VENICE — A message board advocating against the Santa Monica Airport has blossomed in neighboring Venice, creating a public forum out of what was once just a plain cinderblock wall.
“Is Santa Monica a Parasite to Venice?” a sign asks, prompting response on one of two pieces of butcher block paper affixed to a nearby wall at the corner of Linden and Milwood avenues.
That open expanse of paper has attracted a wide range of commentary, some advocating peace and love, some passive aggressive forms of protest against Santa Monica proper and others questioning the legitimacy of the complaints.
Many have evolved from SMO-specific complaints like noise and pollution to a general populist anger against Santa Monica, the wealthy neighbor that some believe has taken advantage of its southern counterpart.
The owner and creator, Nelson Schwartz, put up the messages in March in an attempt to channel his anger against the airport and the planes that drone on overhead.
The painted message, which goes on to explore other complaints about Santa Monica, started out with more anger and what Schwartz described as a “mean-spirited” tone before those close to him convinced him to rework his wording.
“I got tired of being angry and hearing the constant noise,” Schwartz said. “By putting it up, I’m not quite as angry.”
It’s a feeling that Judi Russell and Lies Kraal know well.
The two women live across the street from Schwartz, and noticed the anger first thing when the display went up. It was “surreal and weird” and socially conscious, which Russell called a “unique combination.”
“We like what Mr. Schwartz is doing,” Russell said. “It’s a neighborhood effort and it’s like folk art.”
Although not all of the contributors agree with Schwartz, he welcomes the discourse that’s appeared there as an honest contribution of views.
“People should express themselves, especially people with opposing viewpoints and we learn from people’s expression of thoughts,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz’s efforts come as ever more complaints poured into the SMO management office.
Complaints skyrocketed from 557 in April to 997 in May, a number later revised slightly upward to 1,016. Many of those were about fumes from the aircraft idling on the runways and flying overhead, said Stelios Makrides, acting manager for the airport.
Martin Rubin, the director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, or CRAAP, noted the increase at the June 22 Airport Commission meeting.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the number of concerns increased, although it may have something to do with people going outside more during the nice weather and increased familiarity with the complaint system, he said Wednesday.
Even with formal methods of complaint available, Schwartz’s creation is important, Rubin said.
“The concerns of Venice residents have received very little attention over the past several decades, and it’s understandable that the neighbors would find this form of expression,” he said.
Momentum around the airport seems to be growing as 2015 draws near. That’s the year that City Hall believes it will get some measure of control from the Federal Aviation Administration over the airport.
Santa Monicans who live nearby and their West L.A. and Venice neighbors have advocated for severe reductions in the number of flights or outright closure, although city officials have specifically examined a middle way through a publicly-funded visioning process that excluded study of closure or the status quo.
Elected officials outside of the city, including Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin and his predecessor Bill Rosenthal, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Santa Monica) and state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Santa Monica) all appeared at a forum about the future of SMO, and several have advocated outright closure.
That kind of backing is helpful for keeping the issue in the spotlight and a comfort for those against the airport, Schwartz said.
“I used to be under the mistaken belief that there’s nothing any of us can do about it, that the (Federal Aviation Administration) is going to protect anything in the air, and we don’t have any advocates,” Schwartz said.
It’s a sign of the times, and mounting efforts by community members and outside forces pressing for change, said David Goddard, chair of the Airport Commission.
“The community is moving forward on all fronts to bring pressure on the City Council to close or reduce operations at the airport,” Goddard said. “I don’t think it’s something that’s happening now, I think it’s something that’s been brewing.
“I think you’re seeing the culmination of all of those pieces.”