on the uses and development. In other words, no new development would be allowed at the Airport without voter approval, except for parks and play fields. The measure will also allow the City, as owner and proprietor, to continue to manage the airport property, including lease management and the option to close all or part of the airport, if legally possible.
For more information and the actual “City Airport Charter Amendment” ballot measure language, visit: http://www.smvote.org/BallotMeasures/detail.aspx?id=48691
Airport Charter Initiative — The AOPA-sponsored initiative requires voters to pass another ballot measure or measures in order to change aviation land uses to non-aviation use, including partial or total closure of the runway. It seems to be designed to maintain the status quo and make it extremely difficult for the City to manage the airport, including installing Runway Safety Areas, restricting the sale of “leaded” aviation gas, leasing airport property currently used for aviation to non-aviation organizations, adding playing fields, or creating more park and public space – in other words, exchanging “neighborhood-incompatible” uses for “neighborhood-compatible” uses.
For more information and the actual “Airport Charter Initiative” ballot measure language, visit: http://www.smvote.org/BallotMeasures/detail.aspx?id=47354
Organization positions — The FOSP Board of Directors has taken a position in support of the City Airport Charter Amendment and in opposition to the AOPA-sponsored Airport Charter Initiative. At the August 3rd Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) convention, approximately 500 attendees voted overwhelmingly to support the City ballot measure and to oppose the AOPA-sponsored ballot measure.
By law, the City is prohibited from campaigning for its own ballot measure, the City Airport Charter Amendment. As a result, community members have formed a political action committee to support the City’s ballot measure. The Committee for Local Control of Airport Land (CLCSMAL) has already begun to raise money and formulate a campaign plan. For more information, visit the CLCSMAL website at www.ItsOurLand.org/
Since the aviation lobbyists and businesses have already spent more than $250,000 in the last few months, FOSP anticipates that even more aviation special interest money will probably be poured into this campaign between now and November 4th. The AOPA-sponsored Airport Charter Initiative web site is posted at http://www.smvotersdecide.com/
We respectfully request the Santa Monica City Council to immediately adopt local ordinances consistent with Santa Monica Airport Commission Recommendations and implement the existing City Council Resolution 6296, as summarized below:
The Santa Monica City Council passed a Resolution in 1981 that states it is the “policy of the City of Santa Monica to effect the closure of the Santa Monica Municipal Airport as soon as practicable.”
More than 80% of the 1,400 Santa Monica and Los Angeles participants polled want Santa Monica Airport closed, aircraft operations materially reduced, or steps taken to mitigate impacts. The Boards of Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP) and Ocean Park Association (OPA) endorse the Santa Monica Airport Commission Recommendations 2012-2 & 2012-3.
OPA Airport Visioning Survey Results — http://opa-sm.org/Resources/Documents/OPASURVEY2012.pdf
CASMAT Airport Visioning Survey Results — https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_xmzTNXnK13clA4MjUzdHpacGc/edit?pli=1
SMO – Land Use Options in 2015 — http://www.casmat.org/2012/04/community-sees-first-concrete-visioning.html
The April 23rd Airport Commission Airport Visioning Workshop included a legal agreement review regarding how various Federal/City agreements impact potential future options for various airport land parcels, an overview of the City’s proprietary powers with regards to its jurisdiction over future airport uses, an economic analysis of SMO, a presentation from Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Environmental Design regarding ideas for re-purposing airport land, and summaries of the results from both the CASMAT and OPA online surveys.
The May 8th City Council study session included a Powerpoint presentation by consultant Daniel Iacafano regarding the Santa Monica Airport Phase II community discussion groups, posted at: http://www01.smgov.net/cityclerk/council/agendas/2012/20120508/s2012050804-A-3.pdf
The main preferences were that 1) the Airport must be aligned with the City’s core environmental values, 2) the Airport must be transformed into a better neighbor by reducing noise and enhancing safety, 3) airport infrastructure and design should be improved to protect safety and enhance neighbors’ quality of life and afford greater amenities to surrounding communities, and 4) community trust must be restored through increased transparency, better communications, more sharing of information, and unbiased analysis.
