By Daniel Larios
July 24, 2014 – After hearing from 20 members of the public, the Santa Monica City Council unanimously voted to place competing measures prescribing the future of the Airport on the November ballot during its meeting Tuesday.
First, the Council voted to certify and place the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)-backed ballot initiative that would require voter approval for decisions concerning airport land use, including closing all or part of the site.
The initiative garnered close to 15,000 signatures from registered Santa Monica voters, 9,800 of which were verified by the Los Angeles County Registrar’s office. ("Pro-Airport Initiative Qualifies, Sets up Ballot Measure Duel," June 11, 2014)
The Council, which opposes the measure, also voted to place a rival measure on November’s ballot, that would “require voter approval for any significant change in the use of the land,” but it also “would protect the City Council’s discretion to manage the Airport.”
“Clearly a certain privileged group hopes to continue to squat on land that we own,” said Council member Kevin McKeown. “This is a chance we have to wrest back control of our own property, and I certainly don’t want us to miss the chance.”
The council was initially presented with three alternative wordings for the initiative, but after lengthy discussion, the council settled with the following:
“Shall the City Charter be amended to: 1) prohibit new development on airport land, except for parks and recreational facilities, until the voters approve limits on the uses and development that may occur on the land; and 2) affirm the City Council’s authority to manage the airport and to close all or part of it?”
Most of those who testified during the public comment section of the item spoke in favor of the second alternative option, which states that voters must approve all development in closed airport land with the exception of parks, public open spaces and public recreational facilities.
“I think it has the clarity that people are looking for,” said Gavin Scott, a resident of Sunset Park who was also involved in the campaign to head off the AOPA-backed initiative.
“It’s clear that people do want to have a say over what happens to the airport after it is closed,” Scott said. “Whatever the City puts forward should clearly and simply reassure people that they will be given that opportunity for decision.”
Jon Stein, who filed a lawsuit trying to bar the AOPA-backed initiative in May, also liked the wording chosen by the Council.
“Alternative two preserves maximum city council flexibility in the future while providing maximum protection for airport land in the present,” he said.
While most anti-airport speakers backed the choice, others used the opportunity to criticize the pro-airport measure.
“I have a question: how do you get control of over 200 acres of land, way below market rates, in Santa Monica for about a million dollars?” said Sunset Park resident Alan Levinson.
“Answer: Hire a consultant, a few lawyers, take advantage of current fears in the community, make up stories, pay people to say whatever it takes to get a signature, get an initiative on the ballot and spend what it takes to pass it.”
There were a few airport supporters who spoke up, citing the need to keep the century-old airfield open.
“I want the people who want to close the airport to think about once its gone, where are you going to come up with a landing strip,” said John Foster, a street performer at Third Street Promenade.
“The safety aspect is applicable to the entire region. There’s going to come a time when aircraft land without noise or jet fuels so all pollution will be gone, so don’t lose the landing strip. Get rid of the jets. Just don’t get rid of that asset.”
John Jerabek, board member of group that sponsored the pro-airport measure, welcomed a vote in November.
“Unlike the proposed council initiative up for discussion, our ballot measure amends the city charter and asks voters the basic question about airport land use that needs to be asked before any other,” Jarabek said.
“That is whether the airport, which has been serving residents for almost 100 years and happens to sit on 227 acres of the most valuable low density land in California, stays an airport in the first place.”
“Shouldn’t the voters decide the most important land use question in the history of the city of Santa Monica?” he added. “I say yes.”