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By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

November 30, 2015 -- Nelson Hernandez, a former senior official at the federal agency that restructured the government's two main mortgage backers in the aftermath of the Great Recession, has been picked as City Manager Rick Cole's new senior adviser on all things related to the Santa Monica Airport.

Cole announced Hernandez's appointment at last week's City Council meeting, saying the long-time government administrator will make a “significant” contribution in helping the Council achieve its “top strategic” goal of gaining local control over the century-old airfield.

Hernandez, who begins his new job Monday, will be responsible for “analyzing and addressing high-profile health, safety, environmental, economic and security issues as they relate to the Santa Monica Airport,” according to the City's website.

Santa Monica remains locked in a legal fight over the future of the airport and continues to adopt new ordinances aimed at limiting flight operations there.

Most recently, Council members voted to direct staff to study the possibility of “migrating” aviation uses to the western parcel, banned flight schools from the airport and gave the City control of selling fuel, ending third-party involvement.

In addition, the Council voted to impose a total cap on all pollutants generated at the airport, not just emissions, as originally proposed, and began moving toward restricting aviation to daylight hours (“City Council Cracks Down on Santa Monica Airport Pollution,” October 29, 2015).

When Cole was appointed as city manager in August, he asked the Council “for the capacity to take (the airport) on full time.”

“With that in mind, we created a new position, the senior adviser to the city manager on airport affairs,” Cole said at Tuesday's Council meeting.

Cole did not say how much Hernandez will make in the new post, but a 2014-15 report on year-end budget changes listed the recommended salary for the position at between $184,202 and $195,324 a year.

A former assistant CEO for the city of San Diego, Hernandez was one of five “very qualified” finalists for the new post, said Cole.

He previously served as senior association director of the federal Housing Finance Agency, Cole said. That agency was created in 2008 to restructure and revamp Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the wake of the housing market collapse.

Hernandez had a brief eight-month stint as city manager in Carson, from May 2014 to February 2015, before being fired without explanation by the Carson City Council. That council had also fired its previous city manager less than a month after hiring him, also without explanation.

Published reports at the time quoted Carson Mayor Vera Robles-DeWitt saying Hernandez was the victim of city hall politics.

“Maybe the city manager is doing his job well, and he takes action for those things that are good for the stakeholders of Carson and not the potentially illegal and misguided directions of the City Council,” Robles-DeWitt told a newspaper.

Hernandez has also served as community development director for the city of Ventura, head of the Los Angeles regional office of the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, director of community affairs for the FDIC and served as director of community capacity development for the U.S. Department of Justice.

In 2013, Hernandez received the Service to America award, the highest award bestowed on a federal employee, said Cole.

A graduate of UCLA, Hernandez has a master's degree in public administration from the City University of New York.

The Council's strategic goal securing local control over City owned land at the Santa Monica Airport is one of its five top strategic goals for the next three to five years.

“I think he (Hernandez) will make a significant contribution, working with the community and with you and with our City staff, in achieving our City's goal,” said Cole.

Also among the top priorities for the Council are establishing a new model for mobility, maintaining an inclusive and diverse community, taking a leadership role in regional efforts to address homelessness, and continuing the partnership supporting education “from cradle to career and beyond,” said the budget report.

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