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The Mirror’s four-part special report will examine Santa Monica Airport’s future and will include perspectives from airport officials, citizens, the City Attorney’s office, council members, and other leaders.
Photo by Mitch James
The Mirror’s four-part special report will examine Santa Monica Airport’s future and will include perspectives from airport officials, citizens, the City Attorney’s office, council members, and other leaders.

News, Santa Monica, Santa Monica Airport

Special Report: Part 1

The Future Of Santa Monica Airport: 2015 Is Almost Here

Posted Sep. 7, 2012, 1:43 am

Parimal M. Rohit / Staff Writer

This November, Santa Monica voters will have more at stake than deciding who is best fit to significantly alter the course of America’s economic, social, and political future for the next four years. With four Santa Monica City Council seats up for grabs and two council members not seeking reelection, who voters select to represent them at City Hall these next two years will directly influence the future of Santa Monica Airport (SMO).

Indeed, SMO has become a lightning rod of an issue for residents in Santa Monica and surrounding communities. The next council must decide during its term whether to maintain SMO as is, reduce its operation, or shut the airport down altogether. Forcing the issue is a contract the City of Santa Monica has with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that is set to expire June 30, 2015.

There have been some news reports that have indicated the FAA believes its agreement with City Hall, which was entered into in 1984, has been extended through 2023.

Concerned of the negative health impacts emanating from SMO and recent airplane crashes from flights taking off there, Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl has been a vocal advocate against the airport’s operations. Rosendahl has long contended SMO directly and negatively impacts the residents living in his district, which includes Mar Vista, Pacific Palisades, and Venice.

Just the same, State Senator Ted Lieu, whose South Bay district includes LAX and Torrance Airport, recently called for an investigation of lead-blood levels and air pollution at SMO in light of a study, partially funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which indicates “children who live within 500 meters of airports have significantly higher levels of lead in their blood.”

The Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP) is hosting a council candidates forum this Thursday, Sept. 13 to specifically discuss SMO and the impact it has on Santa Monica and surrounding communities.

CRAAP Director Martin Rubin, who will moderate the forum, said its group had endorsed candidates in the past and will again evaluate all Council candidates for possible endorsement.

“As we approach 2015, Santa Monica voters are very interested in what will be the City’s stance on the future of the 227 acres that are now Santa Monica Airport,” Rubin told The Mirror. “This election as well as the 2014 election for the remaining three Council seats will determine the makeup of the Council responsible for making the important decisions regarding SMO and directing City Staff to carry out their directives.”

The Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic (CASMAT) surveyed the airport’s operations and discovered flight schools and patterned flying make up about 60 percent of SMO’s takeoff traffic.

“There are way too many flight schools for such a congested airport,” John Fairweather, a member of CASMAT, told The Mirror. “About 60 percent of the takeoffs are flight school and training related. It comes down to limiting the number of operations regardless of whose operations they are.”

Fairweather added the best way to limit the number of operations at SMO would be for council members to pass the proposed Flight Operations Reduction Rule (FORR) Ordinance.

Indeed, earlier this week, Santa Monica Airport Commission (SMAC) Chair David Goddard sent a formal request to the City Council to consider voting on the proposed FORR ordinance later this month.

Such an ordinance, if adopted by council members, would apply to all aircraft and reduce the number of daily flights, especially those from flight schools, coming in and out of SMO.

“The number of daily operations would be limited to 53 (percent) of the daily operations from the prior year. For example, if there were 100 operations on June 6, 2011, then no more than 53 operations would be allowed on June 6, 2013,” Goddard explained.

He further explained City Hall would be operating well within legal capacity in enacting the proposed FORR ordinance.

“We have long lived with the legal misperception that the FAA has control over the City because of the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990,” Goddard wrote to Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis in an email. “The Airport Commission undertook a thorough analysis that demonstrates the City has the ‘proprietary power’ to adopt the FORR and the only possible penalty is no future federal airport funds (that) the City has already decided to avoid. Further, this action does not violate our agreements so there is no potential ‘loss of rights.’”

