The future of Santa Monica Airport is up in the air. The 30-year land and building agreement with the FFA is set to expire in 2015. Now, Santa Monica City Council must decide what to do with the 227-acre space.
Santa Monica city officials say this will release them from their obligation to operate the facility as an airport. But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t agree. They claim the city must operate the airport indefinitely per a 1948 "instrument of transfer."
Adding to the decades-long brouhaha, thousands of nearby residents who are sick of the noise, pollution and plane crashes want the airport closed. But the FAA seems steadfast in their demand to keep the airport open. Santa Monica City Mayor Richard Bloom said that the FFA has ignored local-level concerns.
"This is the thing that looms over all of our issues, and that is the FAA has enormous control and influence over the airport. While it is within the jurisdictional boundaries of Santa Monica, and we certainly believe that we own the airport, the FAA has a countervailing opinion," Bloom said Wednesday. "All of this litigation takes place in federal courts, and what we have learned ... is that the federal courts defer very strongly to the federal agency."
Phase two of the city council's decision-making plan is looking to the community. The city of Santa Monica has hired consultants to study the airport space and will begin asking for the public's input on possible future uses early next year.
Laura Silagi, Co-chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council's Santa Monica Airport Ad-Hoc Committee, said these community discussions are already starting with a large setback.
"I personally would [close the airport], and so would a large segment of people who live around the airport. The problem that we have with Santa Monica however, in terms of their process of vetting the community, is that they're not putting that on the table."
Both Mayor Bloom and Silagi agree that flight schools and their flight patterns should be diminished, some transferred elsewhere or otherwise changed.
Joe Justice, owner of a flight school at the Santa Monica Airport, said flight traffic there has already lessened by about a third to a half of what it was 20 years ago. "We're running businesses; we deal with trying to stay alive in the economy," he said.
The battle could end up in court with pilots and Westside jet-setters on one side against opponents annoyed with blaring jets and potentially hazardous levels of fuel exhaust. The city’s history of trying to close the airport stretches back to the 1960s when they imposed a ban on jets, which was then repealed by the courts. In the 1980s, the city council voted to close the airport when legally possible but finally settled to keep the airport open while imposing strict noise regulations.
"Times change and community needs change, and I think, as good stewards of the environment, good stewards of the community, [we] are always looking at ways to improve, whatever the issue might be," Mayor Bloom said. "The process of what we're engaged in is intended to identify those issues, and think about what the steps might be, short of closure."
So what should be done with this aviation hub? Is there some way to balance all the competing interests? Do its benefits outweigh the costs? Should SMO be shuttered or saved?
Richard Bloom, Mayor, City of Santa Monica
Laura Silagi, Co-chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Santa Monica Airport Ad-Hoc Committee
Joe Justice, owner of Justice Aviation, a flight school at the Santa Monica Airport