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Ballot Initiative to Preserve Santa Monica Airport to Face Legal Challenge

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By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

April 14, 2014 -- Calling it a “broadsword of deceit,” opponents of Santa Monica Airport announced Friday that they will file a lawsuit to stop a ballot initiative effort aimed at preserving the century-old airfield.

In an open letter sent by email Friday, local anti-airport activist Jonathan Stein announced that he would challenge the language of a proposed amendment to the City’s Charter that would require a popular vote before the City could make any changes to the Airport, which sits on 227 acres of public land.

“We believe the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) Petition seeks the signatures only by demonizing the City Council (and Santa Monica residents whom it represents) as vicious special interests, curried lapdogs, voracious consumers, and seekers after supernormal profits,” Stein wrote in an email to City officials Friday.

“We refuse to see our community riven in twain by this broadsword of deceit,” wrote Stein, who said he plans to file the lawsuit within 30 days.

While the City will be named in the lawsuit, Stein said it was merely for technical legal reasons.

“We are challenging (the airport supporters’) language, but to get into the court door, you have to challenge the City’s summary of that language,” Stein, who heads Sunset Park Anti-Airport, Inc. (SPAA), told The Lookout Friday.

Because the proposed initiative would add a section to the City Charter, the City Attorney’s office must vet the proposed law and write an objective description before supporters can present it to potential signatories.

After reviewing the petition submitted by pro-airport advocates with the backing of the AOPA last month, the City Attorney’s office last week published the official title and summary of the initiative, paving the way for supporters to begin gathering the 9,200 signatures required to put it on the ballot in November.

But Stein and his organization don’t believe the language passes legal muster.

Supporters of the initiative have claimed that the City is closing the airport at the behest of special developer interests who want to build on the prime land.

“The AOPA Petition makes reckless and lawless allegations about the (March 25) City Council actions and future intentions,” Stein wrote.

“We feel that someone must step forward, if City staff feels that they have not the authority or energy, to challenge the AOPA Petition’s effort to perpetuate fuel sales and aviation leases that earn millions of dollars per month in supernormal profits.”

Last month, the City Council voted to take steps to shut down at least part of the airport as early as 2015 as well as look into restricting fuel sales and letting the leases of flight schools operating at the airport expire. (“City Council Moves Ahead with Plans to Close Santa Monica Airport,” March 27, 2014)

The proposed initiative, which was filed two days later, would specifically protect fuel sales and airport leases.

Supporters of the initiative have argued that a decision as big as closing the airport should be put to the voters. (“Ballot Initiative to Preserve Santa Monica Airport Moves Forward,” April 8, 2014)

However, anti-airport activists argue that the petition is simply a “Trojan Horse” for national aviation interests to keep open the airfield, which Stein and other activists say is both a safety and a health hazard for people living nearby.

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