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Residents Ready for a Fight Over Santa Monica Airport's Future  

As of September 1, 2011, ALL 1,875 retail establishments are prohibited from providing light-weight, single-use plastic carryout bags to customers at the point of sale. MORE

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

October 4, 2011 -- The first results of a city-sponsored study of Santa Monica Airport have been unveiled, and some people are already starting to get mad about it.

The neighborhood group, Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP), is rallying its troops to speak out at Tuesday's City Council meeting when “Phase I” – a study about the future of the facility – will be up for discussion. Neighborhood groups in Venice and Mar Vista have also frequently expressed opposition to the airport.

“What has been a waste is the money spent on these Phase I consultants' studies,” the FOSP Board said in a letter to the City Council dated October 2. “When we asked for studies to be done about future options for the Airport, we did not include bias in our request.”

What FOSP objects to the most is what they see as a disinclination by the city to consider closing the airport in 2015, when the city's agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and all the leases on the property will expire.

The City Manager's report – which includes a brief history of the airport and its importance to the history of aviation and its role in the defense effort in World War II – details the often testy interactions between the city and the federal government, and the FAA's power to get its way.

Specifically, when the current agreement expires in less than 4 years, city staff don't think closing the airport is a realistic option.

“It is crystal clear that, if the City attempts to close the Airport, the FAA will not hesitate to aggressively fight against closure in the courts,” staff say.

“Such a fight would go on for years...(and) the outcome would be highly uncertain,” staff say. “(T)he fight would be long and expensive...”

The last time the City tried to close the airport, it ran into stiff opposition from the FAA and aviation interests. The result was the 1984 settlement which kept the airport open, but cut back on take-offs and landings and made some land off limits to aviation uses.

It's the expiration of that settlement, in 2015, that's inspired the city's efforts to gather as much information as possible to guide it as the deadline approaches.

Staff cite an eight-year fight to ban jets that cost the city well over $1 million. The city ultimately lost its legal battle.

But FOSP questions the implication that it wasn't worth it.

“At least the $1 million was well spent in fighting the good fight,” they say. “David would have been proud of the city, even though we did not prevail against the FAA's Goliath in this battle.

A more “community compatible airport” is an acceptable outcome for FOSP, but they said the RAND Corporation – which proposed possible changes to what is being called “the Airport Campus” – missed the boat.

“(W)e are offered a menu of vanilla items,” the FOSP Board said, adding that future development of the 40 acres of non-aviation land would likely lead to increased traffic – another object of frequent criticism by FOSP.

The RAND list includes some items that seem to bear the imprint of the Land Use Circulation Element (LUCE), like more local neighborhood-serving retail and restaurants, better bike and pedestrian access to the site, improved parking and intersections leading into and out of the site and more recreational space.

It also suggests the possibility of making the airport a regional Emergency Communications and Control Center, expanding the Museum of Flying and creating a “Sustainable Santa Monica” Center to serve as a model of sustainability.

The City Manager's report also includes an economic analysis of the airport and details the future steps the city will take as it marshals all the information it can before the council decides what to do with the airport in 2015.

The next step, called “Phase II,” will start with an open house in December for the public to tour the site and learn about its operations. Then, in winter and spring of 2012, a series of focus groups of eight to twelve individuals each will bore into community concerns and viewpoints. The council will get the fruits of these meetings in May 2012, along with a “Phase III” analysis.

Tuesday's meeting will provide the council and the public a forum in which to review and discuss the “Phase I” studies. The council is being asked to direct staff to go ahead with the “Phase II” public meetings.

The public hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 4, at the Council Chambers in City Hall, 1685 Main Street.

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