Voters in Santa Monica, Calif., opted to leave any decision regarding the redevelopment of Santa Monica Airport (SMO) to members of the city council once federal oversight of the historic airfield expires. They also defeated an initiative to allow a public vote on its future.
By a reported margin of 59-41, voters on November 8 defeated Measure D on the city ballot, which would have allowed voters to decide whether the city could make airport land available for non-aviation purposes. Results showed even stronger support for the city-backed Measure LC, granting the council authority to make that determination.
“This was not a referendum about the airport itself, but rather the matter of who should determine its fate,” Santa Monica Airport Association (SMAA) vice president Christian Fry told AIN. “Unfortunately, they chose to leave that decision to politicians.”
Fry pointed to what he termed “totally inaccurate” statements by airport opponents intended to sway votes towards Measure LC, including unsubstantiated claims about the proliferation of jets at SMO.
“We had a total of 95,152 operations last year, and jets represent only around 15 percent of them,” he said. “On average, that’s less than 20 aircraft per day. The idea that we are overrun with jets is factually untrue. You need only look at the information on the city’s website to see that.”
Additionally, Fry noted that Santa Monica’s intensive noise-abatement strategy led to 132 noise violations, a relatively small figure when compared with total operations. Those same restrictions also limit the size of aircraft operating from SMO.
“Furthermore, our airspace serves as a protective dome, keeping the floor of the LAX Bravo at 5,000 feet,” he added. “Removing SMO would trade something like 17 little jets per day, with hundreds of larger airliners flying at lower crossing altitudes.”
Alphabet Groups Respond
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) sponsored the Measure D petition, and contributed just shy of 75 percent of the approximately $800,000 raised toward efforts to preserve SMO. Measure LC backers raised a fraction of that.
“We are tremendously disappointed that the city council will be able to continue business as usual when it comes to attempts to close and redevelop the airport,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airports, “[b]ut that doesn’t mean SMO is closing or that we’re giving up on it.”
The FAA maintains it has never relinquished control over airport land, but a lawsuit filed by the city against the agency asserts that the city’s obligation to maintain it as an airport expires June 30, 2015, following a one-year extension to a 1984 operating agreement with the federal government.
Airport supporters counter that city officials last received federal grants for the airport in 2003, a timeline requiring them to keep SMO open until at least 2023.
“It is unfortunate that the ballot initiative outcome allows Santa Monica city officials to continue their long-standing attempts to close their community airport, which fly in the face of their legal obligations and disregard the importance of the airport as a general aviation gateway to Southern California,” added NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen.
SMO proponents have accused city officials of employing a “starvation strategy,” in Fry’s words, by turning away new aviation businesses and allowing existing lease agreements to lapse without renewal. Despite the recent setback, Fry maintains that efforts to preserve SMO will continue as before.
“This has always been a long-term battle, and even if [Measure] D had passed we’d still be doing much the same work we’re doing now,” he said. “We’re confident we have peoples’ attention.”