In less than four months, a three-decade-old key agreement between City Hall and the Federal Aviation Administration expires.
The agreement’s expiration will give City Hall more control of the airport and many Santa Monica Airport opponents have had the July 1 expiration date circled on their calendars for years with the hope that City Hall will be able to shorten the runway, outlaw environmentally unfriendly aircraft, and oust or greatly restrict aviation tenants.
A year ago, after a long meeting, City Council voted to move in that direction.
On Tuesday, council will have a chance to choose more specific plans for the future of the airport and city officials are recommending, largely, that they be cautious.
City attorneys: Emission controls will invite litigation
The Airport Commission recommend that council approve an ordinance banning any make and model of aircraft that does not meet set emission standards.
City attorneys believe that the commission’s reasoning is flawed. Such an ordinance would invite lawsuits, they said.
A better alternative, they said, would be to negotiate lease terms that push for the use of alternative fuels and efficient aircraft.
City attorneys: Shortening the runway could invite litigation
The Airport Commission has discussed drawing a line or erecting a barrier across a portion of the runway on July 1, taking it out of aviation use.
After the agreement expires, City Hall regains more control of the western section of the airport and some believe this gives them the right to shorten the runway in that area.
“Adopting this as City policy would likely provoke more litigation,” city attorneys said. “However, it may be possible to work towards this goal through negotiations with tenants.”
A 2016 ballot measure may be the best means for kicking off a partial closure of the airport, they said.
“It is possible that the City’s interests would be best served by allowing some other future uses at some locations on the land,” they said. “For instance, it might be beneficial to the community to situate certain City government improvements at the Airport, such as an environmental center. Also, certain community serving uses, such as restaurants, and certain commercial uses, such as office uses on the north side, could continue to generate revenue to fund community amenities.”
The Airport Commission recommended month-to-month market rate leases for all tenants at the airport noting that some aviation and non-aviation renters pay very little for their spaces.
City attorneys are recommending that submarket rents be increased and that smaller tenants remain on month-to-month leases until City Hall works out three-year leases with five master tenants — a process that could take at least a year.
They think that non-aviation land should be used by non-aviation tenants. Further, they’d like to hire a private professional to help City Hall negotiate all of the leases.
“Staff foresees bringing the remainder of the master leases, and perhaps other individual leases, to Council within the next six months,” they said. “Also, staff will return to Council with a written report on progress with leasing, contingency planning for the future, and further recommendations regarding a possible ballot measure before the end of the year.”
The Daily Press will have in-depth stories on each of City Hall’s proposals in the coming days.