The proposed FORR ordinance is the latest attempt to control SMO’s activities. In 1981, the then City Council adopted Resolution 6296 calling for SMO to be shut down as soon as “practicable.”

That resolution sought to “remove from aviation use” a western parcel of SMO’s 5,000-foot runway. An Instrument of Transfer gave City Hall ownership of SMO in 1948 with the requirement that it be operated in perpetuity. Any decision to shut down SMO, it could be inferred, may result in the federal government reclaiming the ownerships stake it had in the airport prior to 1948 and possible seek legal action against Santa Monica.

According Resolution 6296, a “westerly” parcel of the runway is not governed by the 1948 Instrument of Transfer and, therefore, City Hall may act upon that portion of SMO without threat of FAA interference.

The 1984 Agreement requires that the City to maintain a 5,000 foot runway but upon its expiration on July 1, 2015, that obligation expires and the City, as the owner of the (westerly) parcel, can remove it from aviation use.

Goddard told The Mirror this would eliminate about 2,000 feet of runway space. While that may not necessarily shut the airport down, it may drastically limit the use of certain aircraft, such as jets, and help implement the FORR should the council implement it.

Cutting runway space may not be City Hall’s only option in possibly curtailing SMO’s operations. The City Council may take action prior to the November election in eliminating the airport’s landing fee exemption.

“There are some things we can and will do now: in October, we plan to end the current landing fee exemption for airport-based businesses, including flight schools, making them pay, like other aircraft must, for every use of the airport,” Council member Kevin McKeown told The Mirror.

McKeown added City Hall does have the power to control SMO’s fate.

“Based on our legal position, we believe we have very significant control over the future of the airport land. The specifics depend greatly on what and when,” McKeown said. “We were forced into the Agreement by a court settlement, but it expires in 2015. At that point, less than three years away now, our federal grant obligations also end, and all ground leases at the airport are up, so we will have much greater flexibility to make major changes if our community wishes.”

Even more, as pointed out by CASMAT, there appears to be overwhelming support by local residents to either limit SMO’s operations or shut the airport down altogether.

According to a trio of surveys cited by CASMAT that reached about 1,400 people, more than 80 percent of respondents claimed they want SMO’s “aviation operations reduced, mitigated, or eliminated completely.”

On the other end of the spectrum, City Hall maintains closing the airport is quite the difficult task despite Resolution 6296 and the apparent public sentiment in favor of SMO’s closure.

“Generally speaking, both the FAA and the aviation industry strongly and successfully oppose the closure of airports,” City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie wrote in a July 12 memo to council members. “The FAA has repeatedly expressed its firm commitment to keep airports open.”

In that same memo, Moutrie point out that in light of the Council’s recommendation to move forward with Phase 3 of the SMO Visioning Process, “work has progressed on a number of initiatives intended to help the City determine how the Airport might become a better neighbor.”

Those initiatives, the memo pointed out, include increased transparency of airport operations, education seminars for the general public, continuing the annual Airport Open House event, transforming SMO into a “Green” airport, develop improvements for non-aviation land, increased community benefits (such as exhaust silencing technology), and regular dialogue with the FAA “to explore all possibilities for reducing adverse impacts of Airport operations.”

Interestingly enough, City Hall approved as part of its Biennial Budget last year nearly $3 million in capital improvement projects to take place at SMO, including airfield pavement rehabilitation, airfield lighting repairs, and building maintenance.

As for what SMO could be repurposed for if the envisioning process leads to the airport being shut down?

Resident Gavin Scott suggested in this week’s Letter to the Editor the plot of land be converted into an urban forest.

“If the Santa Monica Airport is finally closed down I propose it should be converted into an urban forest, the asphalt replaced by dense, shady stands of trees of all kinds, threaded by bike paths winding past pools and streams, and little unexpected playgrounds, bandstands, and bowers,” Scott said. “The end of the airport shouldn’t be seen as a negative, but as an amazing opportunity for Santa Monica to pioneer a new way to live, work and prosper.”

