Airport opponents and supporters got their first look at proposals for shortening the runway at Santa Monica Airport this week and the options fall along well-worn lines with the two proposals seeking to balance public health with safe airport operations.
The City and FAA agreed to terms in February of this year that included reducing the runway from about 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet. The deal includes an agreement that the airport will remain open through 2028 and it dismissed much of the pending litigation between the FAA and Santa Monica.
Council hired AECOM/Aeroplex for the job and set a budget of $4 – 6 million.
The April 25 meeting at the airport brought out about 100 people to hear two options for the project.
The options differ in which end of the runway is cut. The first is set further east, leaving 19.2 acres of land on the west end and 5 acres on the east. The second is equidistant from each end of the existing runway and leaves 14.3 acres on the western side and 8.5 on the eastern.
Both options have the same cost, timeline and projected impact on air quality. They differ in noise, control tower visibility, safety operations and the features available in the Runway Protection Zone.
Shortening the runway is projected to reduce air traffic at SMO by 40 percent and that projection is not dependent on where the runway is cut.
The crowd was split between members of the aviation community and residents of Santa Monica. Those who spoke were split as well, divided between those advocating for the public health side of the argument and those arguing for safety and/or efficient airport operation.
Dave Hopkins, Santa Monica resident, pilot, and Vice President of the Santa Monica Airport Association, raised concerns about the experience and expertise of those in charge of the project.
“As a pilot, I’m worried your cutting down on safety, I’m worried the same people designing our roads are now taking charge on designing our airways too,” he said.
Something, he added, that would be fine if the streets of Santa Monica didn’t have such a bad track record. He said the nine deaths occurring at the airport in the past twenty years was far outnumbered by the quantity of pedestrians injured or killed on local roads.
Longtime resident of the airport’s surrounding suburbs, Virginia Ernst, said the health of the neighborhood had deteriorated, an opinion echoed by many residents.
“Unless you live there you have no idea how bad it is,” she said. “I’ve lived there 55 years and I’ve watched this airport turn into toxic soup.”
Some airport supporters voiced opposition to the entire project but officials reiterated the runway will be cut down and there are no discussions for alternate proposals.
“This is the universe we’re living in, that’s what we’re delivering to you,” said Rick Valte, an engineer with the City.
A show of hands at the conclusion of the event had support for Option B (equidistant reduction) about twice as popular as Option A.
All feedback from the first meeting will be included in future deliberations and there are several additional opportunities to weigh in on the debate.
A similar presentation will be given to the Airport Commission on May 2 and again to City Council on May 24. Following the public meetings, AECOM will finalize the design, determine the final cost and set a construction timeline that will aim to finish the work by the end of this year.
The Airport Commission meeting be held at City Hall, 1685 Main Street, on May 2 at 7 p.m.