Backers of a pro-Santa Monica Airport initiative that would allow voters to decide the future of the facility deliver petitions to City Hall on Tuesday. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@smdp.com)

Backers of a pro-Santa Monica Airport initiative that would allow voters to decide the future of the facility deliver petitions to City Hall on Tuesday. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@smdp.com)

CITY HALL — Proponents of the Santa Monica Airport handed city officials 15,700 signatures Tuesday afternoon, supporting their attempt to put its future in the hands of the voters.

In March, just days after City Council voted to study potentially downsizing the airport, three residents filed a ballot initiative that, if successful, would require a public vote for any major changes to SMO.

Los Angeles County officials and the City Clerk’s Office now have 30 business days to verify the signatures are valid and from registered Santa Monica voters. Sponsors need valid signatures from 15 percent of registered Santa Monica voters, roughly 9,100 signatures. If enough signatures are validated, the measure will be placed on the ballot later this year, where it will require a majority vote.

The ballot initiative is sponsored by a group called “Santa Monicans For Open And Honest Development Decisions” and financially backed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), a national aviation advocacy group based in Maryland. AOPA contributed $20,000 to the sponsors. Sponsors of the initiative have spent $45,000 on the campaign, with much of that going to paid signature gatherers.

Paid signature gatherers have been seen at the Farmers’ Markets, in front of grocery stores, near City Hall, and on the Third Street Promenade.

Last year, City Hall sued the Federal Aviation Administration attempting to determine who would control the future of SMO. A judge threw the case out stating, among other things, that until City Hall officially declares its intent to close the airport, the lawsuit was too early.

“This Charter Amendment is an insurance policy for the citizens of this city,” said Lauren McCollum, one of the filers of the petition, in a release. “If the legal status of the land changes, the city can make whatever land use decisions it wants. But, it must get voter approval rather than listening to a few political insiders. The city has wasted millions in fruitless litigation with the federal government at the behest of a few pressure groups. But the courts have made it clear that the law requires the city to continue operating this land as a low-density airport.”

Neighborhood groups, the local Democrats Club, and the city’s largest political party, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, oppose the petition, calling it “deceptive.”

Many of the organizations have asked residents to contact the City Clerk to have their signatures removed from the petition. At least 35 names have been removed.

Residocracy, the community group that earlier this year collected more than 13,000 signatures opposing City Council’s agreement with a developer, sent out an alert questioning the motives of the petition filers.

Opponents say, among other things, that the petition conflates the downsizing of the airport with development issues. One claim put forward in the filing is that if vacant, the airport land will be used for large development projects.

One group of residents is suing the filers of the petition and City Hall for allowing it to move forward.

The council has floated the idea of adding a measure to the November ballot that would, in some ways, contradict the group’s measure. They’ve yet to finalize anything but their measure, if approved by voters, could require a public vote on all significant development of the airport land while retaining council’s power to downsize or close the airport.

Neighbors of the airport have long complained about the noise and pollution caused by airplanes and jets taking off and landing. Others fear for their safety, as homes are located about 300 feet from the runway.

Proponents of the airport highlight its importance in the case of a citywide disaster. They also point to a City Hall-funded study, which shows that SMO generates $275 million annually for the local economy.

Several agreements dictate the future of the airport. City Hall and the Federal Aviation Administration disagree on when some of those agreements expire, however the fact that one key agreement expires in July of 2015 is not disputed.

 

dave@smdp.com

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