May 17, 2012
By Dan Namowitz
For 30 years, AOPA and airport advocates in Santa Monica, Calif., have worked to defend the city airport from attacks by opponents whose vocal campaigns obscured a lack of voter support for their efforts. Now, a study commissioned by AOPA has shown that most of those voters prefer that the city turn its attention elsewhere.
From urban traffic congestion to growth and development, voters in Santa Monica named their preferred goals in the survey, conducted last August. The results suggest that decades of vociferous opposition to the Santa Monica Municipal Airport obscured the fact that most citizens prefer a different set of priorities.
“Quite interestingly, the airport is near the bottom of the list of concerns, placing 16 out of 18 with 2 percent,” wrote Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airport advocacy, in a May 2 letter to Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom.
In interviews for the study, residents had a generally positive view of how their community was being run.
On May 8, Dunn attended a Santa Monica City Council public hearing held to consider the results of 32 focus groups seeking to discover what was on citizens’ minds.
He responded to questions from officials at the session about the local “visioning” process. Dunn expressed AOPA’s appreciation that municipal officials were taking a deliberative approach to considering the options for the airport’s future, “rather than making a knee-jerk response to an emotional issue.”
He encouraged the city to proceed with the third phase of its visioning process. Members can view a portion of the meeting online in this segment of AOPA’s new weekly news program, AOPA Live This Week.
Over 30 years, AOPA and airport advocates have defended the airport against attacks by a “handful” of opponents, Dunn said in his letter to Santa Monica’s mayor. As the debate intensified in recent years, the city attempted to restrict operations—including some efforts that have been litigated and found flawed.
Despite the continuing opposition, AOPA found no indication that any groups had attempted to qualify or quantify what the voters thought about the facility, Dunn said. Meanwhile, opponents pressed ahead, forcing the expenditure of municipal time and resources on addressing their long-running campaign.
Against that backdrop, AOPA retained public policy organization APCO Insight with instructions to ascertain the facts “in as fair and straightforward a manner as possible,” Dunn wrote to Bloom.
The survey, including 400 interviews with “high-propensity voters,” was conducted in August 2011, resulting in the finding that the airport was “not a key issue” for most voters. Results were reported in local media after Dunn summarized them in his letter to the mayor and in testimony at the hearing.
Dunn also praised the city for entering into a process of discovering public sentiment that stressed openness and discussion in contrast with years in which calls to close the airport made the exploration of options “nearly impossible.” Opponents who say the city’s obligations to the FAA will end in 2015 have been reticent to compromise, but the FAA and AOPA assert that the airport’s operating authority will continue.
While in Santa Monica, Dunn met with local pilots to discuss strategies going forward. He also conferred with the airport’s manager, Robert Trimborn.
In April 2011, AOPA President Craig Fuller visited the airport and met with advocates. “We will work with you, stand with you so that the airport will continue to function as is. When we fight hard, define clear objectives, and stand together, we will protect the freedom to fly,” Fuller said.
Dunn expressed the hope that the “productive turn” brought about by the ongoing Santa Monica Airport Community Process would continue, with the airport thriving and the concerns of its neighbors having a channel for being addressed in a constructive manner.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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