Flying Blind

When I lost my bid last year to be elected to the City Council, I could have returned to writing my column for the Lookout, but as a columnist I couldn’t have stayed involved in politics. Even an opinion columnist, at least one who works for an editor, needs to be objective, and after 11 years of journalism, I was itching to become active again.

Since dropping the column and starting this blog I have become involved with various causes. The one I am most passionate about is turning the Santa Monica Airport into a big public park.

Thursday night, October 3, Airport2Park.org, a coalition of residents and organizations dedicated to making a park happen will hold a public workshop to envision what this park could mean. (The workshop will take place from 6 to 9 PM, at Mount Olive Lutheran Church, at 14th and Ocean Park Boulevard; for details click here.)

On Saturday Airport2Park had an information table at the Open House that the airport hosts each year. Naturally there were a lot of pro-airport people at the event, but many visitors supported turning the airport into a park. Surprisingly, even several pilots acknowledged that the closure of the airport was inevitable, given the number of jets that use it and its location surrounded by houses and businesses. One pilot even told us that she was embarrassed by the “arrogance” of pilots who had no regard for people who lived around the airport.

Naturally, there were pilots and others at the event on Saturday challenged our goal of turning the airport into a park. Actually, it wasn’t so much that they disagreed that parks were good, but they challenged our right to advocate for closing the airport to make a park possible.

They weren’t arguing about the City’s legal right to close the airport, but the moral right of residents negatively affected by the airport’s operations to demand it be closed. Their argument was that the airport was here first, before the people who live around it moved in. Leaving aside California law, which gives new residents living near a nuisance the same rights as old residents, and leaving aside the fact that the airport and its uses and impacts have changed considerably since housing for Douglas Aircraft workers began to be built close to the airport during the ’40s, and even more since the FAA required the airport to accept jet traffic more than 30 years ago, this argument is flawed because it is the airport users, the aviation businesses and the pilots, who have known for a very long time that the City of Santa Monica intended to close the airport.

The City’s opposition to the airport goes back at least to the ’60s, when the City refused Douglas Aircraft’s request that the City condemn houses so that the runway could be extended to allow Douglas to build jets. Keep in mind, to judge the gravity of this decision, that in doing so, the City Council — then dominated by business interests, not environmentalists — went against the interest of Santa Monica’s biggest business.

Then in 1981, in the aftermath of the FAA’s requiring the airport to allow jets, the City Council passed a resolution to close the airport. This decision resulted in litigation, which was settled in 1984 pursuant to an agreement with the FAA. Under the settlement agreement the City agreed not to close the airport until July 1, 2015 — leaving the clear implication that the City would have the power to do so on that date. The agreement is public record; any aviation users who have made investments in the airport since 1984, or who have based their planes there, have known, or should have known, that their use of the airport could cease in 2015.

I thought of this on Saturday, when a pilot with a video camera was peppering Airport2Park folks with questions about how long they’d lived here; he told us he’d moved to Santa Monica 16 years ago. Presumably he started flying out of the airport since then. I wondered if he’d read the 1984 agreement.

Apropos of a park, under the 1984 agreement the City gained control of the southern part of the airport along Airport Avenue, the so-called “non-aviation land.” In the ’90s the City built two soccer fields and a dog park there. When the City gains control of the rest of the airport, we want more of the same — and hiking and biking trails and restored habitat and everything else a park can be.A2P at SMO 130921-788

Airport2Park’s table at the Santa Monica Airport Open House, with the soccer fields from the ’90s in the background.

The moral argument works the opposite way from what the airport proponents argue – for a very long time it’s they who should have known that the airport would likely close.

But in any case, there’s a stronger moral argument, of a positive nature, in favor of a park. The people own the airport land, but few get any benefit from it. Let’s build a park for everyone. What could be more moral than that?

Thanks for reading. (And be sure to come to the workshop Oct. 3!)

5 thoughts on “Flying Blind

  1. If interested in the looming July 1, 2015 date when the City Council can close the airport, consider the hopeful analogy of the Department of the Interior. It is enforcing the end of a 40-year lease for the noisy Oyster Farm at Point Reyes, within the recommended wilderness portion of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service.

  2. Now if you could apply that same logic to opposing more height and
    density in our city, I’d want you to be on the council,too,
    Lorraine Sanchez

  3. Frank, you are a rational and reasonable person who is not timid about pursuing worthwhile projects. The City of Santa Monica would be well served with you on their City Council.

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