If you‚Äôre hoping to have a seat in the Council Chambers Tuesday night, you‚Äôre going to want to arrive early.
The last time City Council addressed the plans for the future of Santa Monica Airport, a year ago, more than 100 members of the public signed up to testify and the chamber reached full capacity, forcing dozens of onlookers to retreat to the lobby, where the meeting was televised.
On Tuesday, council will consider what to do when the clock strikes midnight on a 1984 agreement that ties City Hall’s hands on certain issues related to the airport. The agreement expires on July 1 and numerous community groups are rallying their troops.
Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP), run by airport opponent Marty Rubin, is calling for a rally outside of City Hall at 6 p.m.
“Express what you expect City Council to do after the clear mandate by Santa Monica voters!” CRAAP said in a release.
This is a reference to a skirmish over airport control that arose when aviation groups hired paid signature gatherers to get a measure on the ballot last year that would have made it harder for City Council to shut the airport down. The measure failed by a landslide despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on its campaign.
Sunset Park Anti-Airport sent out mailers to registered voters asking council to, among other thing, eliminate all types of fuel sales at the airport.
They also want a section of the airport, which City Hall will gain more control of, to be closed to aviation uses, with the exception of the runway, which they say could be closed at the end of next year.
Mid City Neighbors asked its members to attend the meeting and voice their opinions. The Friends of Sunset Park Board sent a letter to council, asking them to minimize the risk of litigation while working to expand the current park adjacent to the airport.
Meanwhile, leaseholders at the Santa Monica Airport are concerned about the unintended consequences of whatever council decides.
Currently, all tenants are on month-to-month leases and it could stay that way until some of the biggest leases are renegotiated, which could take a year or more. Month-to-month leases make it hard for tenants to get loans and invest in their properties. They also make it hard for the tenants to plan.
City attorneys are also recommending that council raise rents of all tenants at the airport to market rate. Many aviation tenants pay less than market rate for their space. Some airport opponents say that raising rent could push them out and make the airport less attractive to pilots.
This tact, along with a belief that City Hall could one day ‚Äî perhaps on July 1 ‚Äî shorten a section of the runway and ban aircraft with poor emission controls, is called, by some, the starvation strategy. If you make the airport less attractive to pilots, the reasoning goes, then it will slowly fade out of use and be easier to close completely.
But city attorneys note in their report to council that ousting aircraft with poor emissions and shortening the runway would likely result in litigation. They recommend against implementing those changes on July 1.
Patrons of the restaurant Typhoon e-mailed the council (and the Daily Press) in large numbers, insinuating that month-to-month leases and raised rates could drive the company out of business at the airport.
“Employees need to have job security, insurance companies need to provide long term coverage, supplies need to be lined up to continue providing their goods,” wrote resident Roberta Reid. “I think the public needs to know that denying Typhoon a long term lease will drive them out of business.¬† Not only will this be a tremendous loss to the community but one has to wonder what will happen to the space after they depart.”
Owners of the restaurant did not respond directly to requests for comment from the Daily Press but did ask their patrons to write letters in support of the two-decade-old establishment.
Some of the letter-writers said that if the airport is going to stay open for the next couple years anyway, as the city attorney‚Äôs report concedes, then council might as well support the thriving culture that surrounds the airport.
Michael Myers, managing director of the Ruskin Group Theatre at the airport, wants council to be sure to ask the right questions.
“The desire to starve the airport could have bad unintended consequences for the things that people already love,” he told the Daily Press. “We have to be very deliberate not to throw the baby out with the bath water because I think if we lose a lot of what‚Äôs been built up ‚Äî the City Council designated the south side for arts uses and soccer fields and put in the restaurants, jazz night on Monday night ‚Äî I think there‚Äôs no reason to go so fast because there‚Äôs so much pending litigation yet to be resolved.”