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The annual operation of the Santa Monica Airport campus includes 177 different aviation and non-aviation businesses spread across 42 different industry sectors. This is part three of four of The Mirror’s special report.
Photo by Parimal M. Rohit
The annual operation of the Santa Monica Airport campus includes 177 different aviation and non-aviation businesses spread across 42 different industry sectors. This is part three of four of The Mirror’s special report.

News, Business, Santa Monica, Santa Monica Airport

Special Report: Part 3

Can Santa Monica Airport Be A Benefit To The City?

Posted Sep. 21, 2012, 1:30 am

Parimal M. Rohit / Staff Writer

As the debate continues about whether Santa Monica Airport (SMO) should be shut down or continue operating as is, one thing is for certain: what happens in the next 30 months will determine whether or not City Hall may potentially be engaged in a litigious battle with the federal government.

Part One: The Future Of Santa Monica Airport - 2015 Is Almost Here

Part Two: Looking Ahead By Looking Back - Examining Santa Monica Airport

In the recent past, City Hall has attempted to engage the local community in a discussion of SMO’s future via a three-phase visioning process. After the second phase of the visioning process was completed a few months ago, city staff pointed out some the discussion “has been limited to a controversy about whether the Airport should (or must) be maintained as it is, or whether the City should attempt, unilaterally, to close it.”

City staff further stated in its report of the Phase 2 findings that a unilateral act by City Hall to shut the airport down would be “an endeavor that would inevitably involve litigation against the FAA.” The FAA, or Federal Aviation Administration, has argued Santa Monica must continue operating SMO.

A few issues have become readily apparent during the visioning process, including sentiments of what certain community members believed to be the pros and cons of SMO’s current operation.

At the conclusion of Phase 2 of the visioning process, Moore Iacofano Goltsman, Inc., (MIG) submitted a report to City Hall outlining community input of the SMO’s benefits and disadvantages.

For example, many community members and residents stated they were worried about noise pollution, unhealthy aircraft emissions, the airport’s close proximity to a gas station and residences, adverse environmental impacts, negative impacts on property values and quality of life, and “a perceived growth of Airport operations.”

Cathy Larson, of the “Friends of Sunset Park,” said a high percentage of residents who live in the Ocean Park and Sunset Park communities support airport closure or reduced operations.

More importantly, Larson said there is a community sentiment of dissatisfaction toward City Hall, with some Sunset Park residents believing their voices are not being properly heard when it comes to making suggestions about the airport’s future.

“We’re concerned that we feel that the staff is not being responsive to the community,” Larson told The Mirror. “When they make recommendations to the council, it’s reflective of that bias.”

Alternatively, some of the airport’s acknowledged contributions to Santa Monica and the surrounding region include its positive impacts on the local economy, serving a strategic asset for emergency preparedness, providing a “vital link in the regional transportation system,” and facilitating a thriving arts and cultural community.

Of course, the debate between SMO’s benefits and handicaps will continue through at least 2015 and potentially beyond if the airport remains open in any capacity.

Providing some ammunition to SMO supporters is the airport’s reported economic impact.

“The annual operation of the Airport Campus includes 177 different aviation and non-aviation businesses spread across 42 different industry sectors,” city staff stated citing an HR&A Advisors, Inc. study.

City staff further added that SMO supports 1,487 total full-time and part-time jobs in the city, including 894 located directly at the Airport Campus.

“This means the Airport Campus ranks among the city’s top 10 employers, equivalent in scale to the number of jobs at RAND Corporation,” city staff stated.

SMO annually has a “total annual economic output impact of $275.2 million in the city’s economy,” of which $187.5 million derives directly from the airport and another $87.7 million via “indirect” or “induced” output.

Putting the $187.5 million is perspective, city staff pointed out that economic impact “is equivalent to the direct economic output generated by 1,855 average-price hotel rooms, or 1.2 million square feet of general retail, or 350,000 square feet of commercial office space.”

The HR&A study concluded the $87.7 million of indirect or induced output has a ripple effect – or “multiplier effect” – in the City’s economy beyond the aviation industry.

For example, the study said a restaurant responsible for 16 jobs would “produce 20 total jobs and $1.6 million in total annual economic output,” the report concluded.

However, the air transportation sector of the City’s economy has a larger “multiplier effect,” the report stated.

