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March 27, 2014
By Elizabeth A Tennyson
A group of Santa Monica residents has taken the first step toward launching a ballot initiative that would give city residents a say in the future use of Santa Monica Municipal Airport property, and AOPA has pledged to support the effort.
On March 27, the group filed paperwork needed to begin the initiative process. The group is proposing an amendment to the city charter that would require voter approval before the city can redevelop airport land. Surveys have consistently shown that the majority of Santa Monica residents want to keep the airport open.
In their filing with the Santa Monica city clerk, the initiative proponents note that the airport and associated business park are “low density, valuable community land uses that generate business, jobs and tax revenue for the city,” while closing the airport would likely lead to higher density development. They add that the city itself has said that it does not have the resources to develop and maintain such valuable property for low-density use, like a park.
“This political game by politicians and special interests who hope to profit from redeveloping 227 acres of Santa Monica has gone on too long. It is clear from their statements and their actions—that the politicians can’t be trusted to maintain a low density land use and therefore it is left to the people to express their vote before the City of Santa Monica takes any action to redevelop Airport land,” proponents of the charter amendment wrote.
The proposed amendment 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.”
AOPA has committed to offering nationwide support to 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 L.A. Basin. Ongoing battles over the airport land also have implications for more than 200 other airports nationwide that benefit from similar post-WWII property agreements with the federal government.
The initiative filing came two days after a contentious city council meeting at which the council approved a number of actions with the potential to strangle and ultimately shutter the airport, including positioning the city for closure of all or part of the airport after July 1, 2015; seeking city control of 37 acres of airport property that includes a 2,000-foot section of runway; developing a contingency plan for low-density redevelopment of the airport; and mitigating the airport’s impact on the community.
“We’re pleased to see the citizens of Santa Monica moving to put these issues in the hands of the voters,” said AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn, who spoke in support of the airport Tuesday’s city council meeting and challenged city officials to let voters decide the airport’s future. “Support for the airport is strong, but some city leaders seem intent on doing everything they can to close the field and redevelop the property, regardless of what it costs taxpayers, business owners, working families, and the community as a whole.”
Santa Monica Municipal Airport delivers some $250 million in annual economic impact, hosts 175 businesses, and is responsible for 1,500 jobs in the city.
The city of Santa Monica recently lost a court case designed to lead to closure of the airport. U.S. District Judge John F. Walter on Feb. 13 granted a motion from the Department of Justice and FAA to dismiss the lawsuit to release the city of Santa Monica from its obligation to operate Santa Monica Municipal Airport as an airport. AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association joined forces to file an amicus brief in that case.
AOPA has been heavily engaged in efforts to preserve the historic airport, meeting regularly with airport supporters, the FAA, city officials, and others to make sure the field stays open.
AOPA Senior Director of Communications Elizabeth Tennyson is an instrument-rated private pilot who first joined AOPA in 1998.
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