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Council Member Offers ‘Cautionary Statement’ as Santa Monica Moves Toward Airport Closure  

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

March 3, 2017 -- One of the major criticisms about the Santa Monica Airport (SMO) closure agreement between the City and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is that it will be nearly 12 years until the facility shuts down, and many things could happen in that timespan.

Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who voted against the agreement in late January because he wanted the airport closed sooner among other reasons, reiterated this argument at the council meeting on Tuesday when he offered what he called a “cautionary statement.”

McKeown read from an article posted last month on the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s (AOPA) website that says airport supporters should “identify and support [City Council] candidates who are likely to advocate keeping the airport open.”

The article also stated “a dozen years is a political eternity during which time a lot can happen.”

Commenting on the article, McKeown said, “We and the community just need to know that this vote doesn’t end the matter. We need to remain vigilant to make sure that airport does close.”

City Manager Rick Cole acknowledged that a future City Council could nix the agreement in the next 12 years.

He also noted other hypotheticals, including that voters could amend the City Charter to keep the airport open or a future council could even reopen the airport after it closes.

“But that is not what the voters have chosen at the polls,” Cole said. “That is not what this unanimous City Council has consistently made clear in its previous resolutions.”

The closure agreement was discussed by the council Tuesday when it was presented with a resolution, which was approved unanimously, for the City “to take all actions necessary and proper to ensure that SMO will cease to operate as an airport.”

Cole said, “This resolution makes clear in the strongest possible terms what has been the consistent policy of the voters and the council, which is to close the airport at the soonest legally possible time.”

Also at the meeting, the council approved a contract for up to nearly $900,000 with the team of AECOM and Aerople to shorten the size of the runway from nearly 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet.

This runway reduction is one one of the main features of the airport closure agreement, and it is expected to be completed this year.

“Once that happens, we should soon see a big drop off in jet traffic,” said Mayor Ted Winterer about the runway reduction in a prepared statement after the meeting.

Although the airport closure deal has been controversial, none of the critics spoke at the council meeting. Two Sunset Park leaders praised the resolution.

The nonprofit Airport2Park Foundation, which wants the City-owned land where the airport sits to be transformed into a park, supported the council’s actions in a press release issued after the meeting.

“We at the Foundation applaud these first steps in taking control of the airport land,” said Neil Carrey, president of the foundation.

He continued, “Once the immediate issue of shortening the runway has been taken care of, we look forward to the City’s commencement of planning for the great park itself."

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