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Begin Planning for Park on Airport Property, Santa Monica Group Says

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

November 12, 2014 -- Last week’s overwhelming defeat of a pro-Santa Monica Airport measure and landslide win of a rival proposal mean the aviation facility will soon be replaced by a park, at least that’s the view of one activist group. The Santa Monica Airport Association (SMAA) disagrees.

Airport2Park, which wants the City-owned airport property transformed into a park, says it is time to begin preparing for this transition.

“Now is the time to start the planning process,” said Michael Brodsky of Airport2Park in a press release issued this week.

He continued, “It will require a huge community effort, but the results will be wonderful. The views over Santa Monica toward the ocean from the western end of the runway are breathtaking. People deserve the chance to see them.”

Brodsky is an arts professor at Loyola Marymount University, and last month he organized an exhibit featuring USC architecture students’ vision of the 227-acre property as a park.

SMAA President Bill Worden says this vision of a park will not become a reality anytime soon. He wrote in an email to The Lookout that with “vigilance and protection,” the airport can “remain with us for another century.” The defeat of Measure D, he wrote, did not change the big picture.

“The legal underpinnings guaranteeing the airport remain unaffected,” Worden wrote. “The City is still obligated under the federal loan guarantees until 2023 and the land is still dedicated to airport use in perpetuity under the 1948 instrument of transfer of the airport property to the city from the federal government after WWII.”

Many of the specifics cited in Worden’s statement are not accepted as facts by airport opponents, including numerous City officials and anti-airport activists. Many of them say that at least partial closure of the airport can begin July 1, when a 1984 agreement on airport use between the Federal Aviation Administration and the City expires.

“The large margin by which LC passed gives the Santa Monica City Council a mandate to continue its efforts to close the airport when a 1984 agreement ... expires next July, and LC itself makes a park the ‘default’ possibility for the future of the airport land,” said Frank Gruber, a former planning commissioner and Lookout columnist who ran for City Council this year, in the Airport2Park release.

Worden sees July 1 not as date to begin property transformation, but rather as a reminder that a new agreement is needed. To him, the 1984 agreement is just fine.

“[The 1984 agreement] established guidelines for airport operations … the noise ordinance is codified in the City charter and will remain in effect,” he wrote. “We would like to see the City and the airport users and businesses work out a new set of guidelines for the future along similar lines to those in the 1984 agreement.”

This disagreement on the future of the airport will not be settled by elections or council action, but rather by court decisions. City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said as much during a council meeting this summer.

“This is not a situation where the federal government will easily let go of its hold on this land; and anyone who thinks that, and I say this with respect … is naive,” said Moutrie in August, adding that the status of the airport “will take years to sort out.”

Even anti-airport activists agree that a long court battle remains, but many of them are confident. John Fairweather, who led the campaign against Measure D and for Measure LC, was optimistic about a future favorable to his viewpoint in comments made to the Lookout shortly after Election night.

“No doubt there are legal battles in our future,” he said. “But we are over the hump now, and we are confident that the final outcome we seek can only be delayed, but not averted.”

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