Santa Monica Airport (File photo)

 

The City of Santa Monica wants to close Santa Monica Airport as soon as legally possible.

In a resolution passed Tuesday night, the Council unanimously reiterated their desire to close the facility on or before July 1, 2018. The vote made clear Council’s intentions but authority to implement those desires is in dispute and will be resolved be several pending court cases.

The Aug. 23 discussion was a result of a request by Mayor Tony Vazquez and Mayor Pro Tem Ted Winterer. In making the request, the pair said the City should explicitly state its desire to close the facility and in a subsequent written statement, they said the process is important but not necessarily easy.

“Through our unanimous vote tonight, the Council demonstrated our commitment to stop the harmful impacts the Airport has on our community. Transitioning our land into a ‘great-park’ is the single most transformative action this Council can take,” said Vazquez.  “The land needs to be transformed from a source of pollution and potential danger, into a community asset.”

Winterer said closing the airport will require several additional steps.

“Our Council and community in solidarity, want to close the airport that predominantly caters to the 1% that can afford to travel by private jet,” he said. “We have directed the City Manager to take every step possible to expedite the transformation of our land from Airport to park. There are real legal obstacles and while we need to be conscientious as we navigate the court system, our resolve to close the Airport is firm.”

Councilmen Winterer and Vazquez, both up for reelection this year, were accused of a conflict of interest based on owning homes near the flight path. City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said while a potential conflict did exist, Winterer and Vazquez could participate in the vote under the a longstanding exemption that allows participation in discussions by potentially conflicted councilmembers when a large percentage of the city is also covered by the decision.

Airport supporters said the city’s efforts were a misuse of taxpayer funds as the City lacks the authority to actually close, or even heavily restrict, the airport pending the outcome of multiple court cases.

“Sometime next year the Federal District Court will hold trial on the issues and render a decision. Until then, the City is bound still by the Grant Assurances and it’s high time that the City leaders recognized this fact and acted accordingly,” said Chris Thrasher in a letter to the Daily Press.

“At least now, the pro-airport crowd can obtain injunctive relief compelling the City of Santa Monica to live up to its promises. It’s just unfortunate that it’s going to have to go to that level to obtain City compliance. They should have been complying from the very beginning.”

Edward Story said City Hall was catering to a vocal minority.

“With respect, I call upon all the city council to recognize you are playing politics to a small noisy band that does not represent the long-term interests of the city and are often personally financially motivated.”

Councilman Kevin McKeown said “aviation interests” were dismissive of the residents and said the Council represents the will of the residents.

“My motives in this are concern for the health, safety and interests of the people that live in Santa Monica,” he said.

Councilwoman Gleam Davis said the the time was right to make an explicit declaration at the Council level due to action by the courts and Federal regulators.

“We haven’t moved as quickly as some would like or as slowly as others would like,” she said. “I think we’re at a point in the history of our rocky relationship with the existence of the airport that we need to make a statement about what we really see happening out at the airport in the future.”

The action Tuesday night calls for closing the airport on or before July 1, 2018. It also directs staff to begin planning for future uses on the site, specifically a new park, and authorized the City Manager to take specific steps to curtail some aviation operations.

Specific steps include asking the FAA to reduce the size of the runway by 2,000 feet, begin environmental analysis of a park transition and implement a city takeover of aviation services such as fuel sales and aircraft storage.

The service takeover could be complete by the end of the year.

The language of the resolution cites environmental, health and safety concerns as reasons for the closure.

Congressman Ted Lieu has supported the City’s efforts to close the airport and issued a statement following the meeting.

“For years the City of Santa Monica has been dragged into administrative and legal proceedings by the FAA, so I am delighted that with this resolution they have now taken the airport’s destiny into their own hands,” he said. “Closing the airport is based on the City of Santa Monica’s local control and property rights. I whole-heartedly stand behind the residents of the City of Santa Monica and the City Council as they take significant steps to close the airport.”

Neil Carrey is President of the Airport2Park foundation, a volunteer group focused on transitioning airport land to a new city park.

After the meeting he said, “Tonight City Council made a bold statement of faith in the future, that once the City’s litigation with the federal government has concluded and the courts have confirmed the City’s authority over the land at the airport that the public has owned for nearly a century, the City will close the airport, which serves so few, to build a great park that will serve everyone for generations to come.”

The City is in the midst of a lawsuit with the FAA over the City’s ability to close the airport. That case is set for trial next year. At the same time several complaints have been lodged with the FAA over the city’s management of the airport. In the most recent ruling, the FAA said the City is required to keep the airport operating through at least 2023 but officials said they will appeal that decision to the federal courts.

editor@www.smdp.com

 

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...