DOWNTOWN The ongoing quality-of-life issues around Santa Monica Airport took center stage on Monday night when candidates for the City Council race sounded off on jet pollution and the possibility of shutting down the general aviation center in several years.
Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP), a coalition of Santa Monica and West L.A. neighbors who abut the airport, hosted its third candidates forum at the Ken Edwards Center, questioning 10 of the 13 council hopefuls in attendance on some of the most critical issues facing their constituents, including pollution and runway safety.
The candidates forum was held as City Hall and the Federal Aviation Administration are embroiled in a legal battle over a ban on the fastest and largest jets from Santa Monica Airport. The City Council earlier this year passed an ordinance that banned categories C and D aircraft, which was subsequently challenged by the FAA.
Runway safety has long been an issue at the airport where there are homes situated less than 300 feet of both runway ends. The FAA has presented several safety options, all of which have been turned away by the council.
The fight between the two agencies has sparked discussions in recent months about whether City Hall should close the airport after its agreement with the FAA expires in 2015. The federal agency contends the expiration date of the contract is not 2015, but rather 2023.
Regardless of when the agreement ends, the council candidates all seemed open to exploring the possibility of closing the airport someday, some more adamant in their position than others.
Jon Mann, a flight attendant, said he is in favor of closing the airport and turning it into a park.
“I don’t think sufficient consideration has been given to the idea of closing the airport,” Mann said.
The topic came up during a question about whether the candidates would support holding a town hall forum on the future of the airport, leading the majority to say that one would be necessary to discuss whether SMO should remain in operation.
Mayor Herb Katz pointed out that there needs to be not one meeting, but several, adding that the discussion would include residents from not only Santa Monica, but Los Angeles since the issue is a regional one.
“If we have to close in 2015, then so be it,” he said.
While the pollution problem is a regional one, three of the council candidates did say they would not support having a Los Angeles resident serve on the Santa Monica Airport Commission, responding to a question about adding an Angeleno to the advisory board.
Councilmember Ken Genser, who has served since 1988, said the city charter does not allow a non-resident to join the commission.
Genser added he would support a change once a Santa Monica resident is allowed to serve on the Los Angeles Planning Commission, pointing out the effect that transportation and development issues have on the neighboring cities.
The inclusion of a Los Angeles resident was embraced by the newcomers in attendance, including Susan Hartley, the former vice chairman of the Airport Commission. Hartley, who lives in Sunset Park, added she would like to see both Los Angeles city and county officials join in on the legal battle against the FAA.
The east end of the airport is technically in the city of Los Angeles.
Among the biggest concerns for residents to the east of the airport is jet pollution.
The issue led Assemblymember Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) to introduce legislation last year that would require the formation of a technical advisory committee that would analyze studies on air quality impacts from the airport. The bill died in the state Senate Appropriations Committee a few months after it was introduced.
“Although Santa Monica is not in my district, the pollution blows right into my constituents,” Lieu said during a brief appearance at the forum.
Residents have been calling on City Hall to conduct its own air quality study.
“Immediately funding a study makes sense,” Michael Kovac, a candidate who lives in Sunset Park, said, adding he can see black particles on his car in the morning.
Ted Winterer, a recreation and parks commissioner, said that as a father of two children, he’s sensitive to the issues related to pollution. He also voiced his support for a fee that would make the biggest polluters pay, using the revenue to fund a complete study on air quality impacts. Several of the candidates said that while they support a study, they would like to find out the costs of conducting an assessment before committing, adding that it would be smart to wait until related reports by larger agencies are concluded.
One way to reduce pollution would be to disengage LAX flight patterns from SMO so that jets won’t have to idle on the runway waiting for planes to take off from Los Angeles, Linda M. Piera-Ávila said.
Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom, who lives in Sunset Park, stressed that the fight over the airport isn’t just one battle.
“Our opponents — those who are fighting on the other side of the issue we care about — are well funded,” Bloom said. “We don’t shy away from battle when the battle is the right one to engage in.”