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Anti-Airport Forces Pressuring Santa Monica City Council to Step-Up Evictions
Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
Roque & Mark Real Estate
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Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

August 18, 2016 -- After decades of waging an odds-defying campaign to shut down Santa Monica’s century-old airport, local community groups believe their chances of getting the upper hand are, at long last, improving somewhat.

For that, they thank the upcoming fall elections.

“This is a critical moment,” said Martin Rubin, director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP). “We’ll see how serious the council is.”

Next Tuesday, the council is scheduled to vote on a motion closing SMO by June of 2018, or as soon as legally possible, although the resolution addresses closing the airport before the deadline if the City can somehow overcome its legal entanglements and do so.

On the one hand, some think the motion gives the council an easy out by binding its actions to what is legally doable, and that it could just be big talk meant to mask a lack of political will.

“They basically said they’d close it in 1981 too,” said Rubin, who has been involved closely with the long community siege against the airport. “This (motion) is somewhat of an improvement.”

Then again, the motion also comes at a time when four of the seven City Council’s members face re-election and must fend off seven challengers in the November 8 election.

It is co-sponsored by Mayor Tony Vazquez and Council Member Ted Winterer, both of whom are up for re-election. Joining them on the ballot are council incumbents Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day.

Critics think the motion doesn’t go far enough, and plan to exploit the coming election by showing up at the Tuesday meeting to call for more immediate steps during the period before the airport’s proposed 2018 closure.

Among their demands is that fuel sales be halted. And airport opponents especially want the immediate eviction of Atlantic Aviation, a major tenant they say is responsible for 90 percent of jet operations at the airport.

The Sunset Park Anti-Airport group is rallying community support in hopes of making a strong show of force Tuesday. Earlier in the month, it sent mailers targeting Winterer, Davis and O’Day as giving “special attention” to Atlantic Aviation.

Atlantic Aviation is still “making money, so they won’t leave – and City Council allows them to stay,” the mailer says. “This is part of the soft corruption which infiltrates City Hall decision making.”

“We know there are fears that getting rid of the tenants and fuel will produce lawsuits and FAA action,” resident Kay Foster of Ashland Avenue, wrote to the council soon after learning of its proposed 2018 shut down date for SMO.

“But failing to do so will endanger the health and lives of the people who voted you into office, as well as others who live in Los Angeles, and inflict untold damage on us all, including children, for years to come,” she said.

“You do have the power of the lease!” another resident wrote.

City leaders are deeply enmeshed in a decades-long struggle to take total control of the 227-acre airport, with the goal of ultimately closing it to aviation. The densely populated neighborhoods near it – some with homes only 300 feet from the runway – say it is chocking them with pollution, is too loud and dangerously close.

Aviators argue the airport is an important release valve for air traffic in Southern California, particularly at Los Angeles International Airport.

So far, the City has fought back against the aviation interests with tougher restrictions. Last year, the council also denied three-year leases to Atlantic and other tenants, including Gunnell Properties, which ended up vacating. Justice Aviation also left after settling a legal fight over eviction.

But the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees the nation’s airports, has dealt several blows to the Santa Monica’s attempts at closing SMO.

Another punch arrived Monday, when the FAA denied a City appeal of the agency's administrative ruling that ordered Santa Monica Airport to remain open until 2023.

City leaders said the ruling was anticipated, and that they would now bypass the FAA with a federal appellate court.

This particular issue – one of several – centers on a 1994 legal arrangement in which the City agreed to federal funding to operate the airport for 20 more years. The City received more federal funding in 2003, a move the pro-airport camp argued re-started the countdown to the initial 20-year pact.

The City claims its agreement should have expired in 2014. However, FAA subsequently ruled the 2003 modification did extend the City’s obligation to keep SMO operating until 2023.

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