Santa Monica Lookout
City Doubles Down as Santa Monica Airport Battle Intensifies
By Niki Cervantes
November 1, 2016 -- Faced with a new federal probe, evicted tenants who refuse to go and more potential litigation in the long battle to close Santa Monica Airport, the City on Monday decided to do this:
Advertise for a big new SMO job the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says should not exist.
And the City seemed upbeat as it started its applicant hunt, in essence doubling down on its decision to take over airport functions as it heads towards eventual closure.
“Are you, or perhaps someone you know, looking for a great job and career? A job that pays a very competitive salary (up to $134,000 per year) plus outstanding benefits at a beautiful location?” Nelson Hernandez, a senior advisor on airport affairs for the City, said in an email posted to all interested in SMO’s future.
“Click FBO Manager and hit control to view the job announcement” if interested and qualified, his post said.
Hernandez said the City will soon post as many as 24 more jobs related to its decision this summer to take over “fixed-base” operations at SMO, which followed with eviction notices to SMO’s major remaining aviation tenants.
The FAA was not immediately available for comment.
The takeover came as the City Council voted this summer to close the airport by July of 2018, if legally possible ("Santa Monica City Council Votes to Close Airport by 2018," July 28, 2016).
In the meantime, it ordered City Manager Rick Cole to launch a takeover of services now handled by Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers, who sell fuel.
The two companies were initially given until October 15 to vacate, but have appealed for help from the FAA ("City in Holding Pattern as Two Santa Monica Airport Tenants Defy Eviction," October 18, 2016).
The agency is now investigating the City, alleging the council's August 23 votes on the airport violate its obligation to continue operating SMO as an airport.
Although the council was set to discuss the situation at its October 23 meeting in executive session, no public comment came until two days later, with Mayor Tony Vazquez saying the council “reaffirmed” the City takeover and ouster of Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers.
“The City must create a public FBO (Fixed Base Operator)to ensure the Airport breaks its reliance on general funds and repays the City the $10M+ it owes Santa Monica taxpayers,” Vazquez said.
“Our goal remains to have the FBO operational by the end of the year, or as soon as practicable.”
Santa Monica's airport is more than a century old, and for much of that time the City or community groups have been trying to close it down. Critics say it is too close to its neighbors, a collection of densely populated areas in both Santa Monica and West Los Angeles.
City officials hope one day to turn the 227-acre facility into a “Great Park,” a Westside version of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park or New York City’s Central Park ("Santa Monica Airport Park Expansion Moving Forward," September 27, 2016).
The aeronautics industry has lobbied to keep the municipal airport operating. Although it is mostly used by private corporate jets and leisure pilots, SMO is still a valuable relief valve, especially for busy Los Angeles International Airport, its supporters say.
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