Santa Monica Airport

CITY HALL — No one had anything nice to say about a potential City Council-backed ballot measure that would hand council’s power to the voters on some issues of the Santa Monica Airport.

Still many agreed, including every council member, that the measure would be better than the aviation community-backed ballot measure it’s meant to compete with.

The Los Angeles County Registrar is currently in the process of scrutinizing 15,700 signatures collected in support of a ballot measure that would significantly restrict council’s ability to make decisions about the airport. Proponents of the measure, which is financially backed by the national aviation advocacy group Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), need verified signatures from 15 percent of registered Santa Monica voters in order to place it on a ballot later this year.

If approved by voters, future changes to airport – for instance a move to sell healthier unleaded aviation fuels – would require a public vote. Any attempt to close some or all of the airport, as council suggested doing earlier this year, would also require a public vote.

Numerous neighborhood groups and the city’s largest political party opposed the measure, calling it deceptive. Opponents of the measure say it unfairly claims that high-density development is inevitable in the area. They also say that paid signature-gatherers gave false information to passers-by to convince them to sign.

In response, council suggested sponsoring a competing measure that would allow them to retain some control of the land while leaving future development up to the voters.

On Tuesday, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie presented council with some possibilities for the competing measure and asked for direction.

“We are not so concerned, though, about the part of the aviation community’s measure that would give the voters the right to decide whether the airport should close and the land be dedicated to another use,” she said.

City Hall is more concerned with maintaining council’s ability to make changes to the types of tenants that rent on airport land or regulating the type of aviation fuel sold onsite, she said.

Moutrie’s suggested measure would require a public vote for full or partial closure of the airport but would maintain council’s ability to control the airport while it remains open.

Some members of the public – including plaintiffs and the attorney who are suing the filers of the pro-airport measure and City Hall for allowing the measure to move forward – are calling Moutrie’s suggested measure “AOPA 2,” referring to its similarities to the initial measure.

They say, among many other things, that council’s measure should require a public vote for future high-density development of the land but should leave council with the ability to close the airport.

“We could certainly draft up such a measure for you,” Moutrie explained to council, “but the problem is, if the matter did not address the same subject matter as that of the aviation community’s measure they wouldn’t be competing and both could pass. You could end up in the situation where the voters have adopted the aviation community’s measure, which you’re familiar with, and your measure, which might have to do with future land-uses of that land. They both pass and you’re still left without power to manage the airport land.”

Councilmember Kevin McKeown suggested that perhaps city attorneys could draft a measure that would require a public vote on a full closure but retain council’s ability to close parts of SMO. Councilmember Ted Winterer asked if city attorneys could draft a measure that is more specific about giving the public the power to decide on future development of the airport land.

Moutrie said that these things could be possible.

Given that information, McKeown asked city attorneys “to seek a sweet spot between something that would definitely be a competing measure and something that would untie (council’s) hands on closure and be more specific about limiting future development on the site.”

Several council members asked that city attorneys bring back several options to choose from. The motion passed unanimously and city officials will likely come back with specific language for council’s consideration at the next meeting on July 8.

“We’re not particularly happy with what we suggested to you either,” Moutrie explained to council, “it’s just that we need a competing measure because it’s fairly standard municipal experience that if you ask the voters if they want to vote on something they’re going to say ‘yes.'”

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