SUNSET PARK — A new group of old anti-airport activists held its first meeting Saturday to layout parameters for the coalition and strategies for getting Santa Monica Airport out of the picture by 2015.
NoSMO, as it’s called, is a coalition of representatives of groups in Santa Monica and Los Angeles that dislike Santa Monica Airport and are working to see its operations severely restricted or shut down entirely.
The members, galvanized by long-time airport activist Martin Rubin of West L.A., came together to discuss areas of common ground with which they could show a unified front to state, federal and local lawmakers about their opposition to the airport.
“Getting the groups together has been a challenge,” Rubin said Monday.
While united in their distaste for the airport, residents of the various communities have problems with different aspects of the airport’s operations, which has been the root of discord.
For instance, those downwind of SMO complain about the smell of jet fumes that pervade their neighborhoods, while others object to the sound of propeller planes buzzing overhead and the lead-based fuel that they use.
Residents from different geographic areas snipe at each other in public meetings, each claiming to suffer more than the others from the effects of SMO.
Rubin hopes that the new group will be able to come to some sort of consensus over what issues are the most important and everyone can agree on.
Some things will be kept off the table.
The short-lived 250 degree heading that sent planes departing from SMO over Santa Monica residents instead of West L.A. pitted the two groups against one another in an acrimonious debate that to this day has residents of Los Angeles saying that they get all of the noise and pollution of the airport while Santa Monica gets all the money.
“The name implies that people are interested in closing the airport,” Rubin said. “We’re coming from that perspective and assembling the information to back up why the community feels that the airport should be closed on all fronts.”
That, at least, has already begun.
On Saturday, 38 people heard arguments from two attorneys detailing policy and environmental strategies that could severely restrict what could happen at SMO.
The first came from Santa Monican Jonathan Stein, who argued that come July 2015, when City Hall believes it will gain more control over the operations of the airport, officials could shut down two of the three parcels that are part of the airport campus.
The move would remove all tie-down areas where small plane owners keep their vehicles and truncate the runway to the point that very few planes could actually land.
The third parcel, which is the only piece designated as “general aviation” property, must be operated as an airport “in perpetuity.” Such a restriction wouldn’t do much good if only helicopters and special planes could take off, Stein said.
Hailed by activists, and even the Airport Commission, as an exciting new idea, Stein’s argument rejected any notion that the federal government would coerce City Hall into selling the property to maintain it as an airport.
However, Stein’s position has been tried before.
“It’s not a new argument,” wrote City Attorney Marsha Moutrie in an e-mail.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which governs the airport, contends that if City Hall is required to operate any piece of the airport campus forever, it must do so for all three parcels, Moutrie wrote.
The second tactic, put forward by Mitchell Tsai, an attorney working for Rubin’s group Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, focused on ways to regulate SMO’s emissions, which could also choke traffic at the site.
Tsai reasoned that under the Federal Clean Air Act, the state of California has the authority to regulate pollution coming from SMO.
Through a chain of hearings that begins with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the state could impose an emissions cap on the airport, which would in effect restrict the number of planes that could take off or land.
NoSMO will meet again to hammer out the details of its position and route forward, but the first meeting was encouraging, Rubin said.
“It served its purpose for the most part of letting people know that there’s a real possibility to deal with the coming of 2015,” he said.