Stay tuned to The Mirror for this continuing series on SMO. In the next few weeks, The Mirror’s coverage of SMO will include additional perspectives from the airport officials, citizens, the City Attorney’s office, council members, and other leaders.

Post a comment


Sep. 7, 2012, 2:36:56 am

rachel said...


Sep. 7, 2012, 3:25:40 am

Jerry Rubin said...

More trains, less planes.

Sep. 7, 2012, 4:19:30 am

Cindy said...

"operated in perpetuity" What is it that our city council doesn't understand? It is a wonderful little airport and it creates less pollution than the most likely scenario the city council will come up with, such as low income housing. I hope the FAA takes it back and seizes surrounding properties by eminent domain. If you don't like it, why did you move here?

Sep. 7, 2012, 4:55:00 am

Carl said...

Just what part of "THIS AIRPORT HAS OUTGROWN IT'S USEFULNESS AND SAFETY" the airport lovers don't get. I moved here 30 years ago, at that time there were no jets and minimal flight schools. City staff has permitted the airport to be what it is today, the most densely populated airport in the country. When one of those jets crashes and takes out 2-3 blocks of homes, then what will you say.? Oh, stuff happens!!!!!!

Sep. 7, 2012, 5:04:40 am

JG said...

If the City of Santa Monica no longer wants the airport, I understand that the FAA can take back the airport and find another sponsor--perhaps Los Angeles County, which currently is the sponsor for a number of airports within the county.

Sep. 7, 2012, 5:49:02 am

rubin said...

When a big earthquake hits and the roads and freeways are too clogged for emergency help to get through, you can thank Martin Rubin and his developer cronies for closing down the only runway where medivac aircraft can land.

Sep. 7, 2012, 5:52:04 am

Les said...

Santa Monica Mirror is very biased and anti-airport. I wonder what sort of funds they are getting for deceiving the public. The don't want to put a park on that land, they want to build office parks and condos. It's a real estate developers dream and they are using the SM Mirror to spread their agenda.

Sep. 7, 2012, 6:05:36 am

Bob said...

I heard a siren last night! We need to close all roads NOW. There is too much pollution spouted by your cars and noise. Close all roads NOW!

Sep. 7, 2012, 6:06:02 am

Enough already said...

I'm forming a committee called Stop Hating Airports Today

Sep. 7, 2012, 6:54:26 am

Carl said...

Rubin, have you ever given any thought what so ever about the "Big Earthquake" hitting and closing all roads and freeways. If it closes all roads and freeways what makes you think that it will not destroy the airport and runway.??

Sep. 7, 2012, 7:09:56 am

Brenton Garen - Editor-In-Chief said...

The Mirror will be presenting arguments both for and against Santa Monica Airport in this series and present various facts and opinions for readers to make up their own conclusions about the airport.

Sep. 7, 2012, 8:18:08 am

richard said...

SM Airport is part of the fabric of our community. It predates nearly all of the neighbors who might be against its survival. Just keep the number, type and decibels of flights restricted to an acceptable level.

Sep. 7, 2012, 8:19:51 am

Jonathan Stein said...

The articel reaffirms what residents know: the City has sufficient proprietary powers to severely restrict airport operations. However, there is a bias of many in City Hall to maintain teh status quo. It is a failure of democracy that teh Airport remains open, 31 years after teh 1981 Resolution committed this City to close it.

Sep. 7, 2012, 8:48:25 am

libby said...

Google Jonathan Stein and you'll see he's an attorney trying to finesse some business deals out of the airport land by dividing it into several parcels. Don't you see this is just a land grab and the minority of "concerned citizens" are just pawns in their game?

Sep. 7, 2012, 9:05:44 am

Jon Mann said...

I was the first city council candidate to advocate closing the airport in 2015. No one else dared to agree with me until the 2010, but with the present council it will NEVER happen. They will roll over and compromise with the FAA to keep the airport open without extending the runways. That's the way it works in politics; this is our ONLY chance to THROW THE BUMS OUT!!!

