Santa Monica Lookout
|Local Officials Meet With FAA on Santa Monica Airport|
By Hector Gonzalez
July 9, 2015 -- Area Congressman Ted Lieu brought a delegation of local officials and residents to a face-to-face meeting this week with senior Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials in Washington, D.C.-- days after a disputed agreement over the future of Santa Monica Airport expired.
No action was taken by federal officials at Wednesday’s meeting. FAA spokeswoman Marcia Alexander-Adams released a statement afterward saying officials listened to the comments but were prohibited from responding because of ongoing litigation between the agency and the City.
Even so, Lieu’s spokesman Jack d’Annibale said the meeting was “unique” because it afforded residents the rare chance to bring their concerns and comments about the airport directly to the officials in charge in Washington.
“I think that the meeting was very productive, and the congressman was very pleased that many of his constituents traveled to Washington to attend the meeting,” said D’Annibale. “It was a great opportunity for the residents to express their opinions directly to the FAA.”
Santa Monica’s meeting with the FAA this week also included some airport supporters, he said.
Among those who attended were Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown, Mayor Pro Tem Tony Vazquez, Councilmember Sue Himmelrich and 16 other constituents from Lieu’s 33rd Congressional Disrict, said D’Annibale.
“As mayor, my primary responsibility is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents of Santa Monica,” McKeown said in his comments FAA officials. “Santa Monica Airport endangers our residents and our resources.
“What was once a grass landing strip in the midst of bean fields is now often described as ‘an aircraft carrier in a sea of homes.’ The exceptionally close proximity of the runway and residents’ homes presents unacceptable safety risks.”
The meeting came days after a 1984 agreement expired between the FAA and Santa Monica laying out their mutual obligations to the airport.
According to a copy of the agreement posted online, under a section titled “Commitment to operate airport,” the City committed to maintaining the site as a general aviation airport “until July 1, 2015.”
Last November, Santa Monica voters overwhelmingly passed Measure LC, which left many airport decisions in the hands of the council.
The new law also gave local voters a say on the general concept of what could be built on the airport property if the facility were to close -- fully or partially (“Begin Planning for Park on Airport Property, Santa Monica Group Says,” November 12, 2014)
It also gave the Council a mandate to continue pursuing gaining full control over the property from the FAA, airport opponents told The Lookout in 2014.
Airport opponents who want the facility shut down had anxiously awaited July 1 as a turning point in their battle, the day the FAA would relinquish its claim on the city-owned property.
Council members in March adopted an Airport Concept Plan, which limits any future development on the land to a low-impact, low-intensity project. Many airport opponents have said they want a regional park built on the site if and when the airport ceases to operate.
The plan also included a motion by McKeown specifying the City’s willingness to repay an FAA grant. At the Council’s meeting in March, McKeown said FAA officials have claimed the grant obligates the City to keep the airport open until 2023, a claim the mayor called “specious.”
“We don’t’ know quite what we want here, so we can’t do a specific plan,” McKeown said in March. “This is part of the staff’s recommendation, that we now begin working on a concept plan based on low-impact, low-intensity use, and that the concept plan take into account that the quit-claim for the parcel may fall into our hands in 2015, so let’s make some plans.”
But City Attorney Marsha Moutrie has said Santa Monica Airport’s future will take years to settle in court.
“If the City Council were to decide to close all or part of the Airport and attempted to do so this year, after July 1, [City] staff believes that the FAA would take immediate action based on its own views of the City's obligations,” Moutrie wrote in a lengthy report she made to the City Council in March (“FAA Would Likely Win Court Battle to Prevent Santa Monica Airport’s Closure, City Attorney Says,” March 19, 2015)
D’Annibale said Thursday the congressman plans to “follow up with meetings” with FAA as well as Santa Monica officials.
In a statement released after the meeting, Lieu said he hand-delivered directly to senior FAA administrators more than 1,000 letters he received from constituents regarding Santa Monica Airport
D’Annibale said 87 percent of the letters “were not in favor of the airport.”
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