Contenders for the soon-to-be vacant 53rd Assembly District seat were confronted with an unexpected proposal that has rapidly become a rallying cry for a segment of the district’s voters at a candidate forum held by the West Los Angeles Democratic Club Thursday, February 4th in Venice.

Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, a grassroots organization that has been at the forefront of pushing for state and federal air quality studies at Santa Monica Airport, asked the Assembly candidates at the forum to sign a “no more jets” pledge, which asked for a halt to flying private jets in or out of the municipal airport.

Kate Anderson, Edgar Saenz and Nicholas Karno, three local candidates who are running to replace Assemblyman Ted Lieu, all signed the pledge.

“I’m going to attack this issue around pollution at the Santa Monica Airport,” said Saenz, a Westchester resident and former deputy for Rep. Maxine Waters.

Anderson, a member of the Mar Vista Community Council, said seeking solutions to the problems with fumes from the nearby airfield is one of the reasons that she ran for a seat on the local council in 2008.

“I’ve been concerned about the airport for a long time. I was happy to sign the pledge,” said Anderson, an attorney.

Karno, a Venice Neighborhood Council member, says the pledge is “a good first start” to improving air quality around the airport, but added that more has to be done in terms of reducing harmful gases and fumes into the atmosphere.

“We are going to have to develop more sustainable strategies in transportation,” Karno, a Los Angeles deputy city attorney said. “It’s a real struggle to balance the needs for those who enjoy flying and those of the residents who want to enjoy cleaner air to breathe.”

The “no more jets” pledge was introduced earlier this month by Marcy Winograd, who is seeking to unseat Jane Harman in the 36th Congressional District race. Winograd decided to make the request to celebrities who use the airport after attending a community forum on airport pollution hosted by the Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution in January.

The neighborhood organization has since adopted the pledge and is now asking Hollywood stars as well as potential elected officials to join the movement to reduce jet traffic at the general aviation airport.

Lieu, who is termed out as an assemblyman this year, also signed the pledge at the Venice forum.

“Santa Monica Airport was never built for 20,000 jet operations a year,” the assemblyman, who is campaigning for state attorney general, told The Argonaut.

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.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who flies into and departs from the airport when he comes home from Sacramento on weekends, has not signed the request.

“I’m thrilled to learn that Assemblyman Ted Lieu, as well as a majority of the 53rd assembly district candidates, are signing on to the pledge,” Winograd said after the candidate forum. “If the (Federal Aviation Administration) refuses to lift the jet ban, then we, the people, must make it politically and socially unacceptable to fly jets that are polluting our

neighborhoods and imprisoning children in their homes.”

Currently, there is no ban on jets at the Santa Monica Airport.

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.

Residents who live near the airport that have lobbied for more air pollution studies are thrilled that the candidates agreed to sign the pledge.

“I think it’s a terrific idea,” Susan Hartley, a Santa Monica attorney, responded when asked if she thought the candidates should sign the request.

“I also suggested to (Winograd) that she have all the Santa Monica council members, (the) Santa Monica city manager, Santa Monica city employees, (state senators) Julia Brownley, Fran Pavley, and (former state senator) Sheila Kuehl sign the pledge as well.”

Saenz said that there were other legal possibilities that could be looked at from the state’s vantage point.

“Another thing that we could look at is have the (state) attorney general sue the FAA over some of these issues, especially the safety issues,” Saenz suggested.

The Santa Monica city government is in litigation in federal court over its attempts to ban certain jet traffic from the airport. An ordinance prohibiting the faster and larger airplanes was approved in March 2008 in an effort to protect the residential neighborhoods that lie less than 300 feet from the end of the airport’s runway.

Unlike other airports, Santa Monica’s does not have any runway safety protection.

The ordinance was struck down by a lower court and is now before a federal appellate court.

“Nobody can ban any aircraft from using an airport, provided a plane’s weight and performance characteristics allow it to safely land and take off on the available length, width and strength of runway pavement,” Gregor stated.

Lieu, who sponsored state legislation similar to the Santa Monica ordinance in 2008, believes a recently published UCLA analysis that identified an overabundance of ultrafine particles in the air east of the airport has been instrumental in what some think could be the beginning of a groundswell of support for the no jets promise.

“Residents who live near the airport have known that they have been susceptible to high levels of pollution for years,” Lieu asserted. “The UCLA study provided the science and gave the this a big boost.”

Winograd also mentioned the correlation between having fewer or no jets at the airport and the question of safety, as many of Santa Monica’s Sunset Park residents who live close to the airport have.

“I am proud to have launched the ‘no more jets’ pledge, and

equally pleased to see it become a broader grassroots effort adopted and now owned by Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution,” she said. “The ‘no more jets’ pledge is a first step but a big one in building awareness about the environmental hazards of jet traffic at small airports with no buffer zone.”

Hartley, a former Santa Monica Airport commissioner, urged other government officials to sign the petition.

“The airport is an all around threat to the communities surrounding it,” she said. “As our elected representatives, they should be putting the health and safety of the residents before their personal comforts and convenience.

“It stands to reason that since Santa Monica is in litigation to stop unsafe practices at Santa Monica Airport, these elected officials and public employees should not be participating in the unsafe practices.”

Lieu called for Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, two very wealthy candidates running for governor, to also honor the pledge.

“They both use private jets, and I would hope that they would consider (signing) the pledge,” he said.

The other five candidates running for the Assembly 53rd District seat have also agreed to sign the pledge.