Although the City owns and operates the Airport, its operations are governed by federal law, and the City has various contractual obligations to the federal government, including the 1984 Agreement, grant agreements, and the post-World War II transfers of Airport land from the federal government to the City.
The 1984 Agreement expires in 2015, and the City claims that the last of the grant agreements expires in 2014, but the FAA contends that the last grant agreement does not expire until 2023. And, the FAA claims that the City is obligated by the post-War transfers to operate the Airport “in perpetuity.”
The City Council resolved in 1981 to close the Airport when possible, but the City then negotiated the 1984 Settlement Agreement with the FAA, obligating the City to operate the Airport until 2015. The federal government and the aviation industry would oppose any attempt to close the airport.
The City adopted a number of ordinances in the late 1970’s to restrict operations. Five of the ordinances were challenged in federal court, and four were upheld. A fifth ordinance, banning jets in order to reduce noise, was invalidated because some jets are quieter than some piston aircraft. Recently, the City attempted to ban Class C & D jet aircraft in order to reduce the likelihood of runway overruns, since the SMO runway is shorter than current design standards requirements for C & D aircraft. The FAA challenged the ban, and its challenge was upheld by both the Ninth and the D.C. Circuit Courts of Appeal. So, apparently neither the FAA nor the courts will allow the City to ban jets based on noise or runway safety. And, these cases demonstrate the FAA’s tenacity in opposing access restrictions, as well as the federal courts’ deference to the FAA.
According to staff, a closure fight would consume significant time and resources for the City, while the federal government and the aviation industry have far greater resources than the City. In addition, the results of litigation are never certain. City staff believes that it may be possible to reach a compromise in order to obtain a mutually acceptable (if less than perfect) resolution.
Forty-six people signed up to speak during Public Comment.
The FOSP Board comment indicated that although the consultant’s summary didn’t cite exact percentages, 81% of the participants’ comment cards indicated that they wanted a “change” in the airport status. These numbers line up with the two community surveys that were conducted by CASMAT and OPA, which showed, respectively, that 82% and 84% of participants wanted either elimination or reduction in airport operations.
Even with this data, the Staff report failed to support recommendations that would really make significant improvements in the negative impacts of SMO. Noticeably absent in their report was the option of shortening the runway by eliminating the use of the western parcel of land, not covered by the 1948 Instrument of Transfer and, therefore, is not covered by the “perpetuity” clause. Also not included was the City’s ability to change the character of the businesses at the airport, as all current leases expire in 2015.
The FOSP Board urged the City Council to direct staff to explore measures that would truly mitigate the negative impact of SMO, including investigation of 1) best practices at other airports, 2) the City’s authority as land owner and proprietor to control airport property leases and to change the use of the western portion of the runway, 3) possible expansion of green space, including parkland and playing fields, and 4) adopting a “no net new trips” policy for all future airport options. FOSP Airport Committee Chair Cathy Larson wrote, “As 2015 approaches, we want our City to stand with the residents. The opportunity arises and the airport is ripe for a change.”
Council member McKeown proposed a 6th recommendation – that the staff define the city’s legal authority to close the airport if negotiations with the FAA fail to reduce the impacts of airport operations on residents. Council member Davis proposed a 7th recommendation – that the City work with other governmental agencies to examine the potential health impacts of airport operations at SMO. The Council adopted the seven recommendations and directed staff to proceed with Phase III of the Airport Visioning process.
Friends of Sunset Park encourages all residents to participate in the public input process so their voices are heard in determining the Santa Monica Airport’s future.
If you are interested in SM Airport Issues you can be added to our notification list by contacting
Cathy Larson, Friends of Sunset Park Airport Committee Co-Chair.
Please give your name, email, street address, and phone number.
Email updates go out every 4-6 weeks, snail mail several times a year depending on the issues.