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Pro-Airport Initiative Qualifies, Sets up Ballot Measure Duel

Phil Brock For Council 2014

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

July 18, 2014 -- Both major sides of the Santa Monica Airport debate fired off press releases Thursday afternoon after word came out that a measure backed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) had qualified for the November ballot. The City Council is expected to approve a competing measure on Tuesday.

The AOPA measure calls for a requirement of voter approval for the City to make nearly all changes to the airport, including closure.

City officials and anti-airport activists say the AOPA measure would tie the hands of the council and is a ploy by aviation interests to keep the airport open indefinitely. Proponents advertise the measure as a way to limit development on the 227-acre airport property, which is owned by the City.

Proponents submitted a petition for the measure to the County last month. County officials had to review the petition to determine if it had enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. According to the City Clerk’s Office, the County determined proponents had collected 9,800 valid signatures, and 9,541 were required.

“Today’s announcement ensures that Santa Monica voters will have a chance to be consulted before any decision by politicians to redevelop 227 acres of low-density airport land can go into effect,” states a press release from the organization Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development, which is leading the campaign for the measure.

The release quotes John Jerabek, a Santa Monica resident who sits on the organization’s board and has been the main speaker at council meetings in favor of the measure.

“The activists, politicians and     developers that have controlled this discussion for too long are in a panic about voters getting involved in the debate,” said Jerabek, according to the release.

While proponents say the ballot qualification is a win for voters who are one step closer to having a say on land use on the airport property, the opposition has painted a much different picture.

The newly formed Committee for Local Control of Santa Monica Airport Land issued a statement saying “two Washington-based aviation lobbies have managed to buy a place on Santa Monica’s November ballot,” referring to AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) funding much of the effort to collect petition signatures.

“The lobbyists’ front group is called Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development,” the opposition group wrote. “Ironically, their ballot measure says nothing about development at [Santa Monica Airport]. The measure’s sole purpose is to keep aviation activity at the current or increased levels.”

The release also includes praise for a measure that the City Council is expected to approve for the ballot on Tuesday. A staff report released Thursday proposes three versions of the measure. All three would require voter approval prior to developing the property “if all or part of the airport land is permanently closed to aviation use.”

When, and even whether, the airport could close is a matter of debate, and most people believe the issue will be settled in a courtroom (“Santa Monica Airport Proponents Gain Star Power in Complaint,” July 4, 2014)

One version of City staff's proposal would not allow most forms of development on the property without voter approval. A second option prohibits most forms of development prior to the implementation of a voter-approved specific plan. A third option calls for residents to vote on “a framework of allowable uses to guide the content of a specific plan.”

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie recommends the third option in the staff report.

“Staff recommends this option because it will best address concerns about possible over-development of the land,” Moutrie wrote. “New development would not be allowed until after the formulation and adoption of a specific plan. And, no specific plan will be developed until the voters approve a framework establishing parameters for that specific plan.”

The other two options “would deprive the City and future councils of the authority and flexibility to meet changing community needs,” Moutrie wrote.

She added, “For instance, if a specific plan were subject to voter approval, it could likely only be amended by the voters. This process requirement would make it impossible for the City Council and City to respond promptly to community needs.”

City officials have said at previous meetings that limiting the decision on a specific plan to the council would not mean residents would be shut out of the process. They said residents could share their opinions through a lengthy public process that would include meetings.

The council could continue the discussion until Wednesday, but it is expected to decide Tuesday which measure it wants to go on the ballot.

Moutrie said earlier this month that if voters approve both the City and AOPA measures, only the City one would be implemented if it receives more votes.

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