CITY HALL — With widespread resident concern over a possible flight path change at Santa Monica Airport and the looming expiration in 2015 of the agreement with the federal government to operate SMO, Santa Monica officials are taking steps to prepare for a potential showdown with the FAA.
The City Council tonight is set to hire a former FAA official-turned Washington, D.C. lawyer to lobby the feds on the flight path issue. And City Manager Rod Gould has reached a deal to commission the RAND Corp. to study the airport and the surrounding area to come up with options for a “range of possible futures that could be considered for the airport,” according to a report on the proposal.
Gould has proposed hiring another firm, Point C, to facilitate a public process that would give residents a voice in plans for possible changes at SMO.
The council is set to approve all of the moves at its meeting tonight.
The steps come after residents this year filed thousands of noise complaints with SMO in connection to a six-month flight path test that re-directed some small, piston-powered planes to take a so-called 250 degree heading after takeoff, over the neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Ocean Park instead of over the Penmar Golf Course on their way to the ocean.
The move to hire a lobbyist on the issue was prompted by concern the FAA could seek to make the test route permanent, though the agency has made no formal announcement.
The proposed lobbyist contract is with the firm Crowell & Morning for an amount no more than $220,000, depending on the firm’s success. Under the proposed arrangement, Kirk Shaffer, a specialist in aviation work who was formerly an FAA associate administrator for airports, would act as the city’s agent. In his FAA job, Shaffer butted heads with city officials over an ordinance banning larger jet aircraft from SMO (that law remains tied up in court and hasn’t been implemented).
“Mr. Shaffer proposes to assist the city through a combination of legal analysis and interactions with the FAA intended to persuade the agency that the proposed 250 degree heading for piston-powered IFR departures should be reassessed and revised,” according to a City Hall report.
The firm would earn at minimum $150,000 for six months of work, and the full $220,000 if Shaffer is able to convince the FAA to adopt the flight path for planes leaving SMO recommended by City Hall’s consultants.
The proposed RAND study would cost $145,000, and the Point C deal has a $81,500 price tag. The total possible cost of these contracts would be $446,500.
City Councilman Kevin McKeown, who has advocated taking a tough stance against the FAA, applauded the moves.
Though Shaffer has been an adversary in the past, McKeown said it makes sense to bring him on board now.
“Given the urgency of the 250 degree heading as a safety issue for our Sunset Park and Ocean Park neighborhoods, we’re willing to try almost anything to protect our residents — and I guess this proves it,” he said.
The public process aimed at envisioning a post-2015 future for the airport, he said, is an important part of achieving a desirable outcome for residents.
“If we are to empower ourselves to determine the airport’s future, we first must learn together what is possible and what we truly want, unifying with one voice as a community so we can negotiate successfully with the Federal Aviation Administration,” he said.