WEST L.A. — U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-30th District) told local officials and neighborhood activists at a meeting this week he will insist that the FAA conduct an environmental impact study if it plans to make changes to flight rules at Santa Monica Airport, calling it “the right thing to do.”
Waxman on Wednesday met with Santa Monica leaders at his Beverly Hills office to discuss the FAA’s recent flight path test at SMO and listened to residents’ concerns the experimental route caused increased noise from flyovers and posed a safety risk.
Councilman Kevin McKeown, who attended the meeting, said he was pleased with the congressman’s response.
“Santa Monica is happy to have Henry Waxman on our side on this crucial issue, which has worrisome safety implications for thousands of residents,” he said. “An environmental study will put all the facts on the table.”
Some residents say the possible environmental study is especially important because Santa Monica’s current agreement with the federal government to operate the airport expires in 2015, when a new deal will have to be struck.
The FAA in July completed a six-month test of a new takeoff route out of SMO for small piston-powered aircraft that residents said resulted in a drastic increase in airplane traffic over their homes.
Though the FAA so far hasn’t said whether it will push to make the route permanent, residents have organized to block that possibility.
Foremost among their goals is to convince the FAA to conduct an environmental review of any possible changes to flight rules at SMO, rather than making a “Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI),” which would allow the agency to implement changes without undertaking a public review process.
Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA, has said the agency will comply with federal environmental regulations if it seeks to make the test route permanent. But residents in Sunset Park and Ocean Park who created the group Neighbors For A Safe And Healthy Community remain skeptical of the FAA’s plans and are intent on lobbying federal officials to exert influence over the agency.
Gaining Waxman’s pledge of support, leading airport critics said, was a significant step.
“I think he’s going to help us,” said Lisa Hughes, a co-founder of the group. “He seems to concur that a full environmental impact and review instead of a FONSI was the way to go.”
The flight path test, which required pilots of small piston-powered planes to take a 250 degree heading out of SMO when flying under instrument flight rules, resulted in thousands of noise complaints from residents before it ended in June. The FAA said the experimental route reduced flight delays at SMO and LAX and cut down on pollution from idling planes.
The FAA also said fewer than 10 flights per day were re-directed because of the test route, a figure residents have disputed.
The group that met with Waxman on Wednesday included City Attorney Marsha Moutrie; Rod Merl from airport operations; Councilmember Kevin McKeown; Tom Paccioretti, Lisa Hughes, and Michele Perrone, leaders of Neighbors For A Safe And Healthy Community; Zina Josephs of Friends of Sunset Park; Valerie Griffin of the Wilshire-Montanta Neighborhood Coalition; Patricia Hoffman of Santa Monicans For Renters’ Rights; and Ted Winterer of the Ocean Park Association.