Accordingly, the HR&A study concluded 16 jobs in the transportation sector would produce “a total of 29 jobs and $6.7 million in annual economic output.”

“On average, every job in the city’s economy that is supported by operation of the Airport generates $185,000 in annual economic output in the City economy,” city staff said. “Beyond the city’s borders, the Airport Campus also supports a wide range of economic activity in the surrounding West Los Angeles sub region, including transportation of transplant materials for the UCLA Medical Center, operation of the largest citrus grower in the State of California, … and it provides a critical role in emergency preparedness.”

According to a fiscal impact analysis by HR&A, the Airport Campus as a whole “produced about $5.0 million in total revenues” for Fiscal Year 2010-2011, with portions of that revenue deriving from leases, rentals, landing fees, fuel sales, tie-down charges, interest earnings, and various taxes.

The fiscal impact analysis further pointed out that for FY 2010-2011, “salaries, supplies and other general expenses, capital costs, and the cost of services provided by other City departments were nearly equal to total revenues.”

Interestingly enough, supporters of SMO who spoke to The Mirror said part of the reason the airport’s financial operations are only at breakeven status is because of the money City Hall spent in legal disputes.

“Santa Monica’s Airport has been the subject of many legal disputes between the City and Airport users, Airport neighbors, or Airport businesses, (and the FAA),” city staff said.

“The most recent example is the eight year legal battle (in federal court) over the City’s Aircraft Conformance Program and the corresponding ordinance banning Category C & D aircraft. This dispute cost the City well over $1,000,000 and the C & D ban was struck down.”

As published in that federal court decision, Category C and D aircraft, whose approach speeds are 121 knots or greater at maximum landing weight, “make up approximately seven percent of all operations at SMO, (and) are almost exclusively business and executive jets.”

The other 93 percent are Category A and B aircraft, or planes with approach speeds of less than 121 knots at maximum landing weight.

The federal court also stated SMO “functions as a reliever airport for the Los Angeles International Airport” and “serves an important role in the regional and national system of air transportation and air commerce.”

Further, the circuit court ruled closure of SMO would place greater pressure on nearby airports, a pressure those facilities are not equipped to handle.

“It has a vital and critical role in its function as a general aviation reliever for the primary airports in the area. As a reliever facility the Airport attracts and provides services to general aviation thereby diverting aircraft away from the air carrier airports and other heavily used airports in the Greater Los Angeles Area,” circuit judges David Sentelle, Karen Henderson, and Judith Ann Wilson Rogers stated in their January 2011 decision.

“Study and analysis have confirmed this congestion and that other similar general aviation reliever airports in the area are already heavily used and do not have the ability to accept or absorb the service provided by Santa Monica Airport,” the justices continued.

Back here in Santa Monica, at least two council members said while the preference is to reach a compromise with the FAA, airport closure or litigation is not outside the realm of possibility.

“The solution that has the greatest chance of providing relief and withstanding any administrative or court challenge,” Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis told The Mirror. “We are in the process of evaluating how we can best solve those problems and if we can work with the FAA and pilots to avoid administrative or court challenges that jeopardize implementation of possible solutions.

“Of course, if we cannot resolve the problems in an amicable manner, we will be forced to consider closing the airport in 2015 when the 1984 settlement agreement expires.”

Council member Kevin McKeown said working with the FAA has been slow and that a federal suit is a definite possibility.

“There may just be no way to achieve everything our residents want without going up against the FAA in court. We have tried a long slow negotiation, but progress has been glacial, with little indication that the FAA will voluntarily yield much further,” Mc Keown said. “We will have to pull the community together in consensus and begin to implement what we’re told residents want for our airport. If we can do that working with the FAA, that’s our preference, but if we have to, we’ll take action and let a judge decide.”

Though the previous federal suit against the FAA was not successful, McKeown said he hopes City Hall develops a winning strategy should SMO result in litigation within the next few years.

“We put considerable resources into a court case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, and we lost. We’re not afraid to make bold moves when appropriate, but next time we want to make sure to win,” McKeown said.

Post a comment


Sep. 21, 2012, 6:24:04 am

Mary said...

@the author: You should have titled your piece, "SM Airport Benefits to the City" However, the SM Mirror's obvious bias toward closing the airport poses it as a question. The facts are certain that the airport IS a city asset, has been in the past and will continue to be as long as it's open. There is no question here, only a bias on your part to manipulate the situation. I'm guessing there are a lot of developers and anti-airport special interests that buy ad space from the Mirror. Maybe other money exchanges hands for press exposure too? Perhaps I should write a blog investigating why the Mirror wants the airport closed so badly... stay tuned.

