Six acres of airport land have reopened to the public following the removal of aircraft parking from the site.
City Hall has approved plans for a 12-acre redevelopment at the airport and one six-acre lot is now open to the public while the larger plans work through the regulatory system. The large asphalt square might not resemble a traditional green-space but park advocates say the space has a variety of community uses.
“These are six much-needed acres of new open space,” said Neil Carrey, President of the Santa Monica Airport2Park Foundation. “They demonstrate how quickly we can repurpose land that was previously restricted for aviation use only.”
Carrey’s organization said uses for the site could include walking, jogging, bike riding, wind surfing, hopscotch, kickball, family gatherings, civic festivals, bicycle rodeos, skateboarding, roller skating, and a whole host of classes like public safety training.
City staff cleaned debris from the site, removed weeds, patched wide gaps in existing concrete to prevent tripping, removed reflectors and plane tie-downs and added an access gate. Sidewalks and new trash cans are also planned for the site.
“We made it safe and usable but it’s up to People’s imaginations as to what they use it for,” said Danny Welch, an architect with the City’s Public Works Department.
Some activities, such as flying kites or drones are prohibited because there are still aircraft in the vicinity.
The parcel, located adjacent to the existing Airport Park, is one of the least controversial items in the City’s ongoing airport saga. Airport advocates and critics both agree that restrictions on 12 acres of land (split between two six-acre parcels) used to park aircraft expired in 2015 with the ending of a 1984 settlement between the City and the FAA.
Council approved conceptual plans for a park expansion covering the total 12-acres in 2016. The plan calls for increasing the number of fields, more community garden plots and providing non-sport uses near the existing Airport park.
Three designs were presented for public review last year and council ultimately created a fourth option that combined the most popular elements of the three previous drafts.
The approved design has three synthetic turf sports fields, relocates Donald Douglas loop to create an undisturbed park, adds 60 new community gardens in a more central location and adds significant natural landscaping.
Plans for the new park are currently in the design phase by Rios Clementi Hale Studios and construction could begin as early as 2018 but space is open for public use in the meantime.
The second phase of work at the airport is related to shortening the runway. City Hall secured the right to remove 1,500 feet of runway in the same agreement with the FAA that allows the airport to close in 2028.
The City hired an engineering company to provide designs for a shorter runway and approved a plan in May that will remove more than 700 feet from each end.
The shorter runway will facilitate park conversion but staff have also said it will effectively shut down business jet charters at SMO. The smaller runway will still accommodate most personal and corporate jets but the shorter runway should reduce jet operations by 44 percent, from around 16,300 flights per year to 9,000 with an annual increase in traffic between five to ten percent.
In a recent email, Senior Advisor to the City Manager on Airport Affairs Nelson Hernandez said the construction contract for demolish is planned for the Aug. 8 council meeting.
“The runway shortening project remains on schedule,” he said. “The tentative date for project completion is December. On August 8, staff will recommend award of a construction contract. Assuming the contract is awarded, construction will occur from September through early December.”