Santa Monica Airport (File photo)

The Airport Commission wants month-to-month, market rate leases for tenants at the Santa Monica Airport until a plan for the future of the controversial land is determined.

The commission voted 4-0 to send leasing recommendations to City Council — which was requested by council at a meeting in March of last year.

In July of this year, a key 1984 agreement between City Hall and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expires, allowing the former more control of a chunk of the 227-acres of the land.

One aspect of the agreement’s expiration gives City Hall more control of the leases.

Several aviation tenants, and some arts tenants, are paying well below market rate for their spaces, according to Airport Commission Chair David Goddard, who has been a vocal opponent of the airport.

Some of these tenants are turning around and sub-leasing their spaces at market rate, he said.

In response, he said, council should raise rents to market rate — a recommendation favored by city officials as well.

The airport has long been the subject of heated discussion in the city by the sea. Many neighbors complain about the noise and pollution generated by aircraft taking off and landing at the airport. Others fear for their safety, noting that the edge of the runway is just a few hundred feet from homes.

Pilots and fans of the airport say it would be indispensable in the event of a widespread emergency and point to the revenue generated by the aviation community.

Goddard had previously advocated for council to do away aviation leases. The recommendation passed at Monday night’s meeting did not ban the renewal of aviation leases.

The recommendations would, if approved by council, require new lessee requests to be reviewed by the commission and city officials, who would assess the potential negative effects the tenant would have on the environment. This may open the door for the rejection of future aviation tenants perceived to be environmentally unfriendly. The commission has already recommended an ordinance banning aircraft that release lots of emissions.

“If the Airport Commission discovered anything that it felt was a negative impact on the community,” Goddard said, “it would have the opportunity to address the City Council and let them know that it was either objecting or proposing some mitigation for the environmental effect.”

Goddard told the commission that these leasing recommendations all fall within the agreements between the FAA and City Hall. Until a 1948 agreement, requiring the area to be operated as an airport in perpetuity, is adjudicated, he said, City Hall should keep it open.

“We’re not proposing to not comply with any of our agreements,” he said. “We got stung before when we tried to discriminate against class C and D jets. We thought we were justly doing it. We didn’t prove our case. It was determined that we unjustly did it and we got slapped with an injunction and we lost the lawsuit. But what is being proposed here is 100 percent consistent and in compliance with our agreements.”

Tenants of the airport have asked council for longer lease agreements. This would give them stability, they said, and allow them to seek larger loans for improvements to their spaces.

Several commissioners stated a desire to eventually offer long-term leases at the airport, but said that, for now, they need to remain flexible.
Council will have the final say on leasing policy at the airport and will likely weigh in before the June 30 expiration of the 1984 agreement.

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