City Plans to Do What It Wants With Airport Land it Will Inherit in 2028
City Has its Eye on the Airport for its Own Use
November 27, 2019
The Santa Monica Airport Commission, agreeing with the concerns of residents, voted unanimously on November 19 to oppose the city's plan to 'temporarily' move some of their services to the Santa Monica Airport.
The fact the city would unilaterally and without any public process begin constructing facilities for themselves on airport land should be deeply troubling to those concerned about city officials' eventual plans for the airport, which is slated to close at the end of 2028.
The Airport Commission's vote last Tuesday is in response to construction already begun by the city at the airport. The city decided to move their Public Landscape Division's Park Maintenance staff to the airport from its current location at the old Fisher Lumber site. The city purchased the Fisher Lumber location in 2004, but this site is now affected by an expansion of nearby Memorial Park. The PLD, which maintains the city's 28 public parks, landscaped medians, and street trees, needs to move. So city staff identified land at the airport as a suitable "temporary" site.
Residents were surprised and alarmed by the construction of the new PLD facility, claiming no notice had been given nor any public hearings held regarding the $800,000 project.
At a September meeting before the Airport Commission, citizens voiced their concerns regarding the project, which included early morning noise from PLD operations, safety concerns over large trucks traveling on 25th Street, large storage bins near homes with possible hazardous material, and the suspicion too much money was being spent on the project for the PLD's location to be only temporary.
Last week, the Airport Commission, charged with advising the city in all matters pertaining to the airport, agreed with residents, voting 5-0 to call for a halt to construction on the PLD facility at the airport. The Commission wrote in their report that the planned facility directly adjacent to single-family homes and a public park "ill suits this City and harms its residents." In addition, the Commission wrote that "the residents' concerns have not been addressed by the city, and the fundamental lack of democratic process is deeply troubling." The Commission concluded that the city should "follow a transparent, public process to find a more suitable location, with the consideration of long-term planning for the entire airport land and facilities."
The latter is, of course, the crux of the whole matter. City officials, both elected and staff, clearly consider the Airport land theirs to use and exploit as they wish. For many years, the city fought to close the airport and finally won its battle in January of 2017, when they reached an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration to close the airport at the end of 2028.
Anticipating triumph, city officials had already conned a gullible public into voting in Measure LC in 2014. This proposition required voter approval for any new developments on the Airport land other than parks, open spaces, and recreational areas. However, the fate and governance of the Airport was put into the hands of the council, with no voter approval required. An opposing measure put forward by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) would have required voter approval for both operation and governance of the airport, as well as use of the airport land. Only excellent marketing, including the usual misinformation, can explain why voters would agree to give up their own power to make decisions regarding the airport.
In a public survey circulated by the city last year, residents were asked to react to various possible new plans for the airport after it is closed to aviation. Each of the plans included housing and commercial developments, elements voters were promised would never be included back when the city asked them to vote for Measure LC. These commercial buildings were proposed as a means to finance desirable improvements to the public portion of the land. It was a classic bait-and-switch, but at least the city was pretending they cared what the public thought (about including development, traffic, and congestion in what was supposed to have been one big park.)
However, the city's current act in beginning construction on airport land for one of their own operational departments changes the perception of their intentions. City officials clearly view this public land as their own, and they don't need to consult anyone regarding how they are going to use it.