As Santa Monica officials remain locked in a battle with the Federal Aviation Administration over the city’s right to ban certain jets from its municipally-owned airport, homeowners on both sides of the airport continue to cope with the daily parade of jets flying over their residences and a runway that stands less than 300 feet away with no safety protection.
Air pollution, safety and noise are the principal concerns for these residents in both Los Angeles and Santa Monica, but those who live near the runway are more vulnerable to the undesirable trifecta due to their proximity to the airport.
“I have (airplanes) flying over my house all the time, and I do worry about residents who live near the runway,” said Susan Hartley, a former Santa Monica Airport commissioner who lives two blocks north of the runway on Ashland Avenue.
Jacquie Jordan resides on the Los Angeles side of the airport and her concerns mirror those of her counterparts in Santa Monica.
“I was naive when I bought my house in 2006,” Jordan, a television producer who has been nominated for two Emmy Awards, said. “My understanding was that it was a recreational airport that was active on the weekends.
“I didn’t realize that it was a main transportation portal for executives who live in the area and a layover for LAX.”
Jordan says that frequently airplanes wait on the runway between 45 minutes to an hour for takeoff with their engines idling, and the fumes travel to her home and those of her neighbors.
“It’s like having your mouth next to the exhaust pipe of a car,” she said.
During an hour-long interview on a recent weekday mid-morning, over a dozen airplanes flew directly over Jordan’s backyard, departing and arriving at the airport.
“The jets are frightening,” Jordan said. “They’re big, they’re fast and you feel like you can stick your hand out and pull it out of the sky, like a toy.”
In the afternoon, beginning around 4 to 5 p.m., a time that Jordan dryly calls “happy hour,” the number of overhead planes increases drastically, she says.
Santa Monica authorities are asking that a federal appellate court overturn a lower court decision last year that struck down the city government’s March 2008 ordinance that would have prohibited the use of the airport by jets with certain approach speeds. These jets, neighborhood organizations and airport officials say, are the planes most likely to overrun the runway and crash into the nearby neighborhoods.
Jordan says that for those who live close to the runway the threat is imminent, particularly because of the lack of safety barriers.
“It’s the runway, Bundy (Drive), a gas station and the neighborhood,” she said. “There’s no buffer zone, and that’s insane.”
Two of Jordan’s friends, Martin and Joan Rubin, have been engaged with residents of Santa Monica and Mar Vista to lobby Santa Monica officials to authorize studies to determine the origins of pollutants in their neighborhoods. They say that many of their friends and neighbors have been diagnosed with a variety of cancers in recent years and they believe that the source of the onslaught of illnesses are the fumes from the airplanes.
Pets have also been afflicted with cancer in recent years, according to Joan Rubin, who herself is in remission from uterine cancer.
“I was very lucky,” she said.
Her husband feels that air pollution should have been included in Santa Monica’s lawsuit against the FAA.
“What we get from that airport is very harsh,” said Rubin, the brother of Santa Monica peace activist Jerry Rubin and the director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP).
He says that the air quality conditions for residents living near the general aviation airport have grown worse in recent years. Rubin and other local grassroots organizations have discovered through their advocacy the complexity of the multi-layered problems regarding air toxins, noise and safety.
“As you work on these matters like this, you become more aware of different things,” said CRAAP’s director. “Regarding the safety of this airport, we’re completely in favor of it, but it’s only part of the problem. Studying the amount of air pollution from the airport is equally important.”
City officials have stated that they believe that a case for safety is the best legal approach.
Jordan’s home was one of several residences recently chosen by the Environmental Protection Agency for a lead study that will compile data on air quality.
“They tested the inside of my home and took soil samples,” Jordan said.
Last April, the television producer received a report detailing the appearance of benzene, copper, mercury and arsenic in her skin, and she believes that there is a direct correlation between living so close to the airport and the metals and carcinogens that were detected.
“I have a very clean diet and I’m a raw vegan, so I’m very aware of what’s in my body,” she stated. “Sometimes I think that I have to live that way to counter all of the toxins that I’m exposed to.”
Jordan and the Rubins give credit to the Mar Vista Community Council and Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl for their continued support monitoring the ongoing legal battles and encouraging the FAA and their federal legislators to intervene.
“The neighbors have been really unified, and the councilman has been very supportive, as well as the community council,” Jordan said.
Bill Koontz, co-chair of the Mar Vista council’s airport committee, shares the Rubins’ and Jordan’s concerns regarding the airport.
“Addressing the safety and pollution issues is long overdue and I still can’t believe that the FAA wants to fight us on this,” he wrote in a recent e-mail.
Koontz also praised the Rubins for their community work.
“Their close friendship with Bill Rosendahl and tireless efforts have really made it easy to open the lines of communication and have our voice be heard,” Koontz said.
Martin Rubin says that the ordinance that Santa Monica officials are proposing would have a limited effect on the homeowners who live near the airport boundaries.
“The (proposed) ban is speed related, but it doesn’t translate directly to air pollution and noise,” Rubin, the Mar Vista council’s vice chair on the airport committee, noted. “It would have the effect of basically going from smoking two packs of cigarettes to smoking one pack of cigarettes.
“You still have a health risk and you still have a toxic situation.”
Jordan believes that the ban would be welcomed in her neighborhood.
“During the time that they had the ban, it was so peaceful,” she recalled.
She also believes that much of the legal wrangling surrounding the airport ban is largely grounded by financial reasons.
“(The airport) is an economic portal for Santa Monica,” Jordan asserted. “This is not about quality of life; it’s very politically and economically-driven.”
Santa Monica authorities say that they are determined to pursue justice for their constituents — and residents who live near the runway — in federal court. In the meantime, those who live near the runway continue to coexist with the soundtrack of idling airplane engines and the visuals of jets over their homes.