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SMO – The group that wants to put future decisions about the Santa Monica Airport to a vote claims they have the signatures they need.

David Shaby, who is not a Santa Monica resident, sits on the board of Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development and says they have more than 12,000 signatures. They may turn them in to county officials by June 9, he said. To make the ballot, roughly 9,100 signatures from registered Santa Monica voters will have to be verified.

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), a national aviation advocacy group, gave $20,000 to the group, at least $10,000 of which went to paying signature gatherers.

Shaby takes issue with those who call it the “AOPA petition,” claiming that his group is a grassroots organization. Repeated calls to the filers of the petition have gone unreturned and Shaby acknowledges that the signature gatherers are paid.

The initiative asks that any major changes to the airport, and any major development decisions in the area, be put to a public vote.

Earlier this year City Council voted to study options for downsizing the airport.

Many residents, neighborhood groups, and the city’s largest political party, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, have vocally opposed the group’s ballot initiative.

The petition is also under legal fire; 11 residents filed a lawsuit against the filers and City Hall, claiming that the initiative is “deceptive.”

Some residents have claimed that the signature gatherers are uninformed, framing the petition as purely a measure to stop massive development in the area.

Mid-City Neighbors sent an e-mail to its members asking them to contact City Hall if they signed the petition in error.

Santa Monica City Clerk Sarah Gorman confirmed that more than 33 residents have asked that their names be removed from the list of signatures.

Earlier this year, residents gathered more than 13,000 signatures in opposition to the now-repealed Hines development agreement. In that case, Gorman said, there were no requests from residents to have their names removed from the list.

“We’ve got 12,000 signatures so we’re not all that worried about 33,” Shaby said.

Shaby said he couldn’t comment on the claim that some signature-gatherers are misinformed but did say that he met an “extremely bright” out-of-state attorney who was soliciting for signatures.

This woman told Shaby some people created human blocks to stop her from gathering signatures and that she’d had the pen ripped from her hand.

When asked why they plan to wait until June to turn the signatures in, Shaby said they want to make a statement.

“There’s this vocal group of antis,” he said, “but we want to show council and the antis that there’s a lot of support for this initiative.”

Council is considering adding its own measure to the ballot that would require a public vote for any significant development in the area of the airport. This measure, unlike the AOPA-backed measure, would keep the future airport changes in the hands of elected officials rather than requiring a public vote.

The airport has long been a center of controversy in the city by the sea, with local residents complaining about the noise and pollution created by the planes. Some fear for their safety with homes located about 300 feet from the runway.

Proponents of the airport point to a City Hall-financed study that shows that the airport generates $275 million annually for the local economy. In the event of a large emergency, they say, the airport would be key.

The Federal Aviation Administration and City Hall disagree on the expiration date of some agreements that dictate the future of the airport. That one key agreement expires in July of next year is not disputed.

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