Santa Monica Lookout
|Major Aviation-Related Tenant at Santa Monica Airport to Vacate
By Niki Cervantes
March 1, 2016 -- A major aviation-related tenant involved in the bitter battle to close the Santa Monica Municipal Airport was scheduled to vacate the airport as of Monday following failed negotiations with the City, an official representing the airport said.
Nelson Hernandez, the City’s senior adviser on airport issues, said the tenant leaving is a well-known figure in the City’s fight to take control of the airport: Gunnell Properties.
“Gunnell Properties has agreed to vacate Santa Monica Airport by Monday, February 29, 2016,” Hernandez said in a statement released Monday. “The City attempted to negotiate an agreement with Gunnell that would have facilitated a smooth and orderly transition; unfortunately the parties were unable to reach terms. “
A representative of Gunnell could not be reached for comment. The company has been at the airport since 1986.
Gunnell, a major tenant for the airport, has been on the City’s radar for a while as it seeks ways to shut the airport and find other uses for the land.
Residents from nearby neighborhoods complain the nearly century-old airport is too close to them and that it poses risks from accidents, and creates noise and pollution that is a health hazard for them.
In July, Gunnell and three other aviation-related tenants at the airport were denied the three-year leases granted to a handful non-aviation tenants there. The four were put on month-to-month leases instead.
In December, the City issued a warning to Gunnell and another owner of aircraft fuel tanks there to clean up possible contamination before their leases expired. It said Gunnell caused a variety of environmental problems over the years, and the City was concerned about the possible release of hazardous substances.
Hernandez’s statement did not address the status of the remediation work sought by the City from Gunnell and he could not be reached for further comment.
In his email, Hernandez said Gunnell’s move was “consistent with Santa Monica policy of local control of Airport land; land that the people of Santa Monica purchased in the 1920s and have owned continuously for nearly 100 years.”
He said Gunnell’s sub-tenants will be allowed to submit a lease application to the City to continue operating at the airport.
He said, however, the city is under no obligation to grant those leases and that the decision will be made “solely within the City’s discretion as landlord and property owner.”
Hernandez also said that as the City “exercises greater local control” over the airport, it is “imperative” to establish a leasing policy. He said City staff will present such a policy to the Airport Commission and the City Council within the next 30 days.
The City has waged a long fight over the future of the airport. Aviators consider it an important asset to the busy skies over Southern California; critics characterize it as a playground for the rich owners of private aircraft that has outlived its usefulness to the public.
Its fate is far from certain. As it battles for power with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the City has also taken specific aim at aviators, such as jacking up landing fees and imposing tough anti-pollution rules. Aviators have pushed back, and in recent months filed litigation that accused the City of imposing conditions meant to “squeeze” them out of the airport.
In December, the City was hit with a major setback when the FAA issued a decision that the City was obligated to operate the airport as an aviation facility until 2023. The FAA said the expiration date was based on a grant the City accepted in 2013.
The City argued the requirement to operate the airport as such had already expired. It has appealed the ruling and vows to continue trying to remake the airport into a site for community uses, like parkland, as dictated by Measure LC.
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