SMO Non-aviation tenants and miscellaneous airport users have been granted new leases at the Santa Monica Airport, but the council postponed action on aviation leases pending additional information from city staff.
At the July 14 council meeting, staff recommended three-year leases for non-aviation tenants and month-to-month leases for aviation tenants/miscellaneous uses. Council did authorize part of the staff recommendation, providing leases to Ruskin Theater (three-year term at $3,595.27 per month), Spitfire Grill (three-year term at $8,474.40 per month or 6 percent of gross receipts, whichever is greater), Typhoon Restaurant Inc. (three-year term at $6,060 per month or 6 percent of gross receipts, whichever is greater) and various month-to-month lease agreements for single spaces of either land or portions of buildings for artists, aviators and others.
However, they postponed action on the aviation tenants primarily due to the presence of sublease agreements within their leases. The council requested staff return with a more in-depth economic analysis of the sub-lease agreements, information on the possible city takeover of fuel sales and more options for environmental measures tied to the leases. Staff was also directed to explore recent legal rulings that might favor the city, seek ways to avoid intensification of use at the airport (potentially caused by the Federal Aviation Administration’s recently proposed Metroplex plan) and update the council on airport security.
The council debate followed a recent trip by city officials to Washington, D.C. to discuss the airport. Also present on that visit were airport supporters, critics and federal lawmakers. In summarizing the current state of the City’s efforts, Mayor Kevin McKeown said it was clear Santa Monica had a strong ally in Congressman Ted Lieu, but he cautioned against overreaching when it came to specific decisions regarding the airport.
“We sometimes can’t take the short-term actions that people demand of us because we have to play the long-term game,” he said. “We can’t afford to take a misstep that takes us back five years and a court hearing that we may or may not win.”
Councilwoman Sue Himmelrich, who along with Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez, attended the District of Columbia visit, said the leases should be considered as part of the City’s overall efforts to close the airport and warned that proposed changes by the FAA will not favor Santa Monica.
“There’s an intention to turn LAX into a commercial airport and Santa Monica airport into a private jetport for luxury planes that belong to billionaires and I personally know someone who has two of them there and I think that is a disaster for us,” she said.
The FAA recently released an environmental assessment of its Southern California Metroplex and the regional air transportation plan has worried local officials who fear it intensifies traffic at the airport.
Councilman Ted Winterer said residents who advocate for extreme measures because they believe the FAA will fold are mistaken.
“[The FAA’s] got plans and they’re going to fight back and that much is very clear,” he said.
City Manager Rick Cole said staff were happy to provide the additional information but warned the scope of the work could exceed current staffing levels.
“We don’t want to subject you to further criticism that our work isn’t completely thorough, completely accurate or completely vetted,” he said. “If we expand the range of possibilities and deepen the analysis, that’s going to take some capacity.”