By Gary Walker
Despite a large contingent of airport interests and their supporters who protested against a hike in the price for landing at the city-owned airport, the Santa Monica City Council voted in favor of increasing the landing fees for aircraft at a special April 30 meeting that was dedicated to airport matters.
In addition, members of the city’s staff and Santa Monica City Attorney Marsha Moutrie gave the council updates on an 18- month project that city leaders embarked upon in late December 2011 regarding what they and Santa Monica residents would like to see at the site of Santa Monica Airport when its agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration expires two years from now.
Beginning Aug. 1, the new landing charges will be $5.48 per 1,000 pounds of aircraft, and these new price guidelines could increase up to $5.89 per 1,000 pounds of aircraft by 2016.
Councilman Tony Vazquez said the city has been subsidizing the landings for pilots at the airport for years.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl was the first speaker to address the council. Rosendahl, who has advocated vociferously for closing the airport as well as moving its flight schools, repeated his desire at the special meeting.
“I support the closure. I think that we have a strategy that can work and I would like you to explore that possibility with (the Los Angeles) city attorney,” the councilman said.
Rosendahl, who lives in and represents nearby Mar Vista, said having an airport in such close proximity to residential neighborhoods is unrealistic.
“It’s like taking a motorcycle and putting it into a playground,” he asserted.
The city-owned airport runway is less than 300 feet away from residential neighborhoods.
Opponents of the fees expressed their disagreement with the proposal in a variety of ways.
Edward Storey, a pilot and board member of the Friends of Santa Monica Airport, said the community has been told that this is a matter of losing city revenues.
“The airport is the destination for the economic roadway in the sky,” he said. “The raising of landing fees is madness.”
Joseph Justice of Justice Aviation, a flight school at the airport, said there had not been “adequate and timely” consideration of raising the landing fees. “This was rammed down our throats as ‘take it or leave it,’” he said.
Kim Davidson, who has a repair shop at the airport, said his 10 employees would suffer if the fees were hiked.
“When the planes go, we go too,” he predicted. “It’s gonna affect our businesses and my employees.”
Prior to the vote on landing fees, Moutrie said some residents had expressed concern about the city and the FAA engaging in “secret deals” behind closed doors when the parties met in Washington D.C.
“No deals were made or struck with the FAA,” the city attorney told the council. “But we did discuss with the FAA that the residents are expecting change.” Moutrie said the city’s choices for what they would like to do with the airport after 2015 are limited due to previous agreements.
She told the council that many residents have expressed creating a public park at the site of the airport if it is eventually closed. Moutrie called it “an appealing idea.
“However, the city lacks the funding for a park,” she said.
The date of the expiration of the city’s agreement with the FAA remains a point of contention between the two parties. While city leaders continue to cite 2015 as the date the agreement expires, the federal government has another date in mind.
“In the FAA’s view, the city is obligated to keep Santa Monica Airport open through 2023 under assurances it gave in exchange for federal Airport Improvement Program grants,” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told The Argonaut. “The FAA also believes that the city is separately obligated to operate Santa Monica Airport beyond 2023 because it acquired the land on which the airport is located cost-free from the federal government in 1948 under an instrument of transfer pursuant to the Surplus Property Act.”
Moutrie addressed that line of contention between the two governmental entities and reiterated that Santa Monica continues to believe that the lease agreement will terminate in 2015.
Gregor indicated that his agency is determined to adhere to its own timetable regarding the termination of the contract with the city and expects Santa Monica officials to do so as well.
“The FAA is fully committed to preserving the federal investment and keeping this airport open and operating, including specific performance of these obligations,” he said.
Moutrie confirmed that FAA officials have indicated that they might consider a legal challenge to the 2015 date.