CITY HALL — City officials remained silent as the Airport Commission hosted a series of presentations Monday night examining how flights at Santa Monica Airport could be reduced or altogether ended and what could be done with the land afterward.
Each presentation was prefaced with the same disclaimer: “The views contained in this presentation are those of the presenter and not of the city of Santa Monica or the Santa Monica Airport Commission.”
The evening was a sign of continued tension between residents of Santa Monica and surrounding communities impacted by operations at SMO, and City Hall, which is in the process of studying what the future of the airport will look like if and when it can win back some measure of control of the property from the federal government.
Those residents and the commissioners — all of whom live in close proximity to SMO — felt that the will of the public to explore all options regarding the airport, particularly reducing or ceasing operations there, had been ignored.
In response, they created a new, parallel process completed primarily by those living near SMO.
The exception: A team of land use students from Cal Poly and their advisor who created a menu of options of what could be done with the land should City Hall succeed in closing down most or all operations at SMO.
Rather than weigh in on the information presented Monday, City Hall stayed out of it.
“Staff will not be attending the workshop and cannot vouch for the veracity of any of the opinions and conclusions generated from the commission’s workshop,” City Manager Rod Gould wrote in an e-mail Friday.
The meeting launched with the results of two surveys conducted by the Ocean Park Association and Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic (CASMAT) meant to gauge the community feeling regarding SMO.
Results of the CASMAT survey, which included a wider breadth of people including some pilots, pointed to a desire to close the airport and replace it with a “green” use, like a park, said John Fairweather, who compiled the report.
“SMO continuing essentially ‘as is’ is not acceptable to the community,” Fairweather wrote in the report.
The survey also reflected a fear on the community’s part that the closure of the airport could result in something almost as bad — heavy development and the traffic snarls that come with it.
Two students from Cal Poly — David Koo and Matthew Ottoson — explored possible alternatives to that fate, including a functioning but diminished airport with more green space and a shorter runway, an urban park and an eco-village where people could live and work.
The last two options required full closure and a great deal of investment, the students said.
Possibly the most popular presentations of the night came from attorneys Phillip Tate and Jonathan Stein, both of whom live near the airport.
The audience cheered and laughed as the presenters gave them what they wanted — legal opinions that the airport could be closed or severely restricted.
Tate, the more restrained of the two, focused on proprietary rights, the idea that City Hall could impose harsh regulations to limit operations at the airport if it did not discriminate against any particular kind of use.
That could mean imposing environmental restrictions regulating the amount of carbon produced at the site, or prohibit planes from idling by neighborhoods.
Toward the end of the evening, Vice Chair David Goddard suggested a few, including a requirement that planes get a permit for every time they take off and land, increase the cost of landing fees and a requirement that every plane user get insurance to protect City Hall against health-related lawsuits.
Jonathan Stein, who spoke on City Hall’s land use rights, was less moderate.
“How many people think Santa Monica Airport represents a failure of democracy?” he asked the crowd.
Stein suggested that while options may be limited now, City Hall will have the authority to shut down a city-owned parcel of land that comprises most of the runway come 2015, severely restricting the ability of planes to use SMO.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the administration chose not to respond to Stein’s comments on Tuesday since it had no representative present and did not know exactly what had been said.
“The FAA reaffirms its position that the city of Santa Monica must maintain the airport, as a public use airport, in perpetuity unless otherwise released by the FAA from the obligations of the surplus property agreements,” Gregor wrote in an e-mail.
The commission elected Goddard to represent their views to the City Council on May 8, when the council will hear the results of over 40 community meetings regarding the public’s feelings about the airport.
The council will also tell staff on May 8 which options for the future of the airport they should study in the third phase of the three-phase process.