Sep. 21, 2012, 8:17:09 am

Paul said...

@ the author: When residents and city council discuss closing or curtailing operations at the airport, they are not referring to non-aviation related businesses on the campus. Santa Monica College wouldn't go anywhere if the airport closed, in fact it would probably expand. So to include these non-aviation businesses in the yearly tally is misleading. The fact is, the airport aviation businesses COST the city $800,000 last year, and more in the preceding years. This is not to argue anything about the greater economic impact the airport might have on the city, but on the subject of the airport's direct operating cost, it's a net loss. You can't include Santa Monica College's profit in the formula.

Sep. 21, 2012, 8:24:36 am

Sam said...

If the city of Santa Monica wants to keep their airport, surely they should share the revenue with Los Angeles, as we are the residents who put up with the vast majority of the health and safety and noise impacts. My children go to school closer to the airport than any Santa Monica child does, and yet SM's schools have a significantly higher budget while ours is crumbling. Where's our tax income?! You can't have an airport with a flightpath that barely intersects the geographical corner of your city, blowing all of its pollution eastward, and then keep the profits to yourselves. Here's an idea: move your airport to the Promenade. That way it's all Santa Monica's problem, and those of us in LA don't have to breathe your filth!

Sep. 21, 2012, 8:47:17 am

Julie Tampe said...

Well, a giant lead factory would bring in lots of money too...doesn't mean I want that in my city. This airport is no longer a small recreational airport. It's a constant stream of big jets. Residents have had it. Reduce it or close it. Let's replace it with a park and some cafes and local shops. It could be a beautiful asset to the city, instead of a giant black-eye.

Sep. 21, 2012, 8:53:36 am

Franklin said...

Did you know that the planes at LAX actually have to wait for the departing jets at SMO? So next time you're on a plane at LAX and they say "we're sixth in line for takeoff" and you can only see four other planes ahead of you, just know you're all waiting on some guy with his own jet at Santa Monica. Just another example of the 1% sticking it to the 99%.

Sep. 21, 2012, 8:57:17 am

Marcy said...

If you got rid of those jets, I'd start going to Spitfire Grill all the time. I love that place--too bad you can't breathe there. Think of all the money those jets push away from the community. There's your real financial impact.

Sep. 21, 2012, 9:00:10 am

Jim Petrocesi said...


Sep. 21, 2012, 9:02:40 am

nimby said...

I see all the real estate developer trolls are out in force! The "I hate airport" people are not really neighbors at all. They are trolling these posts to force their agenda on all the residents of Santa Monica. They want that airport land because it sits high on a hill with a view. What a lovely place for their high rise condos and shopping malls. Like hanging out in the Costco parking lot? That what they'd like to see the airport turned into.

Sep. 21, 2012, 9:04:45 am

Sick of SMO said...

Sam, I love your idea of moving the airport to the Third St. Promenade! Then all you Santa Monica residents could get a taste of the filthy jet exhaust that the rest of us in Mar Vista are breathing ALL THE TIME. Why should your airport be our problem?!

Sep. 21, 2012, 9:07:02 am

Walmart Now! said...

Bring a Super WalMart to Santa Monica! We can use that airport land for it.

Sep. 21, 2012, 9:09:57 am

Dan said...

Close the 10 and 405 now! I am sick of breathing all that exhaust! Close it down!

Sep. 21, 2012, 9:12:26 am

Taylor Hobbs said...

No more police and medical helicopters over my house in Mar Vista! Mar Vista is a NO helicopter zone. Stay away!

Sep. 21, 2012, 9:13:41 am

Sarah and John said...

Hey Nimby, I'd gladly take a Costco over the airport. At least I can breathe standing downwind of a Costco. I'm not a developer, I'm an airport neighbor, and there are children on my street with cancer. So I take incredible offense to your comment. This airport sickens the community, in more ways than one, and I'll gladly take my chances with redevelopment of the land. In fact, I welcome the opportunity!

Sep. 21, 2012, 9:16:14 am

Trina said...

I hate classic cars. They belch too much and don't need to be smogged. Lets ban all classic cars on the west side.

