June 11, 2014
By Elizabeth A Tennyson
More than 15,500 signatures were filed with the Santa Monica City Clerk on June 10 in support of a charter amendment that would let voters decide the future of Santa Monica Municipal Airport property. The “Santa Monica Voters Decide Initiative” collected approximately 6,000 more signatures than needed to win a place on the November ballot.
The initiative is sponsored by a group of city residents known as Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions and has the support of AOPA. It would require voter approval before the city can make airport land available for nonaviation uses or can close or partially close the airport. It also requires the city to continue to operate the airport “in a manner that supports its aviation purposes” and stipulates that the city cannot impose new restrictions that would “inhibit the sale of fuel or the full use of aviation facilities.”
“Santa Monica residents have repeatedly said that they want to keep the airport open and operating. They don’t want more traffic congestion and parking headaches that will come with high-density development, but some city leaders haven’t got the message,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president for airports. “This initiative will give voters the power to make land-use decisions that affect the airport’s future so developers can’t make an end run around the people of Santa Monica.”
AOPA has long been engaged in the effort to protect the historic airport, which plays a significant role not only in the local economy but also in the regional and national transportation system. Santa Monica Municipal acts as a vital general aviation reliever airport for nearby Los Angeles International and other airports in the congested Los Angeles Basin. Ongoing battles over airport land also have implications for airports nationwide that benefit from post-World War II property agreements with the federal government.
“This isn’t just about Santa Monica,” said Dunn. “It’s about hundreds of airports conveyed by the federal government to civil sponsors.”
“This charter amendment is an insurance policy for the citizens of this city,” said Lauren McCollum, a local businesswoman and one of the amendment proponents. “The city has wasted millions in fruitless litigation with the federal government at the behest of a few pressure groups. But the courts have made it clear that the law requires the city to continue operating this land as a low-density airport.”
Earlier this year, a U.S. District Court judge threw out a lawsuit brought by the city of Santa Monica. The lawsuit was an attempt to release the city from its obligation to operate Santa Monica Municipal as an airport. AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association joined forced to file an amicus brief in the case.
The Santa Monica Voters Decide website answers common questions about the residents’ amendment, provides the text of the proposal, and allows visitors to register their support and make financial contributions to the amendment campaign.
Director of Government Affairs and Executive Communications Elizabeth Tennyson joined AOPA in 1998, the same year she earned her private pilot certificate. She also holds an instrument rating and enjoys jumping out of planes almost as much as flying them.
AOPA expressed concern in a meeting with town officials from East Hampton, New York, that restrictions proposed to curb airport noise “overwhelmingly” generated by transient commercial flights would unfairly burden traditional airport users.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Feb. 18 signed into law a bill that will add liability protection for land owners who allow aircraft operations at their privately owned airstrips and farms.
Montana awarded more than $700,000 in grants and loans to airports across the state Jan. 22, reinvesting general aviation fuel taxes into the aviation system.
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