Greg Asciutto’s news brief article on Sept. 30, “Sierra Club endorses park at SMO,” indicates a real departure from the club’s traditional stance. Evidently protecting and preserving wild spaces for future generations is no longer a sufficient mission for John Muir’s venerable organization. Now, by jumping on the band wagon and advocating the replacement of Santa Monica Airport with a “great” park, they become mere opportunists who would destroy one community asset they evidently don’t understand with another type with which they are more familiar. Shame on them! They have apparently been wandering in the wilderness too long.
At the very least, it is naive to believe this land will be anything other than a massive development project should it cease to be an airport. One need only look at the current crop of development projects in the city to appreciate the certain fate of 400 acres of the last remaining prime real estate in Los Angeles County or recall the aborted attempt at a business park in the mid 1980s by Henry Lambert and Reliance Development out of New York City.
In the current cri de coeur over SMO, safety is cited ad nauseam as a justification for closing the airport. Acre for acre, SMO is safer than other places in the city when you factor in all causes of injury and death, although the incidents, when they do occur, tend to garner more than their fair share of attention. People are hit by cars, fall off their bikes, and are injured in their homes every day. They are also subject to rampant random crimes which are pretty much nonexistent at the airport. A park will not improve safety overall. A “great” park comes with an assortment of great problems. Just ask Los Angeles about Griffith Park or New York about Central Park. Parks have their own share of injuries, deaths, crime and pollution, and unlike an airport they do not carry their weight economically. They do not make money — they cost money — a lot of money, too. Would those who are currently agitating for closure be willing to see a per capita charge levied on park use sufficient to offset the economic loss incurred by shuttering the airport? I doubt that the city or its citizens could or would afford to do that.
This airport is not some piece of under-utilized or obsolete wasteland waiting for a chance to be re-purposed. It is, rather, a fully developed asset that fulfills a vital role in the national transportation system, our economy, and the health and safety of the surrounding communities. It is an exemplar in noise mitigation for the entire country and with its public benefit, flying organizations like the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps, which stands ready to fill a critical need during natural disasters, and Angel Flight West, which transports people who would otherwise fall through gaps in the health care net, the airport meets vital needs that otherwise would go un-addressed.
The proponents of this airport-to-park non-sense are proposing to replace the bread-and-butter benefits of civil aviation with pie in the sky and nothing more. We should give them their just desserts.