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Santa Monica Airport Runway Reduction Returns to Council


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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

May 22, 2017 -- The proposal to reduce the size of the Santa Monica Airport (SMO) runway heads to the City Council on Tuesday, with staff proposing two options that have spurred disagreements and controversy.

Reducing the size of the runway by 1,500 feet in the immediate future is a key feature of the landmark agreement signed earlier this year between the City and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to close SMO at the end of 2028 ("City, FAA Agree to Close Santa Monica Airport in 2028," January 28, 2017).

The shortened runway would lead to a dramatic reduction in jet traffic at the century old municipal airport, according to officials.

The controversy is where to do the chopping.

One proposal is to slice off the west end portion of the runway. Another, and the one recommended by City staff and the Airport Commission, is to remove an equal amount of runway space from both ends.

A staff report to the council says the recommendation was made because consultants have determined the differences between the options “are subtle,” and there is “significant community support” for centering the runway.

Even if community support is significant, it is not universal.

Anti-airport activist Martin Rubin, who heads Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP), issued a statement late Friday saying there should have been an option to do all the removal on the east end.

He said this would reduce the noise and pollution for the most people living in Los Angeles.

“This is a continuation of a pattern of decades of blatant disregard for the health and well-being of SMO's downwind Los Angeles neighbors, despite a 1999 Health Risk Assessment and several air monitoring studies and a Health Impact Assessment that point to elevated health risks," Rubin wrote.

Two options actually were initially proposed by the City’s consultant for removing the east end of the runway.

They were rejected by staff because in staff’s opinion they “would provide the least reduction of noise, air quality, and safety impacts.”

Staff wrote, “[Ninety-five] percent of the airport’s operations depart to the west and therefore aligning the runway with a westerly configuration [by removing the east end] would impede aircraft from gaining enough altitude over the residential areas west of the Airport.”

Unlike the airport closure, which will not take place for more than a decade, the runway reduction is supposed to happen as soon as possible. But legal challenges could delay this or prevent the reduction altogether.

But so far the victors in that battle have been the pro-reduction side, with a federal court earlier this month rejecting the National Business Aviation Association’s request for an injunction against the agreement between the City and the FAA ("Circuit Court Denies Injunction to Halt Implementation of Santa Monica Airport Closure Deal," May 5, 2017).

There are, however, further legal reviews pending (“Pro-Santa Monica Airport Aviation Group Finds Encouraging News in Court of Appeals Rejection,” May 10, 2017).


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