Sep. 21, 2012, 9:19:36 am

Down with cancer said...

I hate cancer. Let's get rid of all things that might cause cancer on the west side. Get rid of all chemicals, cars, foods that cause cancer and make this a cancer free city. I am offended by all of you who drive cars and have carcinogenic things in your home. You should be ashamed of yourself. Think about the children for christ sake!

Sep. 21, 2012, 9:21:44 am

Beware of Developers said...

Get rid of high rise apartments! We don't need all that extra traffic on the west side. They pollute and ruin my view.

Sep. 21, 2012, 9:23:02 am

I hate you too said...

Everyone, we all know you're full of hatred. So tell us what you hate about living in this putrid mess called L.A. Let it all out!

Sep. 21, 2012, 9:24:50 am

Silverlake said...

Boooo west side! Look at you bickering over there. I won't set a toe west of La Brea because of you snotty, spoiled brats over there always fighting.

Sep. 21, 2012, 1:17:11 pm

Frank Knuth said...

If the airport is closed and turned into a park it will incurr huge operating costs and be a magnate for the homeless. In order to pay the operating costs some of the airport will have to be developed. There will be no way to prevent massive development of the airport once it is closed and the resulting negative impacts due to traffic, crime and noise will make the airport noise seem trivial.

Sep. 21, 2012, 4:25:50 pm

Fred said...

The airport is NOT at all the economic powerhouse that the bloated HR

Sep. 23, 2012, 5:52:44 am

Fred the real estate developer said...

Fred, you do realize you live in the 2nd largest city in the world right? Your argument is moot when you think of millions of cars spewing, all of surrounding refineries and the fact that the LA basin is basically a giant bowl to hold in pollutants. I have a suggestion for you and your family. Move to the country where the air is Spring fresh. You're not ever going to get it here. If you close the airport, it will be developed and then many more cars will spew in the traffic surrounding our neighborhood. This isn't about pollution, noise and other trumped up talking points. We all know cities are dirty and dangerous to a degree. This is about MONEY! Maybe your house would be worth a little more if the airport was gone, city councilors can get their bribes from the developers, the developers get richer turning the land into whatever they want....the list goes on.

Sep. 23, 2012, 5:54:15 am

Kat said...

Truth: The 1% are actually the ones trying to close the airport. The other 99% don't care.

Sep. 23, 2012, 12:05:24 pm

Truth said...

There is not a single other runway on the west side between Van Nuys and LAX. When (..when..) the big one hits someday, supplies and aid will likely need to be flown in. I say go ahead close your little airport and build your ritzy mega mall. At least all you whiners will have a place to loot when your families are injured and the lack of fresh water and supplies forces you to do something you thought was unthinkable. Good job on your short sightedness SM!

Sep. 24, 2012, 3:45:07 pm

THINK ABOUT IT... said...

Something this article fails to mention...because SM turned down FAA assistance to build required buffer zones (because those zones would mean ripping out neighborhood homes), the liability for any accident falls squarely on the city. There would be no federal assistance, and there's no insurance for this because the airport is knowingly operating without the required buffer zones. Don't believe me? Ask the SM city attorney. All it would take is one jet to have a runway overrun, and literally in just a few seconds the city of Santa Monica could go completely broke for years and years to come. Not to mention the catastrophic loss of life. A runway overrun is more common than you think--the difference being whenever it happens at other airports the jet plows into the buffer zones, instead of straight into surrounding homes. ...All so Jerry Seinfeld can keep his two jets at SMO.

Sep. 25, 2012, 6:04:05 am

Think about this said...

"Think about it" you are 100% right. The city should immediately buy those homes back at a fair market value, tear them down and build a nice park and nature walk to act as the required buffer zone. That's a win win for the neighborhood. The affected homeowners surely knew there was an airport right there considering it's been there since the 1930s. The greedy developers and corrupt city councilors are responsible for this lack of foresight. Now they are the ones who want the airport land for even more development. Just look at all the development going on in SM. In a few years this will be just like downtown Los Angeles. A congested, smelly, concrete jungle. Thanks Santa Monica city council. I hope you took enough bribes to be worth it.

Sep. 26, 2012, 2:09:29 pm

Hellar said...

If you want the airport to stay open DO NOT vote for Ted Winterer and Richard McKinnon running for SM city council.

Oct. 5, 2012, 10:10:05 am

Joy said...


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