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Council Puts Closing Santa Monica Airport on the Table  


By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

May 10, 2012 -- The Santa Monica City Council voted Tuesday night to move forward with the airport visioning process, but added to the City's list of recommended actions closing the airport if its impacts aren't satisfactorily reduced.

The Council also added that more in-depth studies should be conducted to gauge the impact of the airport on the surrounding community, with the help of federal, state, and private research.

“The community can rest assured that we are pursuing all options,” City Manager Rod Gould told the council.

The City, Gould said, is taking a dual-track approach – holding public discussions, while legal options are being discussed more discretely, since the City “can't discuss legal options publicly” for fear it could weaken its position at the bargaining table.

Los Angeles City Council member Bill Rosendahl told the council that his City would work with Santa Monica to help close the 67-year-old airport in 2015.

“This airport no longer belongs here,” said Rosendahl, whose 11th District borders Santa Monica and includes residents who live near the airport.

Council members Bobby Shriver and Kevin McKeown asked Rosendahl if the City of Los Angeles would be willing to spend money or commit its significant lobby influence in Washington to help pressure the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) toward those ends.

Rosenthal stopped short of pledging money, but said that he was open to discussions with Santa Monica.

Although most of the residents who participated in Phase II of the Airport Visioning Process – which gathered input from more than 300 residents over several months – wanted some change in the operations at Santa Monica's airport, Tuesday's report stopped short of explicitly calling for closure of SMO.

Martin Pastucha, director of Public Works, said that the report represented a middle way between the extremes of either doing nothing to change airport operations or closing the airport entirely.

One thing is clear after Tuesday's meeting: Santa Monica is divided over the question of the airport.

According to a survey conducted by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, many Santa Monica residents don't want the airport closed. The Association claims the survey shows that two-thirds of Santa Monica residents believe the airport should remain open.

But David Goddard, speaking on behalf of the Airport Commission, said that “over 80 per cent” of Santa Monica residents either want significant changes made to operations at the airport or want it closed down altogether. He based his estimate on responses from the community during Phase II and a survey by the Ocean Park Association and Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic (CASMAT).

Residents worry about airplane exhaust, the possibility of crashes, and the constant sound of planes flying overhead, Goddard said.

He added that he was thankful to hear the council discussing the possibility of closing the airport.

Under the terms of a 1984 settlement with the FAA, Santa Monica has an obligation to operate the airport until 2015, according to City officials.  With that obligation's expiration just around the corner, the debate over what to do about the airfield has grown more heated.

It will likely remain so well into the next phase of the Visioning Process, as City staff works to figure out the practical implications of the options available to the City.


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