SMO – City Council wasn’t ready to pull the trigger on recommendations that would have extended aviation leases at the Santa Monica Airport and raised all leases to market rate.
Instead, council voted unanimously at their Aug. 12 meeting to send the recommendations back to the Airport Commission for review.
A key agreement between City Hall and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will expire in July of 2015 allowing Santa Monica more control of the leasing contracts on the 227-acre plot of land. In anticipation of the agreement’s expiration, City Hall has set all leases to end by the middle of next year. Some of the leaseholders, like flight schools and mechanics, work in the aviation field. Others, like theaters and art studios, don’t.
Residents near the airport have long complained about the pollution and noise caused by the aircraft. Others fear for their safety with the runway located just a few hundred feet from homes.
Advocates of SMO say it would be essential in the case of a widespread disaster and point to the economic stimulus it provides to the region.
Under the recommendations from city officials, all leases could be extended for three years, with additional one-year extensions at the discretion of City Hall. Rents would be raised to market rate.
City officials would ask aviation tenants to use quieter vehicles and fly only during certain times of day. They would give preference to those who say they will comply.
During the public portion of the meeting, several sub-tenants of the Santa Monica Art Studios asked that their studio’s lease be extended, and that they be given longer terms.
It should be noted that the owners of these particular art studios were given leases on publicly owned land at well-below market rate under the condition that they provide average monthly sub-leases at $1.50 per square foot to ensure that artists of all economic backgrounds could afford a place to work.
Owners of the studios have repeatedly refused to provide the Daily Press proof that this occurred and they were never audited by City Hall until the Daily Press wrote about the situation last year. City officials said an audit, which was supposed to be completed in May, should have preliminary results soon.
Anti-airport advocates also spoke during the public portion of the meeting, largely in opposition to the recommendations.
John Fairweather pointed out that there is no longer any great rush to determine what should be done with the leases and that, given the importance of matter, it should be given further examination.
Jonathan Stein, an attorney, claimed that City Hall has the right not to extend aviation leases if they return the zoning of the land back to its previous iteration, which only allowed for light manufacturing.
A faction of SMO opponents have pushed for a starvation strategy – slowly making the airport less convenient or near-impossible to use as City Hall regains control over parts of the land. They could, opponents claim, stop selling fuel or allowing aircraft to be stored at the airport, making it less attractive to pilots.
City officials responded that these actions could lead to litigation from the FAA or pilot groups. Further, they said, City Hall relies on the revenues generated by the leaseholders.
Before the meeting, Airport Commission Chair David Goddard sent a letter to council asking that the commission be given a chance to weigh in. In his letter he pushed for, among other things, the re-zoning of the land for light manufacture.
Council fairly quickly agreed that the matter should be sent before the commission and voted unanimously to do so.
dave@smdp.com

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