SMO — The Airport Commission is in the early stages of crafting an ordinance that, if approved by City Council, could limit emissions from aircraft using the Santa Monica Airport.
The ordinance could, for instance, ban planes from the airport that release a certain amount of hydrocarbons in exhaust over the course of an hour.
The Airport Commission voted unanimously earlier this week to have city attorneys review the legality of the draft of an ordinance proposed by local attorney Andrew Henderson. Meanwhile, commissioners Suzanne Paulson and Peter Donald will continue to research the different types of pollutants released by various types of engines.
In 1998, Henderson sued City Hall on behalf of clients near the airport who claimed their property values were decreasing. Henderson said that many years ago he presented City Hall with the idea that is now written into his draft ordinance.
The commission is an appointed body and any ordinance they craft would have to be reviewed and approved by council. In March, following a recommendation from the Airport Commission, council voted to study the feasibility of several actions that could chip away at the airport, including a reduction of the size of the runway and restrictions on the sale of aviation fuel.
Neighbors of the airport have long complained about the pollution and noise caused by aircraft. Others fear for their safety, as homes are located about 300 feet from the runway.
Proponents of the airport say it would be essential in the case of a natural disaster and point to the estimated $275 million that it brings in for the local economy ever year.
Several agreements between City Hall and the Federal Aviation Administration dictate the future of the airport. The two parties dispute the end point of one of the major agreements (which the Federal Aviation Administration says lasts through 2023) but they concur that another key agreement expires in July of 2015.
The recent flurry of council action, including a lawsuit against that FAA filed last year and thrown out by a judge earlier this year, is largely in preparation for the expiration of this 1984 agreement.
It is possible, Henderson said, that it will be harder for City Hall to limit emissions once the ‘84 agreement expires next year. If they are going to act, he said, it would likely make more sense to act now.
Paulson has located a database of aircraft engines that identifies the amount of pollutants each one releases. This, she said, could potentially be used by City Hall to determine planes and jets that would be banned from SMO.
“It’s unrealistic to be going around doing emission checks on aircraft, especially if the important part is during take-off as opposed to idling,” she said. “You’d have to chase planes or some crazy thing and it probably seems unrealistic, for example, for (City Hall) to be expected to have an emissions testing program. But there is this database, as far as I can tell, for all larger engines.”
In Henderson’s proposal, City Hall would ratchet up its emission requirements every year over the next several years, at first banning aircraft that emit more than 20 pounds of hydrocarbon per hour while idling. That number would drop to five pounds per hour by 2017.
Christian Fry, a Santa Monica resident and pilot, said that pilots also want a greener airport but that they perceive these regulations as tied to the life of the airport.
“The technology is advancing and certainly, as a pilot, if you divided the fight for the airport from the goal of being the greatest airport we can possibly be — and that’s being the greenest airport in the world — I don’t think you’d have any conflict from pilots at all,” he said.
Martin Rubin, founder of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP) said that the discussion of emissions “tickles his soul.”
He thinks highly of Henderson’s proposal and said that the commissioners have largely taken the correct approach thus far.
“I’ve been talking about pollution for years,” he said, “so it’s nice to hear it being discussed.”