A group of Santa Monica residents has taken the first step toward launching a ballot initiative that would give city residents a say in the future use of Santa Monica Municipal Airport property, and AOPA has pledged to support the effort.
On March 27, the group filed paperwork needed to begin the initiative process. The group is proposing an amendment to the city charter that would require voter approval before the city can redevelop airport land. Surveys have consistently shown that the majority of Santa Monica residents want to keep the airport open.
In their filing with the Santa Monica city clerk, the initiative proponents note that the airport and associated business park are “low density, valuable community land uses that generate business, jobs and tax revenue for the city,” while closing the airport would likely lead to higher density development. They add that the city itself has said that it does not have the resources to develop and maintain such valuable property for low-density use, like a park.
“This political game by politicians and special interests who hope to profit from redeveloping 227 acres of Santa Monica has gone on too long. It is clear from their statements and their actions—that the politicians can’t be trusted to maintain a low density land use and therefore it is left to the people to express their vote before the City of Santa Monica takes any action to redevelop Airport land,” proponents of the charter amendment wrote.
The proposed amendment would require voter approval before the city can make airport land available for nonaviation uses or can close or partially close the airport. It also requires the city to continue to operate the airport “in a manner that supports its aviation purposes” and stipulates that the city cannot impose new restrictions that would “inhibit the sale of fuel or the full use of aviation facilities.”
AOPA has committed to offering nationwide support to the effort to protect the historic airport, which plays a significant role not only in the local economy but also in the regional and national transportation system. Santa Monica Municipal acts as a vital general aviation reliever airport for nearby Los Angeles International and other airports in the congested L.A. Basin. Ongoing battles over the airport land also have implications for more than 200 other airports nationwide that benefit from similar post-WWII property agreements with the federal government.
The initiative filing came two days after a contentious city council meeting at which the council approved a number of actions with the potential to strangle and ultimately shutter the airport, including positioning the city for closure of all or part of the airport after July 1, 2015; seeking city control of 37 acres of airport property that includes a 2,000-foot section of runway; developing a contingency plan for low-density redevelopment of the airport; and mitigating the airport’s impact on the community.
“We’re pleased to see the citizens of Santa Monica moving to put these issues in the hands of the voters,” said AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn, who spoke in support of the airport Tuesday’s city council meeting and challenged city officials to let voters decide the airport’s future. “Support for the airport is strong, but some city leaders seem intent on doing everything they can to close the field and redevelop the property, regardless of what it costs taxpayers, business owners, working families, and the community as a whole.”
Santa Monica Municipal Airport delivers some $250 million in annual economic impact, hosts 175 businesses, and is responsible for 1,500 jobs in the city.
The city of Santa Monica recently lost a court case designed to lead to closure of the airport. U.S. District Judge John F. Walter on Feb. 13 granted a motion from the Department of Justice and FAA to dismiss the lawsuit to release the city of Santa Monica from its obligation to operate Santa Monica Municipal Airport as an airport. AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association joined forces to file an amicus brief in that case.
AOPA has been heavily engaged in efforts to preserve the historic airport, meeting regularly with airport supporters, the FAA, city officials, and others to make sure the field stays open.
Santa Monica City Council Continues To Vote To Restrict KSMO Operations
NBAA Opposes Latest Attempt By City Officials To Restrict Santa Monica Airport Activity
A contentious debate over a historic airport’s future was renewed this week, as the Santa Monica, CA City Council voted 6 to 0 on March 25 to pursue further restrictions at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) – a move opposed by the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) – following a city-led report on options intended to severely curtail the airport’s use.
Prepared by the city’s attorney and public works director, the report offered several options to restrict operations at SMO after a 30-year land-use agreement with the federal government expires on July 1, 2015.
Questioning the legality of several of the report’s assertions, and their basis in fact, NBAA Western Region Representative Stacy Howard said in testimony delivered at the meeting: “In whatever process that is established by the council to evaluate the options for the airport’s future, it is critical that the city rely upon hard facts, and not political spin.” As an initial matter, Howard disputed the city’s position that the airport could be closed in 2015, because other federal obligations will remain in effect. Her remarks were taken from a letter NBAA submitted to Santa Monica City Mayor Pam O’Connor shortly before the meeting.
Among the report’s recommendations is closure of the so-called “Western Parcel” of SMO’s 227-acre expanse, which the city maintains is not subject to the Instrument of Transfer between Santa Monica and the federal government in 1948. That Instrument of Transfer provides that the FAA can repossess SMO if the city ceases to operate it as an airport. Although the report couches the closure as a compromise in recognition of “growing awareness of the airport’s history,” seizure of the parcel would also significantly shorten SMO’s runway by close to half its current 4,970-foot length, essentially preventing operations by turbine business jets.
A federal judge recently halted a city effort to shutter the airport, declining last month to consider Santa Monica’s assertion that the city never relinquished ownership to the airport when it leased the property to the United States government ahead of World War II, and thus that the Instrument of Transfer’s reversion condition was ineffective. Nevertheless, city leaders vowed to press on in their attempts to close all or part of the historic airfield, asserting the community wants the field closed due to environmental, noise and safety considerations.
“We urge you and the council – as responsible representatives of the city’s residents – not to take any steps that would be in conflict with federal grant requirements, undercut SMO’s vital role in the national airspace system, or impose unnecessary burdens on the citizens of Santa Monica,” Howard concluded.
The city has repeatedly attempted over the past 50 years to restrict operations at SMO, with each prior case determined in favor of the federal government’s position. According to the Santa Monica Airport Association, SMO generates close to $300 million in annual revenue for the city and surrounding region.
Following the March 25 meeting by the Santa Monica City Council, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen said the Association would continue to oppose this and other moves that could in any way restrict access to SMO for business aviation.
“It is clear that, despite a significant, recent legal setback, the council has voted to renew its efforts to restrict services at an important general aviation airport,” Bolen said. “For decades, NBAA and others in the general aviation community have fought to preserve access to this airport, in the face of ongoing opposition by the city council. This is a battle we must and will continue to fight.”
FMI: NBAA Letter