A report on the Aug. 29 crash by a student pilot in Santa Monica will be on the agenda of a special City Council meeting Oct. 4, as well an update by city officials on data that has been accumulated as to how residents perceive the city-owned airport’s future.
The meeting is being called a study session, which means no final decisions will be made. It will also help set the stage for the second portion of what is being called the city’s “visioning process” for the future of the airport, an initiative that was announced by City Manager Rod Gould near the end of last year.
Residents who live within the vicinity of the airport indicated in interviews that they hope to address the council on certain matters besides the airport visioning process.
Kate Vernez, Santa Monica’s assistant to the city manager, said while the agenda has been designed around reports on the economic future of the airport and the public’s input thus far to the process, those who address the council can talk about topics of concern related to the airport, such as the recent accident or flight schools.
“Anything related to the airport can be discussed,” she said.
Vernez reiterated that the primary focus of the city will be to report on what has transpired in what is being called Phase I of the visioning study.
Last December, the council brought in the Santa Monica-based RAND Corp. to study the potential development concepts and applications for the aviation and non-aviation land as part of the city’s initial outreach.
HR&A Advisers, an economic development, real estate and public policy consulting firm, is slated to present an analysis of the economic and fiscal impacts of the current operation and activity at Santa Monica Airport.
The city’s staff anticipates that, with the aid of RAND and another firm, Point C, the initial visioning process would take approximately 12 months to complete, after which a report or reports would be prepared for public consideration. This would allow a process to be formulated for assessing and selecting an option or options and moving into a more focused planning phase, according to a Dec. 20 city staff report.
City Councilman Kevin McKeown sees the Oct. 4 study session as one with a dual purpose, and that includes providing an opportunity for the public to bring their concerns before their elected leaders.
“(The special meeting) is both an opportunity for us to hear directly from the public and to give direction to staff on how we wish to proceed,” McKeown told The Argonaut.
One topic that has longtime airport observers agitated is a recent accident that, for many, confirmed their worst fears of a crash into the residential neighborhood near the airfield’s runway.
A Cessna 172 airplane crashed into the backyard of a home near 21st and Navy streets in Santa Monica at about 2:30 p.m. Aug. 29, approximately a half mile from the airport’s runway. The pilot was a student at an airport flight school, Justice Aviation, and was attempting to land when his plane hit a wall next to the house near 21st and Navy streets and crashed in the yard.
A portion of the airplane penetrated a wall of the residence, where no one was home. Two painters working at the residence rescued the pilot, who suffered a broken leg. One person on the ground was also injured.
A National Transportation Safety Board report stated that the airplane’s airspeed indicator malfunctioned after takeoff.
Gould and City Manager Marsha Moutrie traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit with the Federal Aviation Administration in mid-September, and the subject of the student pilot’s accident was discussed.
Moutrie said she called the federal agency earlier to inform its representatives of the city’s outreach on the future of the general aviation airport. “We thought that it was important to keep them apprised of what we are doing (with respect to the visioning process),” the city attorney explained.
McKeown said the FAA has been less than collaborative in working with Santa Monica on problems related to the airport and he is leery of any cooperation in the city’s efforts to plan for the use of the airport land after 2015, when the agreement between the city and the federal agency is set to expire.
“The prime constraint the FAA sees on our making changes, I believe, would be their belief that the Westside must continue to live with the airport and its impacts in perpetuity,” McKeown said.
The Aug. 29 accident is one of a series of events that some residents of Santa Monica, Venice and Mar Vista have seized upon to question the Santa Monica city government as well as the FAA on airport safety, and a subset of them want to see the airport’s six flight schools closed or have added restrictions placed on them.
“While I agree that training pilots is an important service for the community, I also feel that some type of compromise needs to be reached as to where that training happens,” said Bill Koontz, the co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Santa Monica Airport Committee. “I would be happy to see the flight schools stay if they were to head to a less populated area to practice their endless taxi-backs.”
Ocean Park homeowner Marcy Winograd said she plans to be at the Oct. 4 meeting. “I’ll be interested to hear about the possibilities for how the land at the airport can be used to generate revenue for Santa Monica,” said Winograd.
Another topic that could be discussed at the special council session is the flight instruction academies at the airport. The Santa Monica Airport Commission hosted a workshop on the schools and two of them, Justice and American Flyers, were invited to show 10-minute presentations.
McKeown noted that there were an abundance of disparate opinions about the flight schools, as well as the future of the airport.
“Many want the airportclosed altogether, and others want it retained unchanged. We may want to focus first on the impacts residents find most frightening,” he said. “Those include the safety of faster jets on a short runway; the pollution from jet fuel and leaded aviation gasoline; and the questionable wisdom of flight school operations over dense residential neighborhoods.”
Winograd, who sought the Democratic nomination for the 36th Congressional District in 2008 and again this year, would ultimately like to see the schools closed. “I support increasing the landing fees for the flight schools,” she said. “Why would we want to encourage crashes and noise pollution?”
Joseph Justice, the proprietor of Justice Aviation, did not return calls for comment.
McKeown sees the study session as an opportunity to establish a practical course of action regarding the airport’s future.
“I hope we all can use this workshop to get beyond finger-pointing and start working together,” the councilman said. “We have the opportunity to tell the FAA what we want, and we’ll be stronger if we’re of one voice.”