A plane approaches Santa Monica Airport. (File photo)
A plane approaches Santa Monica Airport. (File photo)

CITYWIDE — Within hours of a fatal jet crash at Santa Monica Airport Sunday night, the heated debate over the future of the airport reignited, but some question the political talk in the wake of what has been called a tragedy.

Bill Dunn, the vice president of advocacy at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said that the issue has turned inappropriately political.

Morley Builders CEO Mark Benjamin, known for his philanthropic contributions to the city by the sea; his son Luke, and two women who have yet to be identified died in the crash.

“I don’t appreciate the president of the Airport Commission, David Goddard, dancing on the graves of people who’ve died in a recent tragedy when the issue here is safety,” he said.

Goddard, who, along with many other residents, has called for the reduction of flights or the closure of SMO when a federal agreement ends in 2015, responded, noting that he was sensitive to the loss of life.

“I said this was a tragedy, that we lost a great man who was important to our city,” Goddard said. “For someone to say that I’m dancing on graves, I’m disappointed that the airline association has taken that position.”

On Wednesday, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Santa Monica, wrote a letter to the National Transportation Safety Board asking them to continue with their investigation despite the government shutdown.

“I also request that you expand the scope of the investigation beyond the immediate cause of this tragic crash,” Waxman wrote in the letter. “There has been extensive community concern about the safety of the airport layout, the safety of the existing runway length for propeller planes and different classes of jet aircraft, the impact of the lack of runway safety areas, and the mitigating effects of an engineered material arresting system if one had existed. The issue of the overall safety of the Santa Monica Airport should also be examined by the NTSB.”

Sean Rossall, of Cerrell Associates, a campaign consulting group that typically works with candidates from the Democratic Party, said that debating political issues after a tragedy can help people find meaning in the event.

“I think that the reality is that it’s always difficult,” he said. “However, a tragedy situation can often bring to the forefront of people’s minds legitimate issues and actually spark a legitimate conversation that’s important to have, especially as it pertains to safety. And it’s important that it’s done in a way that doesn’t detract from the memories of those who passed away or the significance of the event.”

Judi Barker, CEO of Barker Hangar at the airport, and a friend of Benjamin was still mourning the loss when the airport debate began.

“He loved aviation, and he loved the airport, and I don’t know how to put this, it is so very, very aggravating that everyone, if there’s an accident here, everyone jumps on it,” Barker said. “They don’t say ‘we’re sorry for your loss.’ They put a bad turn on it, when the person who had the unfortunate accident would have done anything not to put a bad turn on it. Mark would have been so sad.”

Rossall pointed to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting as an example of the mixing of politics and tragedy.

“I would say that every instance is different,” he said. “We saw that even after the tragedy that happened in Sandy Hook, which was an absolute tragedy, there was politicization that came out of that that has sparked a debate in this country. No, there’s not necessarily a timeline. I think it’s important that the memory of those that lost their lives be honored appropriately, while still allowing the conversation to go on.”



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