YOUR COLUMN HERE ‚Äî There is a popular factoid that humans only use a tiny percentage of their brains. I have always taken this contention with a grain of salt, or at least I did until I read last week’s opinion piece by our Airport Commission Vice-Chairman. In an audacious defiance of logic, he counters accusations of incompetence at the commission with the assertion that expert knowledge in aviation is not only superfluous, but also undesirable. This bizarre idea illustrates the corruption of purpose and calumny that has poisoned the very heart of our Airport Commission.
City commissions and boards, evidently with the single exception of the Airport Commission, are composed of citizens who understand their subject and take seriously their charge to be sober and responsible advisors to the City Council. Of all the city commissions and boards, the Airport Commission, arguably requiring the most technical expertise, is the odd-man-out having no one who knows anything about aviation. Why?
This embarrassing state of affairs is directly attributable to the City Council, which, since 1995, has purposefully packed the Airport Commission with people who have no knowledge of modern aviation. The commissioners have overcome this deficit by changing their job description from one requiring technical competence to one of political advocacy against the airport – an endeavor that requires a certain amount of denial but no special skill.
The City Council has also failed to maintain the appearance, if not the fact of propriety, by appointing commissioners who stand to gain monetarily from the decisions they make at the commission. As a result of this lapse, two commissioners are now under investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission for alleged conflict of interest because they own real estate in the Airport Influence Zone.
Several recent professional studies have indicated that our airport is one of the top revenue producers for the city – somewhere in the vicinity of a quarter billion dollars per year. To so mishandle a valuable asset like the municipal airport is a dereliction of duty likely to inflict serious, long term, financial damage to Santa Monica. So why, you may ask, would the City Council allow this?
There are at least two answers to this question. First, there has been a constant drumbeat from a handful of airport neighbors, petitioning the commission and the council for redress to what they contend are serious problems related to health, and safety, but which, in fact, are vastly over-stated, if not patently false. Second, there is much to be gained for developers in the city if the airport closes, notwithstanding the denials by the City Council.
Over the last thirty years aircraft have become quieter, cleaner, smaller, safer and fewer at Santa Monica Airport, yet a group of airport neighbors has become more and more vocal for closing the airport. Could that be because, that if the airport were to close, there could be a 20-30 percent increase in the real estate value of homes next to the airport?
They complain about noise, but at 65 dBl the airport is one of the quietest in America.
They complain about pollution, yet there is absolutely no credible evidence that anyone is being harmed by operations at our airport.
They complain about safety, but there is no safety problem at the airport, as the record plainly demonstrates.
Still, we could take steps to improve our airport if the airport Commission and the City Council would go along with the idea. There is plenty of Federal money available, but the City Council, always hopeful of closing the airport, refuses to take it and the obligations that come with it. And so we all do without.
The real ghost in this political machine is development and the incessant pressure it puts on city governments to build on every available square inch of land. Our airport not only sits on valuable land, but its very existence suppresses development of high-rise canyons like Westwood and Century City because safe, navigable airspace must be maintained around it. Scoff, if you will, at the idea that closing the airport would bring inbound LAX airline traffic down upon our heads, but this result is logical, economical, and inevitable.
Because we have come to realize over the decades that the City Council simply cannot resist the temptation to keep developing land in ever more inappropriate ways and making our town more and more unlivable, we have put an initiative on the November ballot that will put the single largest land use decision in Santa Monica history-closing the airport, in the hands of the voters where it rightfully belongs.
Alternatively, the city has proposed its own initiative whose centerpiece is the affirmation of the City Council’s authority to “manage the airport or close all or part of it.” A “yes” vote on the city initiative is, in fact, a vote to close the airport. Make no mistake about that.
The choice is clear; the future of Santa Monica Municipal Airport must reside in the electorate and not with the city Council.
Bill Worden, President, The Santa Monica Airport Association, Founder, The Air Care Alliance, and a co-founder of Angel Flight West.