Sep. 7, 2012, 10:14:45 am

Janet said...

Guys, it is not true that we all bought our houses in the flight path. I bought my house in 1996 in Ocean Park. It was quiet then, with no more than a quiet slow moving little plane now and then. Now it is a free for all. It has become unbearable. I also know people North of Montana who are feeling the same way. It is only getting worse. Something needs to happen. I don't like the idea of closing it. But, making the runway shorter by 2,000 feet will make it the sleepy little airport it once was. Add a little parkland around it and it will be better for everyone.

Sep. 7, 2012, 1:18:43 pm

Damen said...

Shorten the runways and build a little park - that's a dream world. Shortening the runway affects safety for ALL aircraft, small ones included. But you don't care about anyone's safety anyway. It's just about you and your petty little ways, Nimby. The truth is, if they close the airport the new problem will be traffic to and from the new strip malls, office parks and condos going up on that land. If you don't like living in a city then there is plenty of rural real estate that's nice and quiet.

Sep. 7, 2012, 1:22:01 pm

North of Montana said...

Jon Mann has his own agenda trying to drum up contracts for his internet businesses. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The rest of the council is right in keeping the airport open. They realize the value it is to the community and don't cower to a SMALL, petty group of neighbors who want to force their opinions down the rest of our throats.

Sep. 7, 2012, 2:26:18 pm

Carl said...

Mr /. Ms. North of Montana. You might just change your mind when in the near future you learn that over 3 Million of our tax dollars go to that airport to subsidize for profit company operations. Thats right, EVERY tax payer in santa monica subsidizes the airport. This does not just concern the people who live near the airport, it concerns all tax payers What say you now.

Sep. 8, 2012, 2:32:59 am

Robert Brown said...

The abuse on our neighborhood from JETS at Santa Monica Airport must end!! Just last night we were awoken well after midnight be jet screaming overhead at VERY LOW altitude. No other entity can 'legally' violate our peace and quiet of our neighbor hood like the airport. CLOSE IT DOWN!!

Sep. 8, 2012, 7:15:51 am

Peter said...

Close it down, close it down, close it down. I was at soccer practice in Cheviot Hills this morning and everyone there was complaining about the jets cruising in over the fields. Most of the negative impacts of SMO affect Los Angeles residents, and therefore Santa Monica has an obligation to take responsibility for their mess. I recognize many of the names on this board as out-of-town pilots. Time to do what the local residents want...close it down!

Sep. 8, 2012, 7:58:20 am

Mike said...

The airport operates at a loss, sucks up valuable taxpayer subsidies, is a health and noise and safety burden to local residents, and yet is used mostly by wealthier people in the Palisades and why do we put up with it? Either close it down, or at least get rid of these ever-bigger and louder jets.

Sep. 8, 2012, 9:09:20 am

Loren said...

Carl, you a liar. You pulled that number out of your rear. These are the scare tactics this minority uses to force their agenda on you and I. A quick Google search for "Santa Monica Airport revenue" will quickly show the FACTS that the airport makes money for the community. Most funding comes from FEDERAL not local. Yes taxpayers pay a tiny percentage for this. They also pay for police, fire, roads and other services. I have never had to call the fire department but I "subsidize" them with my tax dollars. The airport gives back way more to the community than it costs.

Sep. 8, 2012, 9:12:24 am

Johan said...

Mike and Carl are both liars! The airport brings in millions in revenues to the city. Who are they trying to fool when all of us can just look up the facts on our computers! Stop with the lies and trying to win through intimidation. It's not going to work. The citizens of Santa Monica want an airport!

Sep. 8, 2012, 9:20:06 am

Santa Monica Pilot said...

You recognize the first-name only of pilots from other airports? Are you people insane or do you just spend all day filled with hate for all things that fly over? The police helicopter flew over last night and woke me up. Can we force them to stop flying? How about the ambulance sirens every night going to the ER in Santa Monica? What about shutting down the freeway at night? These are urban noises! Guess what? Santa Monica isn't the sleepy little town it once way. It has changed but you have not. Perhaps it's time for you to adapt or leave.

