Santa Monica Airport Study Moves to Second Phase

After listening to three consultant reports and a jumbo jet's worth of public input, the Santa Monica City Council agrees to move forward with a study to determine what should be done with the airport.

Something needs to be done with the Santa Monica Airport.

In 2015, the city's 30-year operating agreement with the FAA will expire,  and on Tuesday the Santa Monica City Council directed its staff to move ahead with Phase 2 of a three-phase study on what to do with the 227 acres.

The study is designed to look at the Santa Monica Airport (SMO)'s economic impact, possible alternative uses for the space and local attitudes.

"I want to stress this is just the start (of the study)," City Manager Rod Gould told the audience, conscious of the flood of negative emails prompted by preview news accounts of the consultants' findings.

Phase 1 ended with the five-hour meeting Tuesday night where three consultants' reports were heard as well as comments from an overflow crowd of Santa Monica, Venice, Mar Vista and Marina del Rey residents.

Before public comment, Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl again called for shutting down SMO, urging Santa Monica to be more assertive in that effort by pushing for help from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

The FAA contends another agreement extends the expiration date to 2023 and yet another compact obligates Santa Monica to continue using the land as an airport forever.

Rosendahl said it's time for Santa Monica and L.A. to join forces. "My lawyers will work with your lawyers – we can do joint actions, joint lawsuits," he said, adding that he expects Santa Monica to have L.A. representatives at all of its future discussions about SMO.

Public comments ranged from a pilot's complaint that aviators' views were not sought in the public outreach segment of Phase 1 (which representatives for the consultant denied), to a neighborhood group's allegations that all three reports were skewed toward having the city make little if any effort at either modifying SMO operations or closing it.

City Manager Gould said Phase 2 will feature a large number of public focus groups of eight to 12 residents each, starting this winter and running through spring. In contrast to Phase 1 interviews, Phase 2 will offer participants opportunity to weigh in on "a full range" of preferences regarding SMO's future.

The council voted unanimously (5-0) to continue to Phase 2 of the study. (Council members Pam O'Connor and Terry O'Day were absent).

Consultants report SMO is an economic benefit, needs improvements

A report on SMO's economic impact gave ammunition to all sides. Consultant HR&A found that SMO supports about 1,500 full- and part-time jobs, including nearly 900 at the airport "campus'' itself, generating $275 million for the city's economy, directly or indirectly. By contrast, the revenue generated for city coffers is about equal to the cost of running the airport.

Critics said the economic report failed to make clear that dozens of non-aviation small businesses, city services and Santa Monica College operations on airport land would flourish even if the airport itself went away.

RAND Corporation, tasked with examining improvements for the non-aviation part of SMO, recommended modernizing facilities, obtaining more retail stores and restaurants, improving automobile access and parking, and making the Museum of Flying a center for educational programs.

Citizen reaction to that ranged from suggestions that the land would be better used as a nature center, trout farm or golf course to calling the report a waste of money because RAND was not told to consider SMO's problems: pollution, noise and safety.

A report from consultant Point C, based on 130 citizen interviews, was designed simply to sample how well area residents understand SMO's issues.

The report found that people recognize the FAA as a big challenge in determining SMO's future, although there's a general lack of understanding of the constraints the FAA puts on Santa Monica in operating the airport. Those interviewed perceived an increase in jet operations and noise, despite the decline in overall SMO flight operations in recent years.


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