File photo
File photo

The future of Santa Monica Airport (SMO) is becoming even more of a community issue now that an airport support group has decided to circulate a referendum petition for the November ballot.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), a national organization, is backing a mysterious group of residents who want to see SMO stay an active, fully-functional airport. Like with the recent petition against the Bergamot Transit Village, SMO proponents will need to collect a minimum of 6,100 valid voter signatures within a few months.

If it qualifies for the ballot and is approved by Santa Monica voters, any proposal to alter the runway or curtail any aviation-related facilities would require voter approval — assuming that the courts decide that City Hall is legally able to terminate or reduce aviation activity to begin with.

I don’t think the federal government will allow City Hall to close down or seriously alter SMO’s aviation functions. If they do and this referendum is on the books, citizens will approve levels of SMO aviation activity, not City Council.

This has got to be a blow to airport neighbors who have strongly advocated closing SMO primarily because of safety, noise and pollution issues.

City Council met on Tuesday, March 25 and voted unanimously (6 to 0) to study ways to downsize airport operations including shutting down the western end of the runway to curb jet flights in and out of the facility. The west end of the runway is under a different lease arrangement with the Federal Aviation Agency than other parts of SMO.

Once the courts sort out the legalities, SMO’s future would also depend on how long the FAA can control operations. The curtailment of business jet traffic would be a step in the right direction and help reduce the most vocal and numerous complaints against the historic airfield.

If the courts decide the federal government must abandon all claims, the entire 227 acres property would become a blank canvas., an organization of West Los Angeles and Santa Monica residents, wants to see the entire area become parks or green space. It’s never going to happen because I don’t see City Hall accepting the huge liability of operating a park that generates limited income aside from a few use fees and park-related service leases.

I laughed out load when Mayor Pam O’Connor proclaimed during the council meeting that the airport has no mass transit and will not be served by it for decades, therefore it’s a low-impact development zone. She stated that the land would not be sold off to developers for any kind of high-rise development and called those who are making those claims “alarmists.”

Red flag time. A couple questions came to mind. “Not being sold off … for any kind of high-rise development?” Maybe leased? And, what’s high-rise? Six floors? Ten floors? Twenty floors? What about density and uses?

As I’ve written before, this is probably the most desirable, undeveloped, large parcel in Southern California. If the feds relinquish control, major international financial and developer consortiums from Russia, Qatar and other nations could be drawn to SMO like bees to honey. It would only take a few million dollars — or peanuts — to get a sympathetic airport development council elected and “buy” City Hall.

If developed like Century City or London’s Canary Wharf, it could be worth many billions of dollars. That’s “B” for billions. If the city were to partner with these wealthy entities and lease the land, the income pouring into city coffers would be enormous. Politicians and city administrators know it. The only thing that could stop it is an earthquake fault under the runway.

So, promises of “no extensive redevelopment” are worthless especially 10 or 20 years from now.

The lack of public transit O’Connor frets about now could also change in time. A connector link to the Expo Light Rail Line would likely be part of a development agreement for a mega project.

Imagine the “public benefits.” How about tens of millions of dollars annually for schools? Hundreds or thousands of units of housing? Money for arts, recreation and seniors? Off course, there’ll be a park — maybe 20 or 30 acres, not 227 acres. Best of all, Santa Monicans would see tax cuts and big improvements in city services.

Unfortunately, more than likely, City Hall planners will advocate dividing the land into little, permeable pieces. Think Bergamot Transit Village (Paper Mate site), East Village (Village Trailer Park) or The Village in the Civic Center. This is how City Hall does development — chopped up, dense, ugly, unimaginative and traffic generating.

Visualize 227 acres of development, five-, six- and seven-floor, multi-income, stucco and glass apartment buildings with ground floor retail and the usual plazas, parklets, underground parking and bicycle amenities — a waste, but very “Santa Monica.”

Then there’s the histrionics coming from a couple of anti-airport types who are characterizing the referendum as a “pack of lies” and a “dirty trick.” Dirty trick? Even folks you don’t agree with have a right to use the initiative process, so stop whining.

Referring to the SMO referendum as “handcuffing us to corporate jets forever” and “benefiting a few people” are fraudulent and counter-productive. This level of rhetoric does nothing to help the cause of those who want harmful aviation activities terminated.

Let honest discourse — and the voters — decide the future of the airport.



Bill can be reached at

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