What’s the Santa Monica Airport going to look like on July 1?
Probably pretty similar to how it’ll look on June 30.
A key agreement between City Hall and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expires between those dates but City Council voted unanimously early Wednesday morning to move forward cautiously.
More than 125 members of the public signed up to speak and council heard more than three hours of public testimony, which kicked off with more pro-airport speakers and then shifted toward more anti-airport neighbors.
Council rejected a recommendation from city attorneys that they consider a 2016 ballot measure focused on the future of the airport, saying it would cloud this issue with outside money and contention, as was the case during last year’s SMO ballot measures.
They agreed with the city attorneys’ rejection of an Airport Commission-crafted emissions ordinance, which would have outlawed aircraft that don’t meet set emission standards. City attorneys doubted the ordinance would hold up in court and instead suggested that council direct city officials to negotiate better environmental standards with lessees who, for instance, sell fuel at the airport.
The leases were the center of debate on Tuesday. Artists at the airport came out in large numbers, asking for stable, long-term leases.
The Airport Commission had asked that all leases lengths remain month-to-month until the future of the airport is settled. City attorneys noted that litigation is ongoing and likely to continue.
Councilmember Sue Himmelrich and Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez initially supported a motion that would have honored the commission’s recommendation but they found themselves in the minority.
“I am concerned that we spent a long time building up these non-aviation tenants, including the cultural and arts uses, and including some of the valuable local businesses and, while I think the month-to-month might be a nice symbolic gesture — I think it is indicative of our long-term aspirations for the airport — I don’t see it as doing anything really substantive,” said Councilmember Ted Winterer. “I think we run a much greater risk of driving away the tenancies we would like keep rather than the ones that we might not be inclined to preserve long-term.”
Mayor Kevin McKeown suggested that the airport be viewed as three separate parcels governed by different and shifting rules.
The non-aviation parcel, as council calls it, is south of Airport Avenue and was released from aviation use in 1984. Some aviation tenants have remained on that land because the soon-expiring 1984 agreement required a set amount of tie-down space airport-wide, McKeown said, and that land was the only place where they could stick it.
“If we treat the non-aviation parcel after June 30 as being truly a non-aviation parcel, we can negotiate the leases we need to at market rate … without having to be too concerned about whether that is equitable vis-√†-vis aviation uses on aviation land,” he said. “It’s a whole different situation.”
City Hall will have greater control of the quitclaim parcel on the west side of the airport on July 1.
“The quitclaim parcel is kind of in the middle of the two, in my mind, because while it is an aviation parcel, it is a parcel that we believe will be under our control sooner rather than later,” McKeown said, “and, to my mind, it wouldn’t make sense to enter into any long-term lease in any of the properties on that parcel. That, I would keep at month-to-month.”
City Hall will have the least control over the parcel that was transferred in a 1948 agreement.
“If we were to go to month-to-month we would lose some of the good things that are there and not really gain any benefit on the things that we may think are less desirable on that land,” McKeown said. “So it might make sense to go ahead and do the leases there.”
Ultimately, council agreed to these basic premises.
City officials will negotiate leases that may be longer for non-aviation tenants — like arts spaces and restaurants — on the non-aviation parcel.
City officials will negotiate leases ending on July 1, 2018 on the 1948 parcel.
Properties on the western parcel will stay month-to-month.
All leases will go up to market rate, although the definition of market rate is apparently under dispute.
Council also directed city officials to push for recreational uses to take over the non-aviation parcel as soon as possible.
The two conflicting and oft-repeated idioms of the night were “throwing the baby out with bath water” and “kicking the can down the road.”
Arts tenants, in particular, framed themselves as the “babies”, potentially having to close up shop thanks to tougher leasing policies meant to oust “bath water” aviation tenants.
Staunch airport opponents framed near-inevitable litigation resulting from aggressive anti-airport measures as the can getting the boot. They claim that because City Hall has known about the expiring agreements for nearly three decades, they should have been ready to make bigger changes on July 1.