A relatively short survey focusing on the future of Santa Monica Airport (SMO) is drawing some serious attention, and for good reason.
Airport Commissioner David Goddard, a real estate executive who was appointed by the City Council earlier this year, is encouraging residents to fill out the survey. While there’s nothing wrong with inspiring civic participation, the problem with Goddard’s prodding is that the survey is the product of SMO adversary Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic (CASMAT), and not the Airport Commission, a body created to advise the City Council and provide input on procedures and policies.
Those who fail to read the fine print may not realize that. After all, the survey is entitled “Santa Monica Airport Commission Visioning Workshop Survey,” which on its face seems as if it is part of City Hall’s current visioning process for the future of SMO, a critical effort in that the airport is the city’s most significant asset — 227 acres of prime real estate with views of Century City and the Hollywood Hills.
Making matters worse, Goddard is also an active member of Friends of Sunset Park, arguably the city’s most organized and influential neighborhood group, which just happens to be vigorously lobbying elected officials to shut SMO down or at least extremely curtail operations there. His publicizing of the survey, and his connection to Friends, has the potential to confuse residents as to whom is responsible for the survey, and therefore further blur the lines between the Airport Commission and those who are fighting for SMO’s closure.
City Manager Rod Gould said as much in a letter to Airport Commissioner E. Richard Brown in which he states: “But the larger issue of the survey is that it begs the question as to whether CASMAT is a covert arm of the Airport Commission or the Airport Commission is a vehicle of CASMAT. Either way the commission loses legitimacy.”
Sorry, Gould, but the commission lost its legitimacy a long time ago as the City Council continued to select commissioners from Sunset Park and not candidates who fly planes, own businesses at the airport or those who live in Santa Monica’s other neighborhoods. By stacking the deck with Sunset Park residents (there are no pilots on the commission), the council has discouraged others from coming forward. This has done damage to the level of discourse at commission meetings. Commission meetings often have lopsided representation, with the majority of participants speaking against the airport. Pilots have complained that they see little point in speaking before the commission.
It wasn’t always like that. There was a time when the Airport Commission was comprised of representatives from the aviation community, merchants operating around the airport and residents in both Sunset Park and elsewhere. It was truly representative of the community. Right now the commission is not. It represents one view — those who feel SMO is a danger to the public because it lacks proper runway safety areas and contributes to air pollution.
This is not an editorial in defense of the airport. The Daily Press believes safety is an issue that needs to be addressed now, and is not opposed to banning certain types of jet aircraft that need more runway room to land than SMO can offer if runway safety areas are installed. Safety needs to be the top priority.
This is about having true representation on the commission to give the City Council the best advice and guidance possible as it moves forward with the visioning process. If City Hall’s agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration ends in 2015 as city officials argue (FAA folks say dream on), our elected officials will need as much information as possible to make a decision that is best for the city. If all they have to rely on is a commission that refuses to look at all the options and is accountable more to a select few in Friends of Sunset Park instead of the community as a whole, they won’t be as prepared as they could be and we will all suffer for it.
That means council members must look to fill the commission with people who come from all walks of life. To do that, those people have to step up and be willing to make the commitment. That means more pilots, more merchants and more residents from outside Sunset Park. The council must make more of an effort to find candidates who truly represent every slice of the community. That doesn’t mean commissioners can’t have an opinion. It just means that they must be open to hearing all opinions, even those they don’t agree with.
It’s troubling that the same people who would be up in arms if the Planning Commission was stacked with land owners and developers are saying nothing about the obvious stacking of the deck that is damaging the Airport Commission’s credibility. But then again, no one seems to complain when things are going their way.
The future of the airport is contentious. Don’t make it more so by fueling discord through lopsided appointments. Balance is needed.