The City Council has urged Santa Monica’s top engineer to move forward with plans to demolish part of the runway at Santa Monica Airport and replace it with grass.

The obliteration of nearly 1,500 feet of runway is an attempt to show aviation groups, homeowners in Sunset Park and voters that the Council is serious about curbing jet traffic over the City by the Sea.

The first phase of construction to reconfigure the runway to a shorter distance of 3,500 feet will begin Oct. 9, according to a letter that recently went out to nearby homeowners.

While the project includes restriping, repairs and new lights, it does not include plans to demolish the 400 feet at both ends that will no longer be utilized.

During their last meeting in September, Councilmembers reviewed three different replacement materials and their cost for the second project: hydro-seeding ($3.4 million), artificial turf ($5.7 million) and pulverization and stabilization ($2.7 million). All plans include preserving 300 feet of asphalt for a Runway Safety Area (RSA) that will be well-graded and capable of supporting aircraft rescue and fire fighting equipment.

The Council unanimously voted to support removing the abandoned pavement outside the RSA, backfilling and hydro-seeding the surface. The plan would likely include drainage improvements for collecting storm water and to control runoff. The entire runway would be closed during construction.

City staff will now issue a Request for Proposal to select an engineering design consultant.
City Manager Rick Cole told the Council staff could still go forward with a different option.

Engineering firm AECOM has recommended the city keep the paved runway surface to provide blast erosion protection from incoming and outgoing jets. The pavement would also minimize the threat of debris on the runway and provide additional protection for pilots who undershoot or overrun into the RSA.

“Because this is new – there aren’t many airports that demolish and shorten their runways – we want to make sure we have the maximum opportunity to safeguard everyone who lives in the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as anyone coming in or going out of Santa Monica Airport,” Cole said.

Hydro-seeding has been used at the San Bernardino International Airport. Councilmember Kevin McKeown said grass is consistent with the Council’s vision for a large park on the site once the City can close SMO in 2029.

A staff report written by Susan Cline, the Director of Public Works, said the hydro-seeding option would have fewer up-front costs, “but potentially more on-going maintenance requirements.

Scheduled maintenance of the hydro-seeded area would be required on an annual basis, supplemented by monthly or quarterly maintenance to control weeds and other vegetation. An irrigation system is not included in the estimate for this scenario.”
Cline says the removal of the asphalt will be exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements because it is a “minor alteration of existing public or private facilities.”

Numerous members of the Friends of Sunset Park neighborhood association wrote the Council requesting an air quality study before, during and after construction to take advantage of the time no aircraft will be allowed to take off from SMO.
“This one-time event offers the City a unique opportunity to document the impact that the federally mandated operation of the airport is having on local residents and the air quality of the surrounding neighborhoods,” reads the letter from the group’s Board of Directors. The Council did not comment on their request during the meeting.

There are no funds set aside or available in the City’s Capital Improvement Program for the runway removal, so the City would need to loan money from the General Fund to remove the excess pavement.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press