Backers of a pro-Santa Monica Airport initiative that would allow voters to decide the future of the facility deliver petitions to City Hall on Tuesday. (Daniel Archuleta

SMO – Voters will have a chance to decide whether or not to take more direct control over the future of the Santa Monica Airport.

A ballot initiative, which was financially backed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), got the green light from the Los Angeles County Registrar and the Santa Monica City Clerk on Thursday.

Last month, pro-airport activists turned in boxes filled with 15,594 signatures on behalf of the initiative. The county was responsible for making sure that the boxes contained signatures from at least 15 percent of registered Santa Monica voters, or 9,541 people.

At least 9,800 signatures were found to be legitimate by the county.

This paves the way for a measure to be placed on the ballot in November.

If approved by voters, the City Charter would be amended and council would no longer be able to close some or the entire airport without permission from voters. Restrictions would also be placed on council’s ability to make changes to some of the airport leases.

Numerous neighborhood groups and the city’s largest political party have come out against the measure stating, among other things, that it unfairly ties the closure of the airport to inevitable high-density development.

Council has responded by proposing a competing measure, one that would negate the AOPA-backed measure if it receives more votes. The language hasn’t been worked out yet but it would likely give council more control of the future of the airport.

John Jerabek, a member of the group that sponsored the pro-SMO initiative, was critical of council’s response.

“The activists, politicians and developers that have controlled this discussion for too long are in a panic about voters getting involved in the debate,” he said. “Our initiative is honest and straightforward. The City must seek voter approval to change the use of 227 acres of low-density airport land, period. We are not sure yet how the political insiders will respond, but you can bet on the fact that they will seek to change this land use while evading any requirement for voter approval.”

A group of anti-airport activists, the Committee for Local Control of Santa Monica Airport Land (CLCSMAL), sent a release bashing the ballot initiative.

“To get the measure on the ballot, AOPA brought dozens of paid non-resident signature gatherers to Santa Monica for a high-pressure effort to get signatures,” the release said. “AOPA ultimately paid gatherers … prompting them to say anything to get people to sign. Witnesses, in signed statements, have described tactics ranging from saying the city wanted the measure on the ballot to saying the measure would close SMO. Aggressive gatherers prompted supermarket managers to call for police intervention several times due to the gatherers’ harassment of customers.”

The county did not attempt to verify all 15,594 signatures, stopping when it was clear there were enough to move the measure forward. Of the 12,765 signatures they did attempt to verify, 2,965 were found to be insufficient and 127 were found to be duplicates. About 78.8 percent of all the signatures checked were found to be legitimate. If that rate were to hold across all signatures submitted, it would mean that close to 12,000 registered Santa Monica voters signed the ballot measure.

Earlier this year, residents successfully challenged the controversial Hines development project, gathering 13,512 signatures for a referendum. About 80.6 percent of those checked were found to be legitimate, a rate 1.8 percent higher than the rate of legitimate signatures in favor of the SMO ballot measure.

There were 75 residents who initially signed the pro-SMO measure and later asked the City Clerk to remove their names from the list. No one made this request during the Hines referendum process.

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