Residents of Santa Monica and Los Angeles who reside near and around the Santa Monica Airport met recently with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Santa Monica) to ask him if he would be willing to introduce legislation at the federal level that recently passed the California Legislature.
Waxman met on Aug. 14 with Santa Monica city leaders and subsequently on Sept. 1 with residents who live near the airport to discuss their continuing concerns regarding air pollution and safety at the general aviation airport.
A grassroots organization led by Los Angeles resident Martin Rubin has advocated for Assembly Joint Resolution 41, which was sponsored by Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Marina del Rey), who also represents the airport area.
The airport bill requests that the Federal Aviation Administration review aircraft noise and pollution levels and the safety of flight operations at Santa Monica Airport.
“There is an urgent need to establish and implement a reasonable distance between aircraft operations and exposed populations,” Lieu said following the resolution’s passage on Aug. 17. “As it stands today, there are no regulations in effect that would protect populations around airports from conditions like we have at Santa Monica Airport.
“These residents have been suffering for a long time. It is time for the FAA to step up and take responsibility.”
Rubin, director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, wanted to get Waxman’s reaction after the congressman met earlier with city leaders.
“After Rep. Waxman met with a group of Santa Monica city officials and community leaders, I felt that it was important for him to hear from some of those who live by the airport, including those in Rep. (Jane) Harman’s district, who are affected equally by the airport’s operations,” Rubin said.
Harman’s district includes Mar Vista and Venice, with parts of the former community within close proximity to the city owned airfield.
Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman, said the federal agency makes safety a priority at all of its airports.
“The FAA constantly monitors safety at airports and in the airspace all over the country, and we do not allow unsafe conditions to exist,” Gregor wrote in an e-mail response.
Susan Hartley, a former Santa Monica Airport commissioner who lives within blocks of the airport, commended Rubin’s organization and other groups that have pressured city, state and federal officials to take stronger action against the FAA.
“Marty’s group, along with Friends of Sunset Park and all of the others are doing a great community service,” Hartley, an attorney, said. “This is truly a life and death issue.”
In February, a petition was circulated asking lawmakers and 53rd District Assembly candidates to sign a pledge that they would not fly into or out of the airport. All eight contenders signed the pledge, along with some celebrities.
Rubin said air pollution and safety concerns were not just local matters.
“This is truly a regional issue that does not stop when it reaches the Santa Monica/Los Angeles border,” he asserted.
Residents in Venice have been more active in recent weeks on calling for a change on the airport’s flight path over their homes following a tragic accident at Penmar Golf Course in July, when 60-year-old pilot Robert Davenport was killed after his airplane crashed.
Following the fatal accident, Harman weighed in with a letter to J. Randolph Babbitt and Deborah Hersman, the FAA administrator and chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, respectively, asking for a new assessment of ongoing safety risks of airport operations.
“(The July 1) crash could have resulted in more deaths if the plane had hit someone on the golf course or a nearby home,” the congresswoman wrote.
Rubin also touched on the anxiety that many residents within close proximity to the runway live with on a daily basis.
“Residents living near this airport are suffering from increased air and noise pollution and are exposed to higher safety risks because of their close proximity to the airport,” he said. “Santa Monica Airport is unique because (its) runways at each end of the airport are less than 300 feet from densely populated residential communities.”
Gregor stated that his agency has offered Santa Monica on numerous occasions the opportunity to install safety devices that would guard against potential runway accidents.
“The FAA has a long history of addressing concerns expressed by people who live around Santa Monica Airport. We have made repeated offers to address Santa Monica’s safety concerns, including a proposal to pay for and install an Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) on one or both runway ends,” Gregor reiterated.
The FAA defines an EMAS as a bed of porous concrete blocks that collapse under the weight of an aircraft’s landing gear, slowing down an aircraft that overruns the runway end.
“Our proposal would create the equivalent of a 1,000-foot-long runway safety area,” the FAA spokesman continued. “Unfortunately, the city rejected all of our offers.”
Regarding air pollution, FAA officials say the agency has protocols that limit the amount of jet fumes that go into residential neighborhoods.
“We have procedures in place to limit jet exhaust at Santa Monica Airport. Specifically, we ask jet operators not to start their engines if we know there will be (Santa Monica) departure delays due to conflicts with (Los Angeles International Airport) departures,” Gregor said.
A November 2009 air pollution study conducted by a UCLA professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the airport indicated that there was a high level of toxic ultrafine particles in the air.
“During our research, we found detectable levels of (particles) around the eastern portion of the airport,” Dr. Suzanne Paulson, whose report was published in that month’s issue of Environmental Science and Technology, told The Argonaut in November. “They are clearly coming from somewhere.”
Rubin said Paulson also attended one of the meetings with Waxman.
Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown was not part of the city’s delegation that spoke with Waxman but said he supports Lieu’s bill.
“I personally supported Ted Lieu’s earlier bill on jet pollution, and I brought AJR 41 to the Santa Monica Council in July for a unanimous vote of support,” McKeown said. “We welcome Rep. Waxman’s interest in taking our cause to Washington, which is the only place the airport issues with the FAA can truly be resolved.”
Rubin feels this is the most opportune time for congressional action.
“There may never be a better opportunity to introduce needed legislation considering that Rep. Waxman is chairman of the House Committee on Energy,” he noted.
Gregor pointed out that Lieu and others have stated that homeowners have resided near the airport for many years and the FAA had nothing to do with their decisions on where the homes were built.
“This is not a new development, nor is the FAA in any way responsible for the construction of homes so close to the airport,” he asserted. “The FAA cannot ‘step up and take responsibility’ for decisions that local planners made decades ago.”
Hartley, who is running as a candidate for the Santa Monica City Council, believes the only way to get federal lawmakers and the FAA to act is through community pressure.
“The more outreach and outrage, the better,” she said.
Waxman could not be reached for comment on the constituent meeting.