Protesters demonstrate against aircraft nuisances at airport

BY GARY WALKER

Against the backdrop of rumbling jet engines, dozens of energized, sign-waving protesters held a boisterous demonstration against aircraft nuisances at Santa Monica Airport Saturday, April 21st.

The rally to protest runway safety, airplane noise and air pollution took place one day before Earth Day, which demonstration organizer Martin Rubin felt was very befitting.

“Itís very appropriate that we are addressing the most crucial element of our Earth, which is the air,” Rubin, the leader of the neighborhood group Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, began. “Both the noise from the airplanes and the air pollution combined affect our quality of life, but they also have serious health effects.

“And we are here today to demonstrate and to say that we want these addressed.”

“Weíre not in a position anymore to have anymore buck-passing,” said Rubinís wife Joan, who suffers from cancer that she believes was caused by air pollution from the airplanes.

Several of the protesters donned gas masks and nose protectors in reference to the pollutants they say are damaging the air quality around their homes and in some instances have resulted in their neighbors and loved ones contracting asthma and cancer.

Signs with slogans such as “Santa Monica Airport is Killing Us” and “I Hate the Smell of Jet Fuel in the Morning!” were seen in the crowd, and each speaker received enthusiastic applause when addressing the audience.

One of the invited guests who received a sustained ovation during his comments at the demonstration was Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the 11th District.

“In the last ten years, the jets have come to this airport in such large numbers that we have 10,000 takeoffs and 10,000 landings a year,” he said, to the groans of some of the demonstrators. “When people moved into this neighborhood, there were these little planes that didnít make a lot of noise, and they didnít have the pollutants that are coming out of these jets.”

The large planes are convenient for those who own them, but “they are toxic to our community, period,” the councilman continued.

The neighborhoods that ring the airport are the most densely populated urban environment on the coast in the state, he said.

“This airportís purpose is no longer necessary, nor should it be.”

“I would wear my gas mask, but it would be hard to speak,” quipped Assemblyman Ted Lieu, who joined Rosendahl at the podium. Lieu is the author of Assembly Bill (AB) 700, which would require the California Resources Board to complete a study of air pollution caused by jets and turboprop airplanes taking off and landing at the Santa Monica Airport.

“The health of you and your children are at stake, and thatís why I introduced AB 700,” Lieu said.

Rosendahl read letters from Congresswoman Jane Harman of Venice and Congressman Henry Waxman, whose district includes Santa Monica, expressing their support for Lieuís bill and pledging to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to install runway safety areas.

Through Harmanís lobbying efforts, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) instituted a pilot program last year to change the path of NetJets (a company which offers fractional ownership and rental of private jets) in order to reduce the amount of time they spend idling on the runway while awaiting orders from the tower at Los Angeles International Airport.

Mike Fergus, a spokesman for the FAAís Northwest public affairs office, told The Argonaut that the federal government had instituted new safety policies last year regarding runway safety.

The Friends of Sunset Park, another local grass-roots organization, discussed that same topic, which it considers to be the most pressing of the grievances surrounding the airport.

“If this airport were built today, federal safety requirements would demand a 1,000-foot safety area on each runway end,” said an animated Cathy Larson, chair of the groupís Airport Committee.

At some other airports, such as Van Nuys and Burbank, there is safety mitigation that decreases the possibility of an airplane leaving the runway and entering surrounding neighborhoods.

“Thatís the uniqueness of the Santa Monica Airport,” Rosendahl noted. “The fact that the jets came in dramatic numbers in the last ten to 15 years, and there are no buffer zones, is a very serious health problem.”

The problems with air pollution are a neighborhood and regional predicament, said Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown.

“These aircraft take off over my constituents, and their safety is a problem that I take very personally,” said McKeown, adding that he would support Lieuís legislation.

He also explained that Santa Monica has an agreement with the FAA that allows the landing of large jets, including Gulfstream and Learjet aircraft.

“I regret the jets coming in and out of this airport,” McKeown said. “I regret the pollution that they cause, and I regret that the airport is called Santa Monica Airport, because people think that itís our fault. We also are battling with the FAA to get the right thing done, and itís not happening.”

At last monthís Santa Monica Airport Commission meeting, the FAA was invited to speak before the body, McKeown said.

“They came and were utterly dismissive of our concerns,” the councilman recalled in apparent anger. “They pulled off the table an offer that we had been negotiating in good faith for a number of years.

“But now weíre going to reverse course,” McKeown promised. “Weíre going to take a tougher stance with the FAA.”

Two pregnant women who live near the airport expressed their anxieties about raising children in what many feel is an unhealthy environment.

One couple came away with some hope that progress could be on the horizon.

“Itís good to hear that the Santa Monica council is getting on board, and that weíre getting a lot of support from Congress, ” said Justina Krakowski, who is expecting her first child this summer.

“AB 700 is very encouraging, and hopefully soon they can start monitoring the pollution, because itís so visible. Everyone can smell it,” added Oliver Gruettemann, Krakowskiís husband. “Hopefully something will be done on a political level so that there will be a change to the jets that have been increasing over the last decade.”

The couple, who live two blocks north of the airport, became more aware of the hazards caused by aircraft toxins through Rubinís organization, and becoming prospective parents has become an important factor in taking a stand for their unborn childís health.

“Something happens when you become a parent,” said Krakowski. “You stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about your future and your children.

“[Air pollution] is something that we canít ignore any longer.”

“We chose to live here, and itís a beautiful area, so why should we have to move?” Gruettemann asked.

Leanne Vandeman, who lives on Armacost Avenue, is expecting her third child soon.

“Iím not really an activist type, but I love my neighborhood, and I felt inspired to come out and say something today,” Vandeman said.

“The bottom line that I feel is that weíre a middle-class family who are trying to raise our children and have a good quality of life,” she said. “In the years that weíve lived here, the jets have increased to such a degree that I feel like our basic quality of life is being sacrificed by wealthy people and businesses who arenít thinking about us and our everyday life.

“We want the airport to be a good neighbor.”

Following the speeches, the protesters began a peaceful march around the airport.

“After today, every day is Earth Day,” proclaimed Rosendahl.

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