File photo

File photo

You can never have too many citizen groups, so another organization has popped up. This one is promoting turning Santa Monica Airport (SMO) into a 227-acre green park.

Airport2park.org believes the public wants SMO to become a free public park with hiking, walking and biking trails, playgrounds for kids, athletic fields, artwork, gardens and activities for seniors. The group would convert the current buildings on Airport Avenue into arts and cultural facilities.

It’s a wonderful idea but it ain’t going to happen in a million years. We’ll see unicorns fly before some of the best and most desirable real estate in Southern California is turned into a public park that generates zero revenue or income and would likely become a financial drain as well as a major liability for the city of Santa Monica.

At issue here is Santa Monica Airport, itself. In 2015, agreements between City Hall and the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) are due to expire. It is unclear whether the FAA will abandon the airport and turn control of the facility back to the city of Santa Monica, extend the agreements and maintain the status quo or allow any operational changes.

I don’t see SMO closing. It’s been a site of aviation activity for nearly 100 years. The FAA needs to be able to direct small aircraft away from LAX to other regional airfields. SMO is an important business center and a key asset for emergency medical transport operations, national security, disaster preparedness and disaster response

While neighbors immediately adjacent to the airport complain, and righteously so, about noise, fumes, and exhaust pollution from planes, especially jets, most Sunset Park folks I talk to tell me that the airport isn’t a big concern for them.

Nevertheless, many close airport neighbors want to see it shut down for good and have started a dialog about possible future uses for the property. Being that a high percentage of the airport-haters are from Mar Vista and West Los Angeles, they’d love to see a 227-acre park on their doorstep.

When new soccer fields and a dog park opened on Airport Avenue a few years ago, residents complained that people from L.A. were monopolizing these facilities and crowding out Santa Monicans — even though Santa Monica paid for it.

Does City Hall need to spend tens of millions of dollars to build an airport park to serve Angelenos? I say, “Absolutely not.”

“What if” the FAA pulls out, thus opening the door for a phase out of most, if not all, airport operations? The current SMO property value would be determined by “development rights” or what can be built there.

Recreational space or a golf course would have “less than zero value” but a large commercial center with big box retailers, mixed-use office complexes, and high-end apartments and condos could make the land worth hundreds of millions of dollars — depending on the size and scale of the projects.

City Hall could promote lots of “affordable” housing on the site, too. An “Airport Transit Village Center,” as it were, would generate huge revenues for City Hall’s housing initiative, schools, social programs and the arts.

The availability of this prime acreage will attract multi-national mega-developers and real estate consortiums. The mega-investment money will try to buy influence to support their projects and the money-hungry City Hall bureaucracy will fall right in step.

Zoning variances and development agreements will facilitate development at the airport.  Whatever happens there will be no different than City Hall’s embrace of the flawed Bergamot plan and other unpopular large developments that have come before them. Remember, they can’t say “no.”

Of course, there would be a few acres of neighborhood-friendly green space to make the area more desirable. Turning the whole kit and caboodle into a park? Can you say, “pipe dream?”

 

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

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