Sep. 8, 2012, 9:24:47 am

Janet said...

I lived at the southeastern edge of Santa Monica in the early 1990s. The majority of flights were small planes. Now I live at the northeastern edge of SMO in Los Angeles and the majority of flights are huge "small" jets. While they idle on the tarmac for up to 20 minutes, the smell of burning jet fuel reaches my house at least eight blocks away. There are young children living directly in the flight path and people with significant health issues. If SMO remains open, it must be limited to small planes only--but it should be closed.

Sep. 8, 2012, 9:27:13 am

Not Rich! said...

I'm a pilot at SMO and I'm not rich and I don't live in the palisades. I live in Venice with roommates and work a menial 40 hour a week job. I happen to love airplanes and spend any extra income I can on flying. I go out of my way to fly quietly over my community. We have more noise abatement procedures and regulations than almost any airport in the nation. Every pilot I know wants to be friendly to the neighborhood. Even the jet pilots try to be as courteous as they can safely be. We are not your enemies! We are your neighbors.

Sep. 8, 2012, 1:25:30 pm

Sardis Ave homeowner said...

@Janet - I live in your neighborhood too. I'm sorry the airport bugs you. If I thought for a second my wife and kids were in danger I would sell my house and move at any cost. I don't feel that way. I recognize that I live near an airport and a busy freeway in a very congested end of town. Lots of things bother me but I don't go around trying to close all of them. I get the impression a lot of this is about control. When you live in a city sometimes you have to grow up and realize you can't control everything you don't like. I talk to my neighbors and rarely hear a complaint about the airport. I think a lot of this is being driven by people with something to gain financially by closing the airport. - T.K. on Sardis Ave

Sep. 9, 2012, 4:11:01 am

Carl said...


Sep. 9, 2012, 1:48:44 pm

Natalie McAdams said...

It is interesting to me that the Santa Monica City Attorney is always saying that the City cannot exercise its proprietary powers and overestimating the powers of the FAA. I wonder if she has ties to AOPA and the pilots. She seems determined not to explore any options. and as implied in this article, all the measures she supports presume that the airport will be around for a long time. Too bad, she is not an elected official. On the other hand, it's refreshing to see the Airport Commission taking such a strong position in favor of the closure. It is notable that there are other things that could be done before 2015 such as the closure of the jet fuel centers at SMO, another good way to deter the Jets. As for the comments, if you think SMO doesn't create massive toxic pollution you are very informed and if you can't think of any other uses for that parcel of land that don't cause simliar toxic pollution, then you are very unimaginative. Almost anything would be better and would actually make money for the city instead off costing the City in subsidies each year. Lot of things used to be around that aren't any more because of the health impacts. That tired old argument needs to be put to bed.

Sep. 9, 2012, 3:52:07 pm

Muffin said...

Carl, stop with the lies. We all have Google right in front of us for fact checking. The airport already charges landing fees. Jets pay upwards of $100 per landing at SMO right now.

Sep. 9, 2012, 3:58:24 pm

Real Neighbor said...

Natalie, Would you happier if they built hi rise condos and a mall on the property? Complaining about the airport pollution while still living in LA is like going into a cigar bar and asking the guy next to you to put that thing out. The whole place is full of toxic air. How many million cars are out there right now spewing brown crud? This is for your own petty agenda or you work in development and want to keep spinning the story in your favor. The actual neighbors are sick being pushed around by this tiny group.

Sep. 9, 2012, 4:05:29 pm

Walter said...

I want SMO closed so they can build a gigantic Super Walmart that is open 24/7 and an 1800 unit low income Section 8 housing project. I want all of the poor folks from the surrounding area to flock to your precious neighborhood. Let's see what that does to your property values. Whatever they decode to build on that land it ain't going to be a park! That precious land is going to the high bidder and they will build whatever they feel with make them the most profit. Be careful what you ask for NIMBYs.

