Santa Monica Citizens Groups Seeks Vote on Airport Development Plans

 - July 2, 2014, 1:40 AM

In the ongoing battle to keep Santa Monica Airport from closing, on June 10 a group delivered more than 15,000 signatures to city hall to place a vote about the airport on the ballot later this year.

The city itself and even its own airport commission are pulling out all the legal stops in a bid to shutter the airport or severely curtail its operations by closing part of the runway. The reasons given are that the airport, with homes built hard up against the airport land, is causing too many noise, pollution and safety problems for adjacent residents. Only some of these residents live in the city of Santa Monica, while others are Los Angeles citizens because the city of Los Angeles abuts portions of the airport.

While the FAA believes that the airport land automatically reverts to the federal government if the city closes the airport, under agreements that date back to 1948, the city believes it can close 2,000 feet of the 5,000-foot runway as soon as next year and close the entire airport, without penalty, by 2023. The 1948 agreement requires the land to be operated as an airport in perpetuity.

Citizens Request Vote on Airport Use

In an effort to slow the city’s efforts to close the airport, a new group has formed–Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions (SMOHDD). The group, funded in part by a $20,000 donation from the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, underwrote a signature-gathering effort to place a charter amendment for the city of Santa Monica on the ballot during the fall elections in November. The amendment simply asks Santa Monica citizens to vote to require the city to obtain their approval for plans to use the airport’s 227 acres for non-aviation purposes. Without such approval, the city would have to continue to use the land for an airport.

At least 9,000 signatures were required to place the amendment on the ballot, and SMOHDD obtained more than 15,000, which the group delivered to Santa Monica city hall on June 10. At city hall, Santa Monica city clerk Sarah Gorman accepted the two boxes containing the 15,000 signatures and assured the group’s representatives that they would be placed in the city vault for safekeeping, then counted and checked for accuracy.

Santa Monica resident and amendment proponent Flora Yin, who is also a lawyer for SMOHDD, said, “Voters like me are tired of the insider political game that has gone on too long. It’s a simple charter amendment, and people agreed with us and quickly added their names to our campaign. A few politicians and pressure groups are the only people opposed to giving voters a voice before the airport can be used for other purposes.”

After delivering the signatures to city hall, John Jerabek, an SMOHDD board member, said, “I’m grateful that everyone came together and worked to get all the required signatures and more filed today.”

Jerabek is well aware that the airport’s opposition will continue fighting to close the airport. “What do I think the opposition’s going to do?” he asked. “Everything and anything they can think of. The anti-airport groups’ leadership is a well oiled machine. They’re going to put out scare tactics and misinformation, and we’re going to work hard to make sure that the residents of Santa Monica get the facts. We want voters to go to to read the issues and decide for themselves how the airport land is used in the future.”

SMOHDD’s effort to place the amendment on the ballot is the subject of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) filed in May by airport opponents represented by attorney Jonathan Stein. In response, SMOHDD filed a motion seeking to have the lawsuit thrown out and for the SLAPP proponents to pay legal fees and costs for the citizens and the city targeted in the lawsuit. “This SLAPP lawsuit is part of a pattern by the same political insiders who are desperate to keep voters from having a say on what happens to 227 acres of airport land,” said SMOHDD board member David Shaby. “They harassed and intimidated people during the signature process, they sued individual citizens and accused them of criminal acts, and they even sued the City. They will try anything, but they will not be able to keep the voters from speaking out.”