FAA and City Council Agree to Close Santa Monica Airport In 2029
Rushed decision on both sides appears to be an attempt to preempt Trump's FAA Administrator
February 3, 2017
Santa Monica Airport is the oldest airport in Los Angeles County and at 110 years old, the fifth oldest in the State of California. It would appear that this afternoon, the City Council has negotiated with the FAA for the authority to close the airport on New Year's Day, 2029.
Closing the airport has become a popular cause in Santa Monica. Airport opponents point out that due to the airports unique history as the Douglas aircraft headquarters until 1972, nowhere in America is an airport runway so close to homes. And of course any home in Santa Monica is worth a boatload of money. It is an anomaly to have a municipal airport located in a dense, expensive neighborhood.
The deal negotiated with the federal government apparently will allow the airport to be closed permanently on January 1, 2029. The airport runway will be reduced in length to 3500 feet immediately, effectively preventing charter service that was supposed to start on Wednesday, February 6, 2017. The City will otherwise not interfere in the operation of the Airport until 2029.
At that time, the airport's 227 acre parcel will revert to the City of Santa Monica which could turn it into a park or more likely, develop it intensively like Playa Vista. The land is worth over $1 billion, and there will be pressures to develop it no doubt.
The Council vote was 4-3, with Kevin McKeown, Sue Himmelrich and Tony Vasquez voting against the agreement because they would like to close the airport immediately. His statement is below.
Personally, I suspect there is more to the timing of this announcement. The outgoing FAA administrator probably offered the City a better deal than the City felt it could get from the Trump Administration later. While the FAA absolutely has authority to close airports, the bottom line is Trump could undo this agreement if he wants, and I suspect we will hear more about that presently. http://www.smobserved.com/story/2017/01/28/news/trump-admin-sandbagged-on-santa-monica-airport-closure-will-no-doubt-reverse-it/2550.html
Councilmember Kevin McKeown says the Trump administration has signed off on the agreement "which gives me pause." At least one City Councilmember disagrees, describing this as a late-term, Obama administration decision. Santa Monica of course votes heavily Democratic, so that makes more sense to me.
Cited reasons for public support of airport closure are an alleged threat to safety, despite no ground fatalities in the neighborhood around the airport in over a century. A student pilot crashed into an apartment building directly adjacent to a gasoline filling station in November 2013, resulting in three fatalities (none on the ground). Actor Harrison Ford crashed onto the nearby Penmar Golf Course in 2013, which "galvanized opposition to the airport," said the Los Angeles Times.
McKeown released the following statement:
The decision by the Santa Monica City Council this morning was NOT unanimous. This is the statement I have just read into the minutes, immediately following the vote:Mayor, I'd like to place on the record the reason for my "no" vote.
Five months ago this Council, with my enthusiastic support, voted to close Santa Monica Airport by June 30, 2018, the beginning of next summer. Today's settlement keeps the airport open until December 31, 2028, essentially until 2029 – that's twelve long years from now.
With this settlement, we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This, at a time when the FAA's willingness to negotiate revealed that the FAA itself suspected they would lose their court battles with Santa Monica - even while they continue to hold our land hostage.
I was silent in public discussion today because the decision had already been made, and the documents had been signed in Washington. I can assure the community I was adamant, and consistent, in my opposition to this settlement, and expressed my opposition repeatedly in closed session legal discussions that led to today's public action.
This consent decree means that planes, including some jets, will continue to fly for 12 more years. The mandate Santa Monica voters sent the Council with Measure LC is deferred for 12 more years. Airport Park is delayed for 12 more years. I vote no for all those reasons.
Kevin McKeown, Councilmember, Santa Monica