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Santa Monica Airport Manager Leaves Behind Legacy of Fairness, Compromise

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

By Jorge Casuso and Jason Islas

June 14, 2013 -- Bob Trimborn -- who for nearly two decades worked to balance the conflicting interests of area homeowners and jet-setting millionaires -- will retire as Santa Monica’s Airport Manager at the end of the month, City officials confirmed Thursday.

During his 17 years at the helm, Trimborn was tasked with implementing airport polices that reflected shifting challenges -- from curbing propeller planes, to increasing security after 9/11, to curbing larger, faster jets.

But the underlying challenge remained how to reduce the impact of aircraft operations at one of the nation’s few general aviation airports surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

“He’s been a great guy who brought a lot of integrity,” said former Airport Commission chair David Kaplan, who served on the commission from 1996 to 2006. “He was really in a tough position.

“He brought a new level of forthrightness and directness with the public,” Kaplan said. “There was an open policy (under Trimborn). He was very honest.”

Photo of a DC3 in Santa Monica
Dedicated under Trimborn’s tenure, a Douglas DC-3 remains on permanent display at Santa Monica Airport. Photo by Gene Williams

Said Jeff Mathieu, former head of the City's Department of Resource Management, who hired Trimborn: "Bob put it out on the table and told you what he was thinking. He was industrious and pursued every alternative for the protection of the residents and the benefit of the airport.

"It was a tough and thankless position," Mathieu said, "but he was an excellent airport director. He has such a love for that airport."

Trimborn, who has been flying since he was 14 years old, was in charge of enforcing one of the strictest noise ordinances in the nation, which included monitoring noise levels, imposing curfew hours and limiting certain operations during weekends and night hours.

“The City of Santa Monica and Los Angeles zoned residential right up against the airport,” said Trimborn. “And that's something we're dealing with to this day.”

One of the biggest challenges he faced, Trimborn said, was taking the FAA to court over the City's attempt in 2008 to restrict larger jets from flying out of SMO. The City argued that since the airport’s runway was built in the 1940s, it wasn't equipped to handle modern-day jets.

For Trimborn, it was a safety issue. “The number of faster aircraft has increased dramatically in recent years, faster aircraft that could travel further into residential neighborhoods in the event of an overrun,” Trimborn told the council.

“Any minimal inconvenience to those traveling by private jet aircraft and any minor impact on commerce will be greatly outweighed by the benefit of protecting the safety of airport neighborhood and the flying public.”

The U. S. Court of Appeals sided with the FAA and, after having spent $1.4 million fighting the court battle, the City decided in 2011 not to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It made its way to way to federal court and the court sided with the FAA,” Trimborn told The Lookout Thursday. “The jurisdiction of the FAA is very far reaching.”

Trimborn got his start managing his hometown airport in Hawthorne in the early 1980s, the same airport where he learned to fly in 1965. He went on to work at the Reno Airport before coming to Santa Monica in 1996.

He quickly grew to appreciate SMO's storied history, which dates as far back as 1917.
“Some of the greatest events in aviation history happened here,” he said.

Under Trimborn’s tenure, the airport got a monument to the groundbreaking DC3 plane.

“I have a lot of pride in that,” he said. “Not only does it memorialize one of the greatest aircrafts ever to fly but the DC3 was built here at Santa Monica Airport and it truly made aviation accessible to the typical person.”

Trimborn will step down on July 1, but he’s still not sure what path he will pursue. “I don't know what the future holds for me,” he said. “I just decided to retire.”

In the highly charged political arena that is Santa Monica Airport, Trimborn hopes to leave behind a legacy of compromise.

“I hope people look back at me as a person that tried to strike the balance between aviation interests and non-aviation interests,” he said. “And that I responsibly managed the airport.

“There were a lot of challenges,” he said. “There were some good times here. I met a lot of good people. I am privileged to have the opportunity to be airport manager.”

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