The fiery, fatal crash of an executive jet at Santa Monica Airport last Sunday has added momentum to longstanding community efforts to reduce or end flights into the densely populated area.
Martin Rubin, director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, said a coalition of local groups is hosting a workshop meeting Thursday for residents to envision the change they'd like to see in the airport's use.
The coalition Airport2Park.org includes Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic and Sunset Park Anti-Airport, Inc. The workshop had been announced a month before the crash, but the incident added urgency to the community campaign to end jet traffic at the city-run, general aviation airport.
The crash that killed a building company CEO, his son and two other passengers started a fire in a hangar that is perilously close to homes, said Rubin in an interview on the airport tower's observation deck.
"If that hangar wasn't there, it's possible that particular plane could have wound up in homes and this tragedy would have been even worse," he said.
Rubin has been involved in efforts to bar jets and close the airport for more than 15 years, and his Concerned Residents group formed ten years ago. Rubin said the crash has revived decades-long efforts by community groups to restrict or end air traffic at Santa Monica Airport.
He's got an ally in State Senator Ted Lieu, who represents the area. Lieu recalled campaigning in the airport neighborhood in 2005 and visiting a homeowner who handed him a black ball: "I look at this black ball and I said, 'What is this?' And he says, 'It's an orange, an orange with all the soot from the jet exhaust on the fruit.'"
Lieu said a federal law bars airport workers from being within 300 feet of jet exhaust, yet residents actually live within that distance. He has held state hearings on jet pollution affecting homes.
"These homes' experience not just potential safety dangers, but also jet exhaust blowing right into their living rooms. Noise is a concern as well," he said during an interview at the airport.
The City of Santa Monica has tried — and failed — to restrict jet traffic over the years. Most recently, the city's proposed ban on jets with land speeds of 130 to 190 mph failed in court in 2011.
The city lost an earlier legal battle to reduce air traffic and as part of the settlement signed a 30-year agreement with the FAA in 1985. Senator Lieu wants the city to take a portion of its 5,000-foot runway out of service when the FAA agreement ends in June 2015. That would make it too short for the largest private jets.
But the FAA says the city is obligated to keep the airport operating at least through 2023. The city gave assurances to keep the airport open in exchange for federal Airport Improvement Program grants, said Laura J. Brown, an FAA spokeswoman. The city also acquired the airport land at no cost in 1948 via the Surplus Propert Act, agreeing to operate the airport beyond 2023, she said.
Santa Monica Public Works Director Martin Pastucha said use of the airport at its current traffic level is not an option after the settlement agreement expires in June 2015.
"The one option that we know that really isn't under consideration is status quo," Pastucha said. "The airport will not remain the same as it is now."
Pastucha said the Santa Monica Public Works Department would not be involved with the community vision workshop because, so far, the city is reviewing only the options for reducing or eliminating flights. He plans to give the city council a list of options by April. Only after the council makes some decisions about the projected future intensity of air traffic could they move on to consider the alternate uses of the sort that will be discussed by the community groups.
Lois Whitman is a Venice resident who uses the dog park adjacent to the airport. She said she is often disturbed at home by the 8,400 takeoffs and landings that occur, on average, every month at the airport, which she'd like to see closed.
"The jets make noise, but it's fast and it's over quickly," Whitman said. But she added that traffic from flight schools is constant and all day.
Whitman plans to attend the Airport2Park.org meeting to hear others' ideas and contribute her own.
"I'd like to see expansion of Santa Monica College, I'd like to see the parks expanded. It'd be nice to even have a kiddie wading pool," she said. "Maybe a bike path."