Voters in Santa Monica will choose between two competing ballot measures that could play a crucial role in determining the fate of the city’s controversial airport.

The aviation industry-backed Voters Decide initiative, which would require voter approval for any city attempt to stem the flow of air traffic or recast Santa Monica Airport land for non-aviation purposes, qualified last week to appear on the November ballot after collecting signatures from more than 10% of the city’s registered voters.

On Tuesday, Santa Monica City Council members approved a competing measure that would maintain City Hall’s authority to manage the airport’s future but also include a provision giving voters veto power over future city redevelopment plans for the airport.

Advocates for closing the airport believe a decades-old operating agreement with the federal government expires in 2015 and have been creating buzz for potential alternative uses for the airport’s 227 acres, including a large public park.

The council’s ballot measure would not require voter approval for converting airport land to parkland.

Federal Aviation Administration officials maintain, however, that contracts bind the city to keep its airport in operation through at least 2023. The city has lost two legal battles with the FAA over attempts to limit air traffic, particularly jets.

At the same meeting in which they approved the language for the city-backed measure, council members also certified the Voters Decide initiative.

An attorney for a neighborhood group seeking to curtail airport operations encouraged city leaders to consider postponing the ballot battle until spring, but council members pushed ahead.

Councilwoman Gleam Davis, who backed the city measure, said she could not find cause for delay.

“I think if we expect people to deal with the council in good faith, we have to act in good faith as well,” she said.

Councilman Kevin McKeown said he felt obligated to certify the competing ballot measure petition “even if I have to hold my nose and do it.”

The Voters Decide initiative is sponsored by Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions, a political action committee with support from the national Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Group spokesman John Jerabek said voters who pay attention can easily understand how the two measures differ.

“I would just say that the difference between the two measures is ours lets people decide the central question: Should the airport remain an airport or not? And the city wants to take away the residents’ ability to make that decision,” Jerabek said. “We’re asking the right question and they’re not.”

— Gary Walker

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