In his May 8th column “Magic of Flight for who?”, Peter Donald concocts a fantasy of flight involving pilots, passengers and small planes. The only part of his description of flight that isn’t fantasy is his acknowledgement that “aviators master their skill with such focus and discipline”. He calls the work the pilots do “precise adjustments and mysterious interactions”. Perhaps his sense of wonder comes from his near total lack of experience with flying and with airport operations. Like the other members of the Airport Commission, Mr. Donald is not a pilot, does not have any experience with operating an airport business of any kind and was placed on the commission by city council members intent on filling the Airport Commission with nearby residents who have expressed a desire to close the airport.

Santa Monica’s other commissions try to fairly carry out their individual mandates. The Architecture Commission has experienced architects who review and discuss projects and attempt to best represent the interests of all Santa Monicans. The same is true for the Disabilities Commission, the Housing Commission and the many other commissions where citizen volunteers give freely of their time and talents to serve their city. Only on the Airport Commission is this not true. The commissioners represent only a narrow slice of airport hating neighbors and not the vast majority of Santa Monica citizens. They spend their time crafting ways to make the airport less profitable by demanding that the council raise landing fees, stop fuel sales and discourage leases with airport businesses that bring rent and tax money to the city and employ hundreds of workers. Then, they complain that the airport is not profitable.

Mr. Donald references “local blogger” Frank Gruber (failing to note that Gruber is a leader in the Airport to Park movement) as if Gruber was an authority on airport matters. According to Donald, Gruber cavalierly dismisses Angel Flight and the UCLA and USC transplant program’s need to use Santa Monica Airport for their medical missions of mercy. All three organizations have explicitly stated that their programs would be severely impacted by the loss of the airport. Donald, knowing nothing, backs up his opinions with those of another man with a hidden agenda, who also knows little or nothing about the subject. I’ll take the medical experts opinions over the agenda driven opinions of Donald and Gruber any day.

Donald also trumpets the “age of the police drone” soon to replace the helicopter as a means of spying on the populace. Oh joy, Frank, won’t that be a wonderfully intrusive replacement. Thanks for promoting the end of privacy and the loss of civil rights as an equitable trade-off for closing the airport.

In the event of a major earthquake, tsunami or other disaster, it won’t be spots for police helicopters to land that we need, it will be a long and well-maintained runway for medium sized transport planes ‚Äì like the DC-3s that were once made here.

Since the end of WWII, the FAA has included Santa Monica Airport as an integral part of the national airspace system. It is a valuable reliever airport for Southern California. The city paid for and vetted the study that showed the value of the airport and its businesses to the local economy. They accepted it without objection and its conclusions still stand. The only lack of credibility is in Peter Donald’s rejection of it.

The Airport Commission so hated the city funded studies that showed how valuable the airport is to the local economy, that they ran their own “visioning process” attended mainly by local anti-airporters and backed by a thoroughly unscientific poll by CASMAT that asked only anti-airport questions and was sent only to CASMAT members and friends. Much like asking a cat to give an opinion about dogs, as anyone could guess, the conclusions were that the airport was bad. It’s noteworthy that the city refused to take any part in this charade and openly rejected the “findings”.

Our airport, with its tower and its jet and prop operations projects an FAA mandated protective veil over the Santa Monica area. Currently, over 300 jets a day going to LAX are forced to fly at a minimum of 5000 feet above our airport. In order to descend for landing, the planes fly a long downwind leg that takes them out toward the valley and then turn and come back to land. If the airport is closed, that traffic will be able to shorten the landing pattern considerably and will pass over our airport at heights as low as 2500 feet. The noise heard now from local takeoffs and landings will pale in comparison to what those jets will generate. Several airlines have already petitioned the FAA for route changes and lower altitudes over Santa Monica in anticipation of our airport closing.

The jets and prop planes that now land at Santa Monica Airport will not disappear. They will still fly over us as they head toward LAX, Hawthorne and other airports. In fact, without the airport, our airspace will be controlled by LAX and will be more congested and much noisier. Just think, no airport, no curfew. Flights to LAX and other airports will cross Santa Monica at 2500 feet all through the day and night. Planes and helicopters not on the landing path to LAX will be able to fly over the city as low as 1000 feet above ground level. If you want to experience the future, spend some time down by USC as the planes roar in for landing at LAX. You’ll have a new appreciation for how quiet Santa Monica Airport really is.

The startled and vehement reaction of Councilmembers O’Conner and McKeown to the topic of airport development would seem to give the lie to their denials. The city staff has already noted that the property is too big to turn into a park and would need potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in pollution remediation to turn a long time manufacturing site into a safe playground. The city staff has already stated unequivocally that there would never be funds to make and maintain a park. Parks are money losers. Big parks are big money losers. Why would Santa Monica make a regional park that would be available for free for all Los Angeles residents? Why would Santa Monica voters ok the huge bond issues necessary to make and forever maintain a park used more by residents of Los Angeles than by themselves?

Even if the airport property were never developed, the surrounding area in Santa Monica and Los Angeles is ripe for redevelopment. The only thing holding developers back is the flight path to the runway and the reduced building height requirements mandated by the FAA to provide clearance for approaches and takeoffs. No runway, no height limits. No

height limits, gridlock everywhere! Look at the airport area on a 3-D Google Earth map and you’ll see the height trough created by the nearly 5 mile long airport approach paths. Judging from the rate of commercial development in Santa Monica, it wouldn’t take long for developers to inundate the surrounding area with taller buildings and Santa Monica could do nothing to stop it. If you hate traffic, pollution and noise now, you’ll really hate it after the airport closes.

I’m certain that Peter Donald and the other Airport Commission members believe in their hearts that they are acting in the best interests of the voters of Santa Monica and the residents of the surrounding area. Unfortunately, they don’t have the background to competently make decisions about the future of the airport. They depend on outside anti- airport factions for their information and accept unquestionably the pseudo-science, warped facts and half-baked conclusions they are fed. The result is bad advice to the council and an embarrassment for all Santa Monicans.

It is time that the city council act to replace the majority of the Airport Commission with Santa Monicans who have expertise in airport operations. There is no lack of highly qualified applicants. To mirror their goals for all other aspects of the city, Santa Monica’s goals for the airport should be to make it the greenest airport in the nation, if not the world. Instead, driven by the desires of a few nearby residents and the hopes of a lot of developers, they are on a path to increased noise, air pollution, and density and 24 hour gridlock.

Joe Bates


Join the Conversation


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *