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Ballot Initiative to Preserve Santa Monica Airport Moves Forward

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By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

April 8, 2014 -- Supporters of Santa Monica Airport can move forward with a ballot initiative to put the future of the century-old airfield before the voters in November.

After vetting the proposed amendment to the City Charter, City officials published the title and summary of the ballot initiative Monday, paving the way for supporters to publish it in local newspapers and eventually begin the six-month process of collecting the 6,100 signatures needed to put it on the November ballot.

If approved by voters, the initiative would amend “the City Charter to require voter approval in order to close all or part of the Santa Monica Airport, change the use of the Airport land, or impose new restrictions on fuel sales or use of aviation facilities,” according to the City’s official description of the initiative.

The paperwork to begin the initiative process was filed with City officials last month, shortly after the City Council voted unanimously to take steps to close down the airport, which sits on 227 acres of City-owned land. (“Supporters of Santa Monica Airport File Paperwork for Ballot Initiative,” March 28, 2014)

Because ballot initiatives essentially write laws from scratch, the City Attorney’s office must vet the proposed law and write an objective description before supporters can present it to potential signatories.

Supporters then must publish the official initiative language for ten days, during which time it can be challenged.

“I don’t know why anybody would be opposed to allowing the citizens of Santa Monica to vote on whether or not the airport should be changed in any way,” said Lauren McCollum, one of three Santa Monica residents who filed the paperwork to begin the process last month and a former applicant for the City’s Airport Commission.

Backers of the initiative claim that closing down the airport will only lead to overdevelopment of the site, although the City Council unanimously agreed that was not likely. (“City Council Moves Ahead with Plans to Close Santa Monica Airport,” March 27, 2014)

Local opponents of the airport are already up in arms over the initiative, which is backed by the Airplane Owners and Pilot Association (AOPA), according to the national organization’s website.

“Santa Monica residents bought and paid for this land with a park bond in 1926,” said former mayor Mike Feinstein.

“One of the most sinister parts of this measure is the poison pill it contains that would prevent our community from pursuing any further litigation to assert authority on land we own,” said Feinstein, who is a member of Airport2Park.org, a local coalition of anti-airport activists who want to turn the land into a park.

“This cynical ploy should be rejected at every turn,” he said. Feinstein was one of several local activists recently polled about his opinion on the future of the airport, which led him to believe the ballot initiative would be coming. (“New Poll on the Future of Santa Monica Airport Alarms Activists,” February 24, 2014)

In large part due to its proximity to local neighborhoods, the future of Santa Monica Airport has been a contentious issue in the bayside city with some residents arguing that it’s a source of noise and air pollution as well as a safety hazard.

Supporters of the airport have argued that the amount of pollution generated by the airport is minor and that the airport is a major employer for the City.

City Hall has tried and failed for many years to wrest control of the airport – which sits on City land -- from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which governs operations at the airfield.

The FAA contends that Santa Monica must operate the airport in perpetuity under legal obligations included in property transfers made just after World War II, when the federal government returned operations of the airfield back to the City.

A recent lawsuit against the FAA failed to settle the matter after it was tossed by a federal judge in February. (“Judge Tosses Santa Monica Lawsuit Against FAA,” February 14, 2014)

Since then, the City has pinned its hopes on its ability to shut down at least part of the 5,000-foot runway as early as 2015, after the City’s 1984 settlement agreement with the FAA expires.

Shortening the runway would limit the types of planes that could use the airport, essentially barring jets from taking off and landing there, according to anti-airport advocates.

But if the ballot initiative is approved in November, the City could no longer move forward with that strategy without first putting it to a popular vote.


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