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Supporters of Santa Monica Airport File Paperwork for Ballot Initiative

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By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

March 28, 2014 -- Two days after the City Council voted unanimously in favor of taking steps to close down Santa Monica Airport, supporters of the century-old airfield took steps to put the matter before the voters.

Proponents of keeping the 227-acre parcel of City-owned land open for aviation use filed paperwork with the City Clerk's office Thursday that will begin the process of putting an initiative on November's ballot to amend the City's Charter to require voter approval before the City can close any part of the airport, according to a press release on the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association's (AOPA) website.

If the initiative qualifies for the ballot, which would require about 6,100 signatures in six months, and is approved by voters in November, it could scuttle the City's plans to begin shutting down part of the Airport's 5,000 foot runway as early as July 2015. (“City Council Moves Ahead with Plans to Close Santa Monica Airport,” March 27, 2015)

According to the press release, the amendment would also require the City to continue fuel sales and prevent it from phasing out pilot schools, two strategies the Council voted to consider using to eventually close down the airport.

Proponents of the ballot measure have framed the issue around development, one of the most controversial topics in the bayside city.

“This political game by politicians and special interests who hope to profit from redeveloping 227 acres of Santa Monica has gone on too long,” the proponents wrote, according to the AOPA website.

“It is clear from their statements and their actions—that the politicians can’t be trusted to maintain a low density land use and therefore it is left to the people to express their vote before the City of Santa Monica takes any action to redevelop Airport land,” they wrote.

At Tuesday's Council meeting, Mayor Pam O'Connor addressed concerns that the City had plans to redevelop the airport with high-density development, calling such claims “alarmist.”

Councilmember Kevin McKeown emphatically reiterated O'Connor's point that area is simply not a good place to put development.

Activists hoping to close down the airport began expecting airport proponents to make a move after members of the community began being polled last month about their position on the airport.

Former mayor Mike Feinstein was one of the people surveyed. Feinstein, who is a member of a local group that hopes to close the airport and turn it into a park, called the survey a “push poll” that employed scare tactics to get people to support a potential ballot initiative to keep the airport open. (“New Poll on the Future of Santa Monica Airport Alarms Activists,” February 24, 2014)

Anti-airport activists think that Thursday's move shows that airport proponents are desperate.

“Given the council’s actions Tuesday night, in particular the actions council took to initiate the process to remove the 'Western Parcel' from the runway, this can only be seen as a desperation move by the pilots association and the aviation industry,” said Frank Gruber, co-founder of, a local organization advocating for the conversion of the land into public open space.

Thursday's move is the latest battle in Santa Monica's ongoing war to shutdown the airport. In February, a federal judge tossed a lawsuit by the City that officials had hoped would have given Santa Monica control over the future of the airport.

The FAA maintains that while the airport is on City land, Santa Monica must operate the airport forever because of legal obligations imbedded in property transfers that occurred just after World War Two when the federal government returned operations of the airport back to the City. (“Judge Tosses Santa Monica Lawsuit Against FAA,” February 14, 2014)

Despite the setbacks, Gruber is undetered.

“The only thing we know for sure about this is that they plan to spend a lot of money to try to get their way,” he said. “But they’ll lose.”

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