20 Aug 2014
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Airport Commission Asks Council for Stronger 'Visioning' Process

Considering the process flawed, the commission asks for specific research on possible closure or flight reduction, with improved information flow to the public.

Airport Commission Asks Council for Stronger 'Visioning' Process

The Airport Commission is asking the City Council to strengthen Phase 3 of the nearly two-year-old process of envisioning Santa Monica Airport’s future and a renewal of the effort to make it more transparent.  

Commissioners say the three elements of a key Phase 3 goal—transparency, communication and trust—are still absent. The problem, the commission believes, is the lack of information on whether the city is considering curtailing or closing the facility’s air operations in mid-2015.

Commission members have repeatedly called the visioning process flawed, contending city staffers have concentrated on projects such as a voluntary "fly friendly" program to make SMO "a better neighbor," in the words of staff reports.

The lengthy motion, which passed unanimously, asks the council to have staffers examine rules and obligations regarding flight schools, fuel sales and aircraft tie-down spaces. It also asks for a survey of other general aviation airports similar to SMO, to see how they handle such sales and services.

Further, the motion asks for a survey of buildings leased to current aviation-related businesses (fixed-base operators) to determine their condition, and whether each structure’s current use is maximized—that is, whether the city could find a more lucrative use for the buildings when the current tenants’ leases expire in 2015.

In addition, the motion asks that the staff analyze how all aviation-related operations might be handled after the 1984 Operating Agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration expires in mid-2015.

The FAA contends the actual expiration date is 2023 and that other agreements obligate Santa Monica to operate an airport on the 227-acre property "in perpetuity."

The commission underscored its effort to get the City Council’s ear by taking the unusual step of creating an ad hoc committee of two commissioners to formally present the motion to the council.

Ivan Campbell, of the City Attorney’s office, told the commission that staffers already have compiled information on some categories—flight schools, aircraft tie-down policy and fuel sales—which is available to the commission upon request.

Deputy Public Works Director Susan Cline said staffers have never said closure of SMO is off the table, but repeated what she’s told the commission before—that staffers are exploring the "middle ground" of possibilities for SMO’s future, leaving aside both the status quo and the possibility of closure, for now.

That brought a response from Commissioner Stephen Mark.

"It sounds like a lot of `middle ground’ is off the table, too,’" Mark said.

"Short of closure, there are a lot of things that have been brought up [by the commission]," he added, "and recommendations… from us have been ignored by the City Council, and I suspect probably on the advice of legal counsel [the City Attorney]."

Mark suggested the commission may want to consider doing its own studies, using outside sources. However, Commission Chair David Goddard already has studied a number of cases centering on cities that were able to reduce flight operations at their airports by using "proprietary rights." His request that the City Attorney’s office examine those cases and recommend similar action to the City Council has gone unanswered.

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