The Santa Monica City Council unanimously endorsed California State Assembly Bill (AB) 700, a bill related to air pollution at the Santa Monica Airport, at its meeting Tuesday, June 19th, provided the bill is amended to address the city’s concerns.

The council directed staff to work with the author of the bill, Assemblyman Ted Lieu, to amend existing legislation so that it protects the city against liability and supports a true scientific study which builds on the data generated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency-funded general aviation airport study by South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD).

The study will bring to lightsome of the air pollution issues caused by jet fumes and jet emissions at Santa Monica Airport, some believe.

And some are outraged that the council would support AB 700 only if amended so “there’s no liability for the city,” said Susan Hartley, Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP) board member and vice chair of the Santa Monica Airport Commission.

“ÖThe city finally agreed to support AB 700 only if Santa Monica is protected from any possible liability based upon the results of the study,” Hartley said. “At best, Santa Monica is stonewalling the collection of this important data. At worst, it knows the jet and turbojet emissions potentially pose a serious health hazard to the thousands exposed to the jet emissions, and will okay the documentation of that health hazard only if it is not held responsible. If true, both are unacceptable.”

“Overall, the City Council’s [suggested] amendments to the bill appear to serve two major functions,” said Friends of Sunset Park airport committee member Ping Ho, “to give the California Air Resources Board (CARB) more latitude in conducting a study based on the best known scientific data and methodology, and to prevent the data generated from this study to be used in a lawsuit against the City of Santa Monica. However, ‘Item d’, as revised by the City Council, also protects state and other local public entities.”

At the council meeting, 12 people spoke on the item, including members of neighborhood organization Friends of Sunset Park who, along with the boards of the Ocean Park Association and Santa Monica Coalition For a Livable City, took a formal position supporting AB 700 in its original form last month.

Some Friends of Sunset Park members are pleased that the council is supporting the bill, but are concerned about several of the amendments, said the group’s president, Zina Josephs.

“One of my main objections was that one of the amendments seemed to extend legal protection to the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], which would have weakened any party negotiating on behalf of the residents,” said Josephs.

But at the council meeting, language of that amendment was changed, with the help of deputy city attorney Marty Tachiki, to limit legal protection to public entities within the State of California, which met her concerns, Josephs said.

“The revisions were a step in the right direction, but I’m still concerned,” Josephs said. “Considering that the council opposed a similar bill (AB 2501) last year, I’m relieved that they’re supporting AB 700 this year.

“I hope that the State Senate will pass AB 700 without any substantive changes and that it will be signed into law by the governor in a timely manner.”

Ho says she understands why some feel that legislation prohibiting the use of health-related data against governing bodies is a bad precedent, given that legal recourse is one of the most effective tools for protecting the community.

“While this concern is important, and while the study actually has the potential to empower the City of Santa Monica, I understand the city’s position — given the fact that it has been sued in the past over airport-related issues,” Ho said. “So, while I was concerned about the city’s proposed draft amendments, I am comfortable with the revised amendments that were adopted and am pleased that the City Council voted to support the bill with the revised language.”

“The liability concerns of Santa Monica should not impede the efforts to obtain the best study available by imposing these distracting amendments,” said Martin Rubin, founder and director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP). “If Santa Monica believes that their hands have been tied by the FAA and they have done all they could do to address the air pollution concerns of so many Los Angeles and Santa Monica residents, then they should not feel threatened by supporting the bill without these self-serving amendments.”

Hartley agreed, saying, “Santa Monica should be more concerned about documenting, quantifying, correcting and eliminating the human exposure to the hazardous air pollution caused by the air traffic at Santa Monica Airport than its exposure to liability.”

After public comment, the council discussed the item.

“I want to thank and compliment Friends of Sunset Park, and particularly Ping Ho, on a very professional analysis of the language and ask staff to react to it,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown.

Councilman Ken Genser had several questions about added “Sections c and d.”

“We might want to initiate some action using this data and it almost looks like this data couldn’t be used in any action we would want to initiate, I mean, if we decided to sue the federal government using this data,” Genser said. “Should this language be changed so that that’s clarified?”

City attorney Marsha Moutrie pointed out how that could be clarified — that the council could decide to change the language from “proceeding involving the City of Santa Monica to “proceeding against the City of Santa Monica.”

Also, “As defined by Government Code Section 811.2” was added before “No public entity” in “Section d,” “so it’s clear that we’re just talking about agencies in the State of California or local cities and counties, but it’s not the federal government,” said Tachiki.

After a few changes to the language, the council unanimously supported AB 700 with the amendments. Councilman Bobby Shriver was not present.

Lieu has agreed to accept the amendments, which are currently being worked into the bill, and which Assemblywoman Julia Brownley will now be co-authoring.

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