By Odysseus Bostick
The recent catastrophe at the Santa Monica Airport has pulled the greater city of Los Angeles into a debate we’ve been having on the Westside for years: how to deal with an airport that has been enveloped in density.
There was a point in time when this airport made sense. When it was used in World War II by the Army Air Corps, it positioned us well to fight in the Pacific theater. As Los Angeles bloomed in the corresponding aviation era, our little airport meant jobs and economic growth. Housing tracts burst up to support the employees of the Douglas Aircraft Company working onsite to produce the fabled DC series.
With the collapse of the aviation industry, there was a small window of time to utilize this asset to our benefit. In doing so, we capitalized on the demand by private air traffic and hobby pilots in order to replace lost economic growth from the exit of airplane manufacturing. It was a good decision, but at best should have been looked at as a momentary patch because the window of time when an airport could safely operate amidst the increasing density of Los Angeles has grown increasingly smaller since the 1960s, when our population was just about half of what it is now.
Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin frames this story well when he shares some startling statistics. Since the 1980s, when jets were allowed back on the runway, there have been 80 accidents. The population density in the area has grown so much that the Federal Aviation Administration has neutered its requirement that homes be at least 1,000 feet from the runway. Instead, as Bonin shares, some houses are as close as 300 feet from the runway. One home was just over 50 feet from the burning hanger in the most recent disaster on Sept. 29 that claimed four lives. It is abundantly clear that this airport must close.
This is also a good thing. The land offers a fantastic opportunity to reimagine life on the Westside, not just for the neighbors directly adjacent to the property. At 227 acres, the closure of airport operations after such a long run is essentially equal to creating new land.
It’s a new urbanist’s ideal situation and an opportunity for the cities of Santa Monica and Los Angeles to initiate a transformative effort that would render Brooklyn’s Highline a mere pittance to the people of New York.
Imagine the open space, dog parks, jungle gyms, and running tracks alongside an integrated service industry entertaining travelers from across the world with live music and yearly festivals. The infrastructure of the former airport also offers potential light industrial space – think of a slightly inland Silicon Beach, coupled with a bike-friendly paradise just one mile from the Expo Line.
So, it makes a lot of sense that our councilman, Bonin, is championing the closure of the airport and I thank him for it. It’s intelligent advocacy for better land use from a man we have high hopes can make transit work for Los Angeles.
There’s one caveat to this, though, and it rests below the Santa Monica Airport: bedrock.
Our little airport is the only one in the region that is centrally located within the city of Los Angeles and was built upon solid ground. In the event of a major catastrophe, be it an earthquake, tsunami or terrorist attack, the Santa Monica Airport will be the only runway that we can count on to be operational, and its position in the midst of so much density makes it the perfect point for disaster relief efforts.
Considering the Los Angeles City Council’s recent history of failing to account for earthquake fault lines below skyscrapers in Hollywood, I feel compelled to make this very public request: please incorporate the potential use of Santa Monica’s runway into the next manifestation of this property.
This is not a plea for anyone to keep the Santa Monica Airport open; it has outgrown its safe use. However, I plead this one request to our local government. You are responsible for maximizing the public value of this incredible opportunity. Demand that the next incarnation of this land is designed in such a way that the former runway be available for emergency use in the event of a disaster.
We will thank you later for doing it.
Odysseus Bostick is a Westchester resident and former teacher who campaigned for the Los Angeles City Council 11th District seat earlier this year.
OPINION: Close the Santa Monica Airport… with a caveat
By Odysseus Bostick