Planes taxi on the runway at Santa Monica Airport. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

Planes taxi on the runway at Santa Monica Airport. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

Santa Monica Airport is still making big news.

Those opposed to the airport smell blood in the water and are circling like sharks. The anti-airport groups are based in Santa Monica’s Sunset Park and in West Los Angeles near the airport and include Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP), Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic (CASMAT) and Sunset Park Anti-Airport, Inc. (SPAA).

Airport activism, both pro and con, had risen to a fevered pitch. With the City Council reviewing the status of future airport operations and exploring remedies to make it a better neighbor at last Tuesday’s council meeting, both supporters and opposing forces were invigorated and ready for a fight.

SMO neighbors complain, and justifiability so, about aircraft noise, air safety and pollution. They’re especially hopeful that City Hall comes to an agreement with the feds for operational changes that would mitigate adverse aviation activity impacts on airport neighbors. So am I.

Recent incidents involving three aircraft out of SMO have ratcheted up anti-airport fervor.  Last Monday afternoon, a mid-air collision between two single engine Cessna airplanes occurred near Malibu. One plane carrying two people crashed above Malibu leaving two dead. The second plane had three people aboard who suffered minor injuries when it plopped down on the West Lake Village Golf Course.

Another Santa Monica-based Cessna hard-landed at Van Nuys Airport Saturday, April 27 when its landing gear malfunctioned.  The pilot/owner of the plane, my hero, Dr. Bernard Harris, wasn’t injured. Dr. Harris has flown hundreds, possibly thousands, of Angel’s Flight and other medical emergency missions in and out of SMO on his own dime over the decades and has saved countless lives.

It’s pathetic that CASMAT and other SMO-haters felt compelled to exploit the tragic air collision for their own political purposes before the victims of last week’s mid-air collision were even cold.

Following their line of thought, maybe all airports should be closed because planes do crash. While we’re at it, shut down all streets and freeways because some auto accidents result in fatalities. Closing airports because of an infinitesimal chance of a plane crash is a pointless argument and harms rational discourse. But, it does illustrate how emotional the subject of airports in urban areas has become.

Many of SMO’s neighbors are looking forward to July of 2015 when the “1984 Agreement” between City Hall and the federal government outlining federal grant conditions involving airport operation, leases and other legal issues expires. However, the agreement’s expiration may not end aviation activity.

When the City Council adopted an ordinance restricting operation of larger and faster business jet aircraft at SMO in March 2008, the Federal Aviation Agency quickly issued an “Order to Show Cause” mandating that City Hall explain how its ordinance didn’t violate existing federal grant assurances.  The FAA followed up with a “Cease and desist” order to prevent enforcement of the ordinance and issued a restraining order. Ultimately, City Hall lost its case in the courts.

A May 27, 2008, FAA director’s determination restated the fed’s position with City Hall on three key points, leaving the issue even more up in the air. It said the airport is obligated until 2023 because of federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants, the Surplus Property Act obligates the airport in perpetuity and the FAA could (through the Department of Transportation) withhold all of Santa Monica’s federal transportation funding if obligations aren’t met.

The feds have invested nearly $10 million in grants at SMO. The FAA and airport supporters, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), consider the airport to be surplus federal property which may require its operation as an airport, indefinitely

Expect arguments and legal wrangling to rage on well after 2015. Even staff admits that completely closing SMO, “would entail a long and costly legal battle of uncertain outcome.”

 

Business interests calling the shots, again?

 

The leadership of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) reports that City Hall staff and its consultants have excluded residents as “stakeholders” in the planning process for the Downtown Specific Plan.

They say the plan has been shaped by development-friendly consultants, Downtown property owners and business interests and developers working hand-in-glove with City Hall staff. Surprised?  Sounds like the framing of the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) element a couple years ago.

Although most of the planning has already been done, residents can still weigh in on projected heights, densities and traffic circulation at a town hall meeting at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium at 6 p.m., Monday.

A proposed 84 foot general height limit (eight floors) for Downtown — which has traditionally seen two- and three-floor developments — is particularly controversial.  “Opportunity sites,” where developers would set their own standards for height and density open the door for “anything goes.” There are other issues and City Hall politicians and staff would be wise to listen to the people carefully.

I’d personally like for SMCLC and other groups favoring a slower growth model to turn their talk into an activism that results in pro-development council persons being ousted from the dais.

I’m worried that those who want a lower-key Downtown and friendlier SMO, lack the political clout to terminate politicians they oppose and elect candidates who favor their cause. Voting the rascals out, my friends, is the only way to control Santa Monica’s future.

If they can’t flex enough political muscle and deliver a knock-out punch, it’s like a stage play full of “Sturm und Drang” that sounds good but accomplishes nothing.

 

 

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.