Congresswoman Jane Harman has agreed not to use jets at Santa Monica Airport when she travels to and from Los Angeles, joining her challenger Marcy Winograd, Assemblyman Ted Lieu and all of the candidates who are running for Lieu’s seat in the 53rd Assembly District.

Harman’s promise stems from a pledge that was created by Winograd and later adopted by a local anti-pollution group that has pressed local, state and federal elected officials to sign the agreement that they would not use the general aviation airport due to the number of jets that use the city-owned facility.

While she did not agree to sign the pledge, the congresswoman stated that she has no plans to use the airfield.

In a letter dated February 25th, Harman told Martin Rubin, director of the local grassroots organization Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, that she does not fly in or out of the airport. Rubin asked Harman last month if she would abide by the pledge.

“I am setting my own example,” the congresswoman wrote. “I do not use (the Santa Monica Airport) for my personal travel and I pledge not to do so in the future.”

Homeowners in Mar Vista, West Los Angeles and the Sunset Park neighborhood of Santa Monica contend that jets are a source of toxic exhaust fumes that have choked their neighborhoods for more than a decade and have lobbied their political leaders to ban the faster and larger jets from the airport.

The promise to not use jets at the airport was crafted by Winograd after she attended a January community meeting where approximately 200 local residents attended to challenge the Santa Monica City Council and their state leaders to push for stronger action on airport pollution.

The meeting was called after a November air quality study by UCLA scientists was published and found a high level of toxins that emanate from the airport’s jet traffic. The pollutants were located east of the airport toward Mar Vista and West Los Angeles.

Winograd also sent a letter to various entertainers who fly in and out of the airport asking them to sign the promise.

“If the Federal Aviation Administration refuses to act, if our lawmakers can’t produce results, then the people must take reasonable measures to protect the health and safety of their families,” the letter states. “What may be a matter of convenience to some is a matter of life and death to others trapped in a vortex of noise and air pollution.”

The candidate said she was happy to learn that Harman had agreed in principle not to depart or land at Santa Monica Airport.

“I’m pleased to see that the pledge is gaining traction and that my opponent is now aware of the importance of this issue,” Winograd said in statement after learning of Harman’s letter. “Unfortunately, she has been unwilling to put her foot down to demand the (Federal Aviation Administration) to reimpose a jet ban at Santa Monica Airport. Nearby neighbors suffer as a result.”

Rubin also thinks Harman’s stance on not using the airport is significant.

“Rep. Harman’s pledge not to jet into Santa Monica Airport is very important. We would hope that all those who jet into Santa Monica Airport will now understand from the UCLA study, the toxic air pollution exposure jets cause to the downwind community, and that they sign the pledge never to do so again,” Rubin said. “Potential airport jet users should take the pledge as well. Their doing so would make a measurable difference.”

At the opening of her campaign office in the Villa Marina Marketplace in Del Rey March 15th, Winograd said Harman has not been as proactive on airplane emissions and its effects on residents who live near the airport as she should have been.

“I would like to ask my opponent if she has ever asked for a ban on jets,” Winograd said. “Because I believe that there should be a ban on jet traffic.”

The Santa Monica City Council enacted a ban on jet traffic at the airport in 2008, but a Superior Court judge overturned the ordinance. The case is now before a federal appeals court.

Bill Koontz, the co-chair of the airport safety committee of the Mar Vista Community Council, said Harman is taking the right approach.

“I would say that I support all the local lawmakers and celebrities’ efforts to curtail the jet traffic into and out of the Santa Monica Airport. I think it is an important step in the right direction for the safety of all the airport’s neighbors,” Koontz said. “It finally draws a line in the sand and firmly puts people on one side or the other.”

Rubin said honoring the airport pledge would go a long way in his decision of whom to support in the assembly and congressional elections.

“It is a good gauge on a candidate’s character, since those who sign the pledge are most likely the candidates who have the right perspective on other issues as well,” Rubin said. “In my opinion, if they don’t sign the pledge, they should not even be considered as a choice by the voters.”

Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA, said a promise of this nature could not be enforced without a pilot’s consent.

“Pilots, of course can opt against flying certain aircraft into an airport. But any such pledge would only be a voluntary agreement and would not be legally binding,” he noted.

Rubin credited Winograd with taking the lead on pushing the pledge.

“Marcy Winograd conceived the idea of this pledge and we are very grateful for her efforts to help address this critical issue,” he said. “She proved that she can get things moving by signing up the first half dozen pledges, and she has made this issue an important issue of her campaign.”

Rubin said that currently, about 20 people have signed the pledge.

“But I hope as the message continues to resonate, many more environmentally responsible celebrities, athletes, and corporations will sign on,” he added. “The users can step up and accomplish what the FAA and Santa Monica continue to fail to do — bring relief to the community.”

To date, actors Edward Asner, Ed Begley, Jr. and Mimi Kennedy, musician Chris Shiflett, and former Assemblyman Tom Hayden have signed the pledge, according to Winograd’s campaign.

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