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Reaction to Santa Monica Airport Closure Deal Mixed  

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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

January 30, 2017 -- With the agreement to close Santa Monica Airport (SMO) at the end of 2028 receiving City Council approval by the narrowest possible margin, it shouldn’t be surprising that community reaction was also divided.

Activists took to social media, issued press releases and even wrote letters to the council with a range of positions almost immediately after the agreement was announced on Saturday.

Much of the anger against the agreement from SMO opponents focused on two issues -- that the public was not involved in developing it and that nearly another 12 years of local plane flights was too much.

“Many of us have been impacted and working on this issue for decades and would like a voice,” wrote attorney Jonathan Stein in a letter to the council that pleaded for the public to be able to review the terms before they are finalized.

He continued, “It will impact [more than] 130,000 lives and an entire generation of local residents for over a decade and possibly longer. Is this too much to ask?”

Martin Rubin, head of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP), wrote in a press release that he “does not see this as a win for the community” and that he wants to see more information about the agreement because “the devil is in the details."

CRAAP had planned to hold a rally on February 4 to protest the airport's negative impacts, as well as planned commercial flights in and out of SMO by JetSuite X ("JetSuiteX CEO Says Company’s Commercial Flights at Santa Monica Airport Could Be Canceled," January 30, 2017).

That rally will still happen, Rubin said, even though announcement of the agreement has made it less likely JetSuite X will go forward with the business plan.

The new focus of the rally will be the agreement and “decades of disregard of the extreme negative health and safety impacts to Santa Monica Airport's neighbors,” Rubin wrote.

Not all of the reaction to the agreement was negative.

The Santa Monica Airport2Park Foundation wrote in a statement that it was pleased a specific date exists for when the 227-acre City-owned airport property can be transformed into a park.

"We can now begin planning for the great park," said Neil Carrey, president of the foundation.

He added that the foundation “looks forward to working with the City and all its residents so that we will be ready to put shovels in the ground to build the park as soon as the airport closes.”

In addition to the airport closing on December 31, 2028, work will begin immediately on reducing the size of the runway from nearly 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet.

The agreement ends all legal disputes between the City and the FAA about the airport, City officials said.

Michael Huerta, FAA administrator, called the deal a “fair resolution” because “it strikes an appropriate balance between the public's interest in making local decisions about land use practices and its interests in safe and efficient aviation services."

Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer said it was “a historic day” for Santa Monica that gave certainty the property’s future is to be a park.

Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who along with Tony Vazquez and Sue Himmelrich voted against the agreement, was less enthusiastic about the day's place in history.

“With this settlement, we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” wrote McKeown in an email. “This, at a time when the FAA’s willingness to negotiate revealed that the FAA itself suspected they would lose their court battles with Santa Monica.”

He added, “This [settlement] means that planes, including some jets, will continue to fly for 12 more years. The mandate Santa Monica voters sent the council with Measure LC is deferred for 12 more years. Airport Park is delayed for 12 more years. I vote no for all those reasons.”

On the other end of the debate, those who want SMO to remain open indefinitely have also blasted the agreement.

The Santa Monica Airport Association not so subtly headlined a blog entry on its website about the agreement “Et Tu Brute?” next to an image of a hand holding a bloody knife.

“[The FAA] caved into the the City of Santa Monica at the eleventh hour,” states the blog entry that refers to the settlement agreement as “shameful.”

“We have 10 years to convince the citizens of Santa Monica that the airport remains the best and highest use for the land,” the airport association wrote.

The association continued, “This will require a degree of enlightened self-interest seldom exhibited by citizens of any town these days, but we have no choice but to make the attempt.”

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