Santa Monica Airport (Daniel Archuleta)

CITY HALL — City Council will consider putting forward a ballot measure that would be less restrictive of council’s power to control the airport than one previously proposed by city attorneys and one put forth by the aviation community.

The measure put forth by the aviation community would require public vote on many changes to the Santa Monica Airport — changes that can currently be made by a vote of the council. Paid signature gatherers, financially backed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), a national aviation group, pulled in 15,700 signatures that are currently being scrutinized by the Los Angeles County Registrar.

If signatures from 15 percent of the registered Santa Monica voters are verified, the AOPA-backed measure will appear on the ballot later this year.

Many neighborhood groups and the city’s largest political party have come out against the measure claiming, among other things, that it unfairly frames high-density development as inevitable for the airport land.

City attorneys say the measure would limit council’s ability to make, for instance, changes to the current leaseholders.

Last week, city attorneys drafted a measure designed to compete with the AOPA-backed measure.

That draft would have done little to protect the land from future development and still would have put the ability to close some or part of the airport into the hands of the voters.

City attorneys explained that in order for council’s measure to nullify the AOPA-backed measure it would have to use competing language (and ultimately receive more votes). Hence, they said, council has to be careful with the language of its measure.

Some residents who want to see the airport closed chastised the attorneys’ language, dubbing the measure “AOPA 2” for its similarity to the pro-airport measure.

Council members asked the attorneys to return with a measure that would hit a “sweet spot,” one that would retain council’s control over the airport while still competing with the AOPA-backed measure. Additionally, they asked for the measure to address development of the land.

The city attorneys’ new recommendation, which council will consider on Tuesday, would leave open council’s ability to close the airport without a public vote while acknowledging that the power may be challenged in court.

“Subject only to limitations imposed by law, the City Council shall have full authority, without voter approval, to regulate use of the Santa Monica Airport, manage leaseholds, condition leases and close all or part of the Airport,” City Hall’s new draft reads.

Additionally it seeks to address and control development of the land through a specific zoning plan for the airport, rather than a public vote.

“Until the adoption of a Specific Plan for the future use of the Airport land,” the measure read, “the prohibition contained in this section shall not preclude the City Council from acting in accordance with applicable law to approve the following on Airport land that has been permanently closed to aviation use: the development of parks, public open spaces, and public recreational facilities; the maintenance and replacement to their present size of existing permanent structures; and the continuation of existing cultural, arts and education uses.”

If council approves of the language in the measure, city officials will return with the official ballot language at the next meeting on July 22.

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