Initiative Process Sought To Alter Santa Monica’s Airport Strategy

Friday, 28 Mar 2014, 12:12:00 PM

Parimal M. Rohit

The 2014 Election could prove to be one of the most significant votes in Santa Monica history. Voters could potentially be deciding the fates of two significant properties come Nov. 4: the Hines development at the old Papermate site at 1681 26th Street and Santa Monica Airport (SMO).

A coalition of residents gathered enough signatures earlier this month to call for a referendum to reverse the Hines development agreement (DA) approved by the Santa Monica City Council in February.

Nearly two weeks after the coalition submitted more than 13,000 signatures to Santa Monica City Clerk Sarah Gorman, another group of residents reportedly visited her office Thursday, March 27 to file paperwork to begin the initiative process and challenge the Santa Monica City Council’s plan to potentially shut down SMO as early as next year.

Thursday’s reported filing comes less than 48 hours after the City Council unanimously adopted a plan to look into how SMO could either be shut down or have its operations significantly cut.

The initiative could result in a ballot measure, giving voters the final say in whether SMO would stay open after a federal agreement with the City requiring it to operate the airport in its current form expires on June 30, 2015.

According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the initiative specifically seeks to have the City Charter amended to place the future of SMO in voters’ hands.

A statement published on the AOPA website stated SMO and the adjacent business park are “low density, valuable community land uses that generate business, jobs and tax revenue for the city.”

The AOPA stated closure of SMO “would likely lead to higher density development.”

Interestingly enough, Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor and Santa Monica Councilman Kevin McKeown both said at Tuesday's March 25 council meeting SMO would not be converted into Century City West should the airport be shut down.

Even more, there is a coalition of residents – Airport2Park.org – who seek to have SMO converted into a regional park.

However, the published statement on the AOPA website challenges such a vision, claiming City Hall stated, “it does not have the resources to develop and maintain such valuable property for low-density use, like a park.”

AOPA stated on its website it would lend nationwide support to the effort to keep SMO operational because it is a historic airport “which plays a significant role not only in the local economy but also in the regional and national transportation system.”

“Santa Monica Municipal acts as a vital general aviation reliever airport for nearby Los Angeles International and other airports in the congested L.A. Basin. Ongoing battles over the airport land also have implications for more than 200 other airports nationwide that benefit from similar post-WWII property agreements with the federal government,” the published statement on AOPA’s website stated.

Also according to the AOPA’s website, the association states SMO “delivers some $250 million in annual economic impact, hosts 175 businesses, and is responsible for 1,500 jobs in the city.”

The initiative filing is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga involving the future of SMO. Beyond the City Council’s decision earlier this week to potentially limit the airport’s current operations, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by City Hall seeking ownership over SMO last month.

It remains to be seen how a ballot initiative, if ultimately allowed to go forward, would be impacted by federal agreements governing SMO. While a quit claim deed attached to a portion of SMO is set to expire as early as June 30, 2015, another segment of the airport is governed by a federal agreement requiring the airport to remain in operation for perpetuity.

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