Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Aviation Groups Give More Than $500,000 to Save SM Airport


October 27, 2014

Two influential aviation organizations have contributed more than half a million dollars to support a Santa Monica ballot measure that would halt efforts to shut down the city’s airport until the public can vote on future proposals to close the embattled facility, long a source of complaints from nearby residents.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn. and the National Business Aviation Assn. have donated at least $540,000 so far to the campaign for Measure D, which, supporters say, is a reaction to a City Council decision to develop a “starvation strategy” that would cut flights, shorten the runway or close Santa Monica Municipal Airport.

According to campaign disclosure statements, Measure D has raised about $824,000 as of Oct. 22, mostly from aviation-related interests, aircraft owners, businesses and pilots, including actor Harrison Ford, who stores his aircraft at the airport and donated $25,887.

Supporters of the initiative, which qualified for the Nov. 4 election with more than 15,000 signatures from registered voters, are trying to defeat Measure LC, a competing proposition that was later put on the ballot by the City Council.

Endorsed by environmental and community groups, that measure would allow the airport to only be used for parks, open space and recreational facilities until voters can approve limits on development. The public also is being asked to reaffirm the council’s authority to manage the airport and to close all or part of it.

Overshadowing both measures, however, are long-standing federal agreements designed to protect the airport. Under a 1948 pact that returned the facility to the city after World War II, the property must be operated as an airport, including the entire 5,000-foot runway, unless the federal government approves a change in use. Also, a $250,000 airport improvement grant requires its operation until 2023, federal officials say.

The LC campaign has raised at least $118,400, mostly from donations under $1,000, according to campaign disclosure forms.

Airport opponents say the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn. and National Business Aviation Assn. are powerful outside interests that are trying to sway the election with generous campaign contributions and scare tactics about the potential for high-rise development on or near airport land if it is closed.

Supporters of the alternative measure say they are concerned about air pollution, noise, increasing jet operations and the possibility of a major crash in a nearby neighborhood. They also contend that zoning restrictions and community opposition would stop high-rises.

“Measure D is designed to seize control of the airport from the City Council and the community,” said John Fairweather, an anti-airport activist and LC supporter. “We own the land. The airport only serves a fraction of the people.”

Proponents of Measure D say the two national organizations support airports nationwide and represent Santa Monica-based pilots, aircraft owners and aviation companies. They note that local volunteers are campaign workers and polling indicates that a significant majority of registered voters view closing the airport unfavorably.

Supporters argue the historic facility should remain open because it supports general aviation, serves as a base for emergency and medical-related flights and contributes $275 million annually to the local economy — a figure LC supporters say is greatly exaggerated.

If the facility closes, airport backers have pointed out during the campaign that height restrictions for buildings that now ensure safe air travel would be lifted, removing a barrier to high-rise development in the area.

“Measure D does not give away local control. It lets voters decide what to do with the airport, the most important land use decision in the city,” said Christian Fry, vice president of the Santa Monica Airport Assn. and spokesman for the Measure D campaign. “We may be rolling the dice, but we are banking on the people of Santa Monica to see the value of the airport.”


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