SMO — Everything involving Santa Monica Airport is getting challenged these days.

A group of residents plan on filing a lawsuit contesting the legality of a recently submitted ballot initiative petition that will attempt to put the future of the controversial airport to a vote.

Earlier this month, Santa Monica city officials posted the ballot initiative allowing the airport supporters to begin collecting signatures. They’ll need John Hancock’s from 15 percent of registered voters living in Santa Monica in order to put the fate of the airport into the hands of the electorate rather than City Council. As of 2012, there were 60,909 register voters in the city.

The filing by three Santa Monica residents came just days after council voted to study options that would chip away at the airport. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association quickly announced its support for the petition.

But advocates of closing the airport say the petition is based on “reckless and lawless allegations.”

“Only a thorough, thoughtful and careful reading divulges that it seeks to preserve fuel sales, existing below-market aviation leases, and the supernormal profits of leasing (City Hall’s) land at 30-year-old rates to subtenants who pay today’s fair market rates,” said Jonathan Stein, an attorney who plans to represent the plaintiffs. “The (petition) will be challenged in the court action and its petitioners named as the real parties in interest.”

Calls to Flora Yin, who was listed as the contact person on the ballot initiative documents filed with City Hall, were not returned by press time.

Neighbors have long complained about the pollution and noise caused by aircraft taking off and landing at the airport. They also fear for their safety as the runway is located about 300 feet from homes.

Advocates point to the need for an airport in the case of a major disaster and also the $275 million it generates annually for the local economy.

Three residents signed the petition documents — Yin, along with Lauren McCollum and Nikos Kokotakis — but have not yet made any kind of public announcement as to their plans for signature gathering. They will have about six months to gather the necessary signatures for the November ballot.

In their filing, one claim put forward is that, if vacant, the airport land will be used for large development projects.

“This political game by politicians and special interests who hope to profit from redeveloping 227 acres of Santa Monica has gone on too long,” they said. “It is clear from their statements and their actions that the politicians can’t be trusted to maintain a low-density land use and therefore it is left to the people to express their vote before the city of Santa Monica takes any action to redevelop airport land.”

Stein pointed out that numerous council members have denied this claim several times. The lawsuit, he said, will seek to stop signatures from being gathered.

Stein called the technicalities surrounding his coming lawsuit “mind-numbing” and noted with reluctance that though he believes city officials have the public’s best interest in mind when it comes to the airport, for legal reasons, some city staff members will have to be named in the suit.

“We believe the (petition) seeks the signatures only by demonizing the City Council (and Santa Monica residents whom it represents) as vicious special interests, curried lapdogs, voracious consumers, and seekers after supernormal profits,” he said. “We refuse to see our community riven in twain by this broadsword of deceit.”

 

dave@smdp.com

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