In an effort to address concerns regarding noise and safety at its municipal airport, the Santa Monica Airport Commission is recommending that the City Council approve an ordinance that would limit the number of flights at the city-owned general aviation airfield.
A proposal brought forth by Airport Commission Vice Chair David Goddard at the commission’s July 23 meeting cites three recommendations and “other judicially sanctioned operational limits,” as well as the ordinance, which the commissioners believe provides the city with sufficient legal grounds to implement the limitation on flight operations.
“The community has spoken about what it wants through the visioning process,” said Goddard, referring to a city-sponsored survey that asked residents their opinions on what should transpire after 2015, the date that city officials say an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration ends.
Several residents have expressed the belief that the airport should be closed.
Goddard said Santa Monica City Attorney Marsha Moutrie’s office disagreed with one legal case that it cited as support for the proposed ordinance: a 2000 Van Nuys Airport Non-Addition Rule.
“The facts of (this recommendation) are quite different from the facts at the Van Nuys Airport,” Moutrie’s office wrote.
Goddard said Moutrie did not offer any legal precedent for her office’s opinion. “She didn’t provide any case law for her position,” he said.
The commissioners are basing the proposed ordinance on a municipal law they assert is similar to one in New York that was enacted in 1998. In a memo, they outlined how the ordinance would function.
“The number of daily operations would be limited to 53 percent of the daily operations from the prior years,” the memo states. “For example, if there were 100 operations on June 6, 2012, then no more than 53 operations would be allowed on June 6, 2013.”
The Santa Monica proposal will differ from the airport in the flowing manner: the suggested law will apply to all aircraft and not discriminate against any aircraft consistent with the airport’s agreements and it would be based on the number of daily flight operations as reported by the FAA Airport Traffic Record for Santa Monica Airport.
Goddard said 47 percent of operations can be reduced with the implementation of the ordinance and the mechanism that his commission is proposing is one that other cities have used.
“We believe the city of Santa Monica can do something,” he said. “Other cities have exercised their proprietor-power abilities as long as you don’t use it to discriminate against certain types of aircraft.”
Santa Monica Deputy City Attorney Ivan Campbell said the information that his office provided the council and the commission was advisory in nature only, as the city’s governing body has not discussed the proposed flight reduction ordinance publicly.
“There is no council recommendation yet,” Campbell explained. “The information was provided to assist the council with the commission’s recommendations.”
Santa Monica Airport Association President Steven Siry thinks the proposed ordinance might be out of the commission’s purview.
“It sounds like the commission is trying to change the (flight operation) procedures at the airport,” said Siry, who learned how to fly at Santa Monica Airport. “The commission should review the 1984 agreement with the FAA.”
Siry was referring to a contract between the federal government and Santa Monica, which touches on a variety of topics, including all parties’ legal rights as well as concerns regarding national and aviation interests and residents’ anxieties about noise from the airport, among many other things.
The commission memo states that the body has reviewed the agreement and “found no prohibition of any recommendations in the timeframes proposed.”
Martin Rubin, the director of an anti-air pollution organization, Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, thinks the commission’s recommendations have some merit.
“The airport commission’s recommendations appear to have potential,” said Rubin, whose group has often been at odds with the council on decisions regarding the airport.
FAA authorities say Santa Monica has not presented them with any formal proposal to restrict operations at the general aviation airport. Generally speaking, airports that have accepted federal funds and that were transferred under the Surplus Property Act cannot arbitrarily restrict aircraft operations, said an FAA spokesman.
The federal agency contends its agreement with Santa Monica regarding the airport ends in 2023.
The boards of the Friends of Sunset Park and the Ocean Park Association have endorsed the commission proposals.
“The Ocean Park Association voted almost unanimously to support the airport commission recommendations which include the flight reductions ordinance because they address and support the concerns expressed by 85 percent of the participants in the association’s airport survey, as well as those expressed by the vast majority of the participants in the city’s own Phase II study,” said Michele Perrone, the association’s airport committee chair.
Ocean Park resident Marcy Winograd, the association’s secretary, said the commission’s suggestions are important steps toward minimizing what a large number of residents feel are deleterious effects from toxins that emanate from the airport.
“Although many of us would like to see the airport closed, the board thinks that it’s imperative for the city to mitigate the noise and pollution from the jet airplanes,” said Winograd, a former congressional candidate. “It’s wrong for Santa Monica to subsidize the airport for the 1 percent.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents nearby Mar Vista and Venice, applauded the commission’s actions as promising news.
“For years, operations at Santa Monica Airport have had an undue impact on neighboring communities by polluting them with unhealthy air and noise,” the councilman said. “While I advocate closing the airport entirely, I commend Santa Monica for taking this great and very large first step.”
Santa Monica officials have attempted various measures in recent years to limit air traffic at the airfield. In 2007, the council voted to ban certain aircraft from the airport. The FAA challenged the ban in court and the case went to federal court in Washington, D.C., where the federal government prevailed.
Last month a plan to send students at the airport’s flight schools to train at other municipal airfields was tabled.
“I’ve concluded that public fears and perceptions have escalated to the point that it is impossible to imagine that this test would be able to receive fair and objective evaluation,” Santa Monica City Manager Rod Gould announced at the city’s July 17 meeting. “For those reasons, (city) staff requests that this creative response to community wishes be tabled indefinitely.”
Under the proposal, the city would have paid Santa Monica Airport’s flight schools $150 when student pilots practiced their take-offs and landings on holidays and weekends at other municipal airports.
Goddard thinks the ordinance and what the commission is requesting could become an important topic of discussion in the Nov. 6 election, when four members of the Santa Monica City Council will be up for reelection.
“The community is moving very quickly around this issue. They want to make it an election issue,” Goddard asserted.
The terms of Mayor Richard Bloom, Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis, and Councilmen Terry O’Day and Bobby Shriver end in November.
Rubin’s organization will be hosting a candidates forum for the City Council candidates in September.
“Santa Monica Airport issues will be an important topic for the coming election season,” Rubin said. “Our group will continue to bring the concerns of the community to the candidates.”
Winograd also thinks the airfield can be one of the defining issues of this fall’s campaign. “I think it should be,” she said. “This will be an opportune time to ask the candidates what they would like to see happen at Santa Monica Airport.”
Goddard thinks the commission’s suggestions as well as the flight ordinance are not unreasonable measures for the council to consider.
“These are very logical recommendations to follow,” he concluded. “It’s a matter of political will.” ¤