City Hall is reiterating its longstanding and often-repeated desire to close the Santa Monica Airport.
City Council will discuss formalizing its intent to close the airport in August following a request this week from Mayor Tony Vazquez and Mayor Pro Tem Ted Winterer that a specific discussion be added to a future agenda.
In order to take formal action on any item, that item must be added to council agenda with enough time to notify the public of the pending discussion and the council discussion this week didn’t delve into the actual debate over the airport but was limited to scheduling the item for a future meeting.
In this case, Winterer and Vazquez requested a discussion and potential action occur at Council’s Aug. 23 meeting.
“It was our thinking for sometime and as we’ve been having these discussions, mainly with a lot of the neighborhood groups, and people heave been asking what is the intent or the goal of this council and Mayor Pro Tem Winterer and myself felt it’s time to officially take a position and move forward when legally possible to at least put it out there that our intent is to close the airport,” said Vazquez. “When that may happen will be determined by the courts.”
As agendized, the August discussion will cover a resolution explicitly stating the Council’s intent to close the airport, provide direction to staff to begin planning for future uses of the land and include a list of intermediary steps that could be taken to reduce aviation operations on the property.
Winterer said beginning the planning process as soon as possible will facilitate the transition from an airport to other uses.
“Just as importantly is the second part of the item which is to start initiating the land use planning that is required for us to look at what we might do when we take over that land in terms of developing into the sort of things that are stipulated in Measure LC,” he said.
Several members of the public came to the meeting in support of closing the airport and many more submitted written comments. Anti-airport speakers consistently asked for the airport to be closed as soon as possible and for additional steps, such as reducing fuel sales or evicting tenants, to be taken immediately.
“I think this is a good step in the right direction,” said Robert Rigdon. “I don’t think there’s anybody in the room that thinks the FAA hasn’t weaseled on its deal to close this thing in 2015. There’s just no explanation other than bad faith on the FAA’s part so I shed no tears for them.”
Airport proponents said the facility provides a multitude of services, including medical flights, education opportunities and economic benefits.
“If the demise of aviation at our airport is allowed, we the public lose our access and our ability to exercise our rights to transit the airways from our cities,” said Jon Jerabek. “Air travel would cease in Santa Monica for the first time in 100 years, since virtually the dawn of aviation.”
The Vazquez/Winterer measure includes language that stipulates any closures will be conducted in compliance with the law and City Manager Rick Cole said the airport is a piece of outdated infrastructure but warned City has a responsibility to move with caution when it comes to airport matters.
“There are lots of people who think we can tell the federal government to take a long walk of our reasonably long pier and I understand that frustration and that sentiment,” he said. “I’ve heard it directly from people in the flight path and I understand why they feel that way. This is the only airport that I know of that jets take off a runway 300 feet from the rooftops of people’s homes, but we can’t defy federal law.
“Reasonable people disagree about what tactics we can and cannot take, but you took an oath of office, as I did when I became City Manager, that we uphold the Constitution of the Unites States and the Constitution of the State of California and so within the power you have and the responsibility you have, you have directed me and I have implemented everything we can do to make Santa Monica Airport safer and to reduce the health and safety impacts on surrounding residents and we will continue to do that if you pass this resolution in August.
“There will be more steps that are already in the planning stage, but I want to emphasize how sensitive it is, that we have six lawsuits currently going, the threat of many more lawsuits, all of which are costly to litigate, so while I understand people’s frustrations, I do ask for their patience because all seven members of the City Council are dedicated to reclaiming local control.”