Santa Monica Lookout
New Resident Coalition Want to Remake Santa Monica Airport into a Park
By Jason Islas
September 5, 2013 -- Airport2Park.org, a new coalition of residents and community groups, wants to close down Santa Monica's 96-year-old airport and build a park on the 227 acres of publicly-owned land.
The coalition, which includes about 30 members and three major anti-airport organizations, officially came on the scene Tuesday when it announced two events that it hopes will drum up support for shutting down the airfield and converting the land into a public space about one-third the size of New York's Central Park.
“Quite frankly, a lot of us feel that if we can do this, it'll be the great achievement of our lives,” said Frank Gruber, one of Airport2Park.org's founders.
Gruber will chair the second of Airport2Park.org's events, an October 3 visioning meeting at Mount Olive Church where residents will be asked to imagine what a park on the SMO site could look like.
The visioning meeting follows on the heels of -- and is meant to compliment -- the group's September 15 bike tour of the airport. (“Bike Ride Promises Glimpse of Santa Monica Airport's Possible Futures,” September 3)
“Very few Santa Monicans benefit from the airport,” Gruber said. “This is a way to make this publicly-owned land beneficial to everyone.”
Marty Rubin, founder of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP), is also a member of the new coalition.
“CRAAP advocates for closure for the airport. Turning the airport into a park goes along with that,” Rubin said. “If the airport becomes a park, there's no more airport.”
The new coalition -- which includes Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic (CASMAT) and Sunset Park Anti-Airport, Inc. (SPAA) -- wants to galvanize community opposition to the airport around the idea of building a park ahead of 2015 when an agreement between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the City officially ends.
The City and the FAA signed the agreement in 1984 after Santa Monica's unsuccessful bid to cap operations at the airport.
SMO's opponents hope that the 2015 expiration date could be the beginning of the end for the airfield, but they want to make sure they have a plan before that day comes.
“One of the concerns has been what's going to replace the airport,” Rubin said. “Another Century City or Playa Vista?”
Councilmember Terry O'Day said, “The Council is really thinking hard about how we ought to act in advance of this deadline.”
Of the new coalition he said, “Anyone who is bringing new ideas is welcome,” adding that a park “is an excellent long-term idea.”
The issue has gotten the attention of the area's congressional representative Henry Waxman who called for a forum with residents and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in order to have a “frank conversation” about the airport's future after 2015. (“Congressman Wants FAA Forum on Santa Monica Airport's Future,” July 18)
While opponents of the airport are optimistic that the City could successfully close at least part of the airport in 2015, officials are more cautious.
“We don't know what's going to happen,” Ivan Campbell, deputy City Attorney, adding that there is no precedent for the legal battle that could be ahead of Santa Monica.
Pointing to another agreement signed in 1948, the FAA has maintained that the City is legally required to operate the property as an airport in perpetuity.
Opponents have argued that at least 2,000 feet of the current runway -- called the Quitclaim parcel -- isn't protected by that agreement and could, theoretically be reclaimed as a park, a possibility the City Council agreed to explore in April. (“Council Raises Landing Fees, Explores Partial Closure of Santa Monica Airport,” May 2)
Gruber said the coalition would support building “a park in two stages.” But added that, “our ultimate goal would be to make one big park.”
Reducing the size of SMO's runway could possibly minimize the types of planes that could safely use it.
Still, there are voices in the community who do not want to see the airport close, like Friends of Santa Monica Airport (FOSMO).
The nonprofit advocacy group of mechanics, pilots and air traffic controllers working or flying out of the airport has been a vocal supporter of the old airfield, citing its long historical and economic ties with the community.
And the national Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has thrown its weight behind their cause.
Whatever happens at the airport, it won't be for a while yet, but Gruber and his fellow activists are ready for a long fight.
“The FAA is not a pushover,” he said, but he believes the battle will be worth it.
“Closing the airport is not just about mitigating the negative impacts of the airport,” Gruber said. “It's about creating something truly positive.”
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