Sep. 10, 2012, 2:26:36 am

Carl said...

Muffin, You are absolutely correct, jets do pay landing fees and the amount that they pay is some of the lowest in the country. Now Muffin, there is not one jet that calls SMO it;s home base and if you again read the article it is talking about the over 400 planes at SMO including the flight schools. Now this would definitely close the gap of what the tax payers are subsidizing. NOTE: Google is not the only source of information.

Sep. 12, 2012, 3:45:42 pm

Carl Childers from Slingblade said...

There goes Carl lying again. Let's see some links. Oh wait, Google has no facts. Carl must be running for a GOP nod because he just makes his own facts up! Actually SMO had some of the highest fees but a federal judge determined the city was discriminating against aircraft types. SMO is one of the most regulated in the nation.

Sep. 12, 2012, 4:00:51 pm

Jim said...

Carl's just like ALL of these nimby whiners with the facts in their heads: They're the same people that call the police when a car is parked two inches from the red zone. They form committees over lawn length and the color of your mailbox. They complain to waitresses the coffee is too hot and the toast is too dry. They threaten to sue their neighbor's dog for looking at their cat. They are miserable sacks.

Sep. 12, 2012, 4:07:16 pm

Beware of Developers said...

I think most of the airport haters are plants. Everyone knows the neighbors that want the airport closed are a minority. The real estate developers with their friends in the SM city council sitting in their back pockets are the real threat. This is just as astro turf as the tea party. It's big money interests trying for a land grab. They make you think it's about this and that meanwhile they can't wait to start laying the foundation of some monstrosity. Just look at who's running the anti-airport show. It's rich lawyers, land owners and city officials who have been bought.

Oct. 2, 2012, 3:10:00 am

Anne S. said...

The astro turf groups you speak of are supporting Richard McKinnon and Ted Winterer for city council. Many of these groups are based in LA. Read that again. They are based in LA and want to control OUR city council. These candidates DO NOT have Santa Monica's best interests in mind.

Oct. 5, 2012, 10:05:44 am

Joy said...

I'm starting to do some research on this issue

Oct. 29, 2012, 11:44:17 am

Gman said...

Why don't you condem houses near the airport and plant trees. That's better than closin an airport and planting trees

Oct. 29, 2012, 1:32:06 pm

GmanRoyalllwind said...

We need to close the freeways too because they are dangerous and pollution and kill people too much. Reopen wagontrails and ride horses to work That should make the sheeeple happy

Oct. 7, 2013, 11:40:03 pm

Carl PB said...

Let's close Santa Monica, so then we can close Burbank, Van Nuys, Whitemen, ect. We can all take the "High Speed Train" everywhere! Understand that with SMO in operation, that brings business, education and it's part of your history. Basically, this town wouldn't of existed. Okay I understand your arguments. The beach bring everyone to your precious city or is it the ambassadors on the "popular corners" Santa Monica residents! You are all about to through history away and the jobs that it offers. As yourself this question? What are the benefits that General Aviation Airports offer to a community? Sure blame everything on the Airport. Airplanes are the only vehicles that pollute the environment? What effects do cars have on the environment again? 12:00AM you were woken by a jet landing at SMO. Now that's a "good one", Maybe it was Santa Clause getting ready for this year! "Really" My brother lives, works and went to college in Santa Monica, I have never heard him nor his friends complain. Your afraid of a airplane crashing into your house? Your more likely to be in a car accident before that will happen. Thanks for your time.

Dec. 7, 2015, 6:24:27 pm

jim said...

Just a matter of time before a jet crashes and level off a block of houses or one of the many beginner pilots using SMO as training ground!!! I have seen a few scary aborted landings and many unsteady pilots trying to balance their plane ....and I dont feel safe living near SMO...what if one crashes on Richland elementary that houses 300 students... 90% of the kids are coming from minority families that do not live in the maybe the proximity of the school isnt important enough to SMO....

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