A newly designated landmark at the Santa Monica Airport has been appealed to City Council and the Airport Commission has joined the opposition citing a lack of jurisdiction by the Landmarks Commission and problems with the application itself.

The Compass Rose, a navigation aid painted on the SMO runway, was designated a landmark earlier this year. The Ninety-Nines, a women’s pilots association, filed the application citing their long history as an organization and the significance of their activities at the airport.

Santa Monica resident Ben Wang filed the appeal in September saying the landmark designation was inappropriate given the confines of voter approved Measure LC, the Landmark Commission failed to document the impacts of the landmark and the Compass Rose itself lacks merit.

According to his appeal, Measure LC requires all decisions about airport land to come from the City Council and by landmarking a piece of the property, the Landmarks Commission would be overriding Council’s ability to make future decisions about the property.

“A decision made final by the Landmark’s Commission enables Aviation interests to sidestep the authority of City Council setting a bad precedence,” he said. “City Council must decide this matter.”

He said the Commission failed to document how the decision would impact ongoing and potential litigation over the airport causing problems for future legal cases.

“It is a near-certainty that Aviation interests will continue to mount aggressive and expensive litigation against the City as it proceeds to close SMP on December 31, 2029 per the 2017 Consent Decree,” he said.

Wang said the justification for landmarking the art is also questionable as the Landmark’s commission found it only met one of six criteria. He said the art has changed locations overtime and the current Compass Rose differs from the trademarked Ninety-Nines symbol.

“Discussion about protecting and maintaining the Compass rose paint with a physical barrier in its current location is completely unwarranted, would crate a financial and operational maintenance burden for the City was the owner, and is a potential obstacle to future park uses,” he said.

The Airport Commission has also filed a letter with the Council opposing the landmark designation. Airport Commission Chair Andrew Wilder said his Commission supports the aim of the Landmark Commission to memorialize the distinct accomplishments of female pilots and the remarkable achievements of Amelia Earhart but the landmark designation is not appropriate at this time.

At their December meeting the commission said decisions about airport property should involve the airport commission and in regards to this specific decision, they also felt it would run afoul of measure LC.

In their letter, the Commission said the Rose was under no immediate threat, isn’t accessible to the public, would overwrite council authority for the site and the current art does not match the current Ninety-Nine’s logo.

“The thing that really bothers me is that we are charged to advise the city council about matters at the airport and the landmarks commission is not so charged,” said Commissioner Dr. Joseph Schmitz. “They have designated, or they seek to designate, this piece of ground right now as a protected landmark and I think we’re remiss if we don’t weigh in and tell city council there are problems with this.”

Commissioner Lael R. Rubin was the only “no” vote. She said she shared concerns over jurisdiction but she didn’t support the appeal as the Compass Rose deserved landmark status.

“It’s not the way to do business to make decisions about the airport and the airport property without involving the airport commission,” she said. “I think that is an issue that needs to be directed loudly and clearly to the city council.”

However, she said the application had justified landmarking the site.

“But I think there are so many historical and cultural reasons to move forward with this considering the history that it represents,” she said.

Staff said the Compass Rose appeal is likely to be at City Council sometime in February.


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