CITY HALL – An aviation community-backed measure and a City Council-backed measure will go head-to-head on the ballot in November.
On Tuesday, council agreed to place the pro-Santa Monica Airport measure on the agenda and finalized language for its own measure, designed to compete with the former.
Council’s measure would require the public to approve development limits placed on the land where the airport sits before new projects can be built there.
The other measure, which is financially backed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), a national aviation advocacy group, would require a public vote for many changes to the SMO land, including the full or partial closure of the airport, restricting council’s control of its future.
Paid gatherers collected 15,594 signatures on behalf of the pro-SMO ballot measure. The Los Angeles County Registrar found that enough of the signatures were valid and on Tuesday night, council voted to place the measure on the General Election ballot.
City officials noted that it would perhaps be possible to place the pro-SMO measure on a later ballot, potentially stalling it until 2016. Several residents spoke in favor of this option but city officials recommended against it, noting that it could be perceived as oppositional to participatory democracy and that the facts in the case that serves as the only precedent for a delayed vote different from the case at hand.
Council reluctantly agreed.
Council, city attorneys, and anti-airport activists have been working for weeks to craft the proper language in the competing measure. It needs to check several boxes, preserving some of council’s control while appealing to voters and legally competing with the AOPA-backed measure.
After weeks of debate, council made quick work of the competing measuring, finessing the language suggested by city attorneys.
They removed a requirement for the creation of a Specific Plan for the airport land, noting that it makes the measure harder to pitch to voters.
They instead decided to freeze development of airport land until voters agree to limits for the land.
City Attorney Marsha Moutrie noted that it’s likely that a Specific Plan will end up being the vehicle for those limits because another significant land-use document, approved through a public process, envisions it that way.
The AOPA-backed measure uses language focused on development, stoking fear that the high-density development could occur in the area.
Several neighborhood group, the city’s largest political party, and anti-development individuals have come out against the AOPA-backed initiative, claiming that it deceptively ties the closure of the airport inevitable high-density development.
For this reason, council’s measure focuses primarily on future development.
The airport is likely years away from potential closure. One key agreement between City Hall and the Federal Aviation Agency expires next year, potentially allowing council to close a significant portion of the airport.
Neighbors have long opposed the airport, complaining about the noise and pollution created by the planes. They fear for their safety, given that the runway is several hundred feet from homes.
Pro-airport activists point to the revenue it generates for the city and claim it would indispensable in the case of a large-scale disaster.