In anticipation of Thursday night’s workshop on turning Santa Monica Airport into a park I had intended to write another post about how building a park there would be the best legacy we current Santa Monicans could leave for the future. It was going to a joyful piece. The apparent death, however, of Mark Benjamin and his son Luke in Sunday evening’s crash has drained me of anything in the category of joy.
I knew Mark; not well, not personally, but with as much affection and regard as one can have for a person one knows not personally, but politically. Not that any dealings I ever had with Mark were political in the usual (negative) sense of the word, but they were political in the positive sense that they had to do with community.
In 1999 I served with Mark on an oversight committee for a school bond. Suffice it to say that having the head of a major construction firm on an oversight committee for a construction bond meant that at least someone knew what was going on. Another fond memory is of the pride Mark, who was Jewish, took from the fact that the Archdiocese in L.A. chose his company, Morley Builders, to build the cathedral downtown. It was wasn’t just the ecumenical angle, which Mark got a kick out of, but he said it was humbling to be charged with building something that was expected to last for centuries.
Mark and Luke will be missed by everyone involved in community affairs here, and we can only hope that their family and friends ultimately find solace in the memories they left behind.
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As for turning the airport into a park, while the crash is sure to affect the controversy about closing the airport, it has little to do with whether the airport should be turned into a park. Even if airplanes never crashed, Santa Monica should do everything it can to close the airport and build a park. For that matter, even if planes were quiet and didn’t pollute, Santa Monica should build a park.
Why? Well, it’s true that building a park would solve the negatives associated with the airport, but building a park is not about closing the airport. It’s about building a park. Specifically, it’s about building a park on land that the public owns, in a place where there are not enough parks.
People who use or benefit from the airport make many arguments against the park, all framed in negative terms. This is understandable; it is difficult to make a positive argument for the airport, given how few people it serves (and given its negative impacts).
One of the negative anti-park arguments is that because the airport is located on the border with Los Angeles, a park will serve non-Santa Monicans. This argument fails on four counts.
First, as it stands now, the airport serves few residents of Santa Monica. When pilots and others appear at meetings to argue for the airport, few can identify themselves as Santa Monicans. As it happens, Santa Monica is subsidizing, to the tune of more than $1 million per year, a facility that mostly serves non-residents. On any given day, more Santa Monicans use the soccer fields that the City built in the ’90s on the “non-aviation” land it regained control of under the 1984 agreement with the FAA, or use the various cultural and educational facilities at the airport, than use the airport as an airport.
Second, for its entire history Santa Monica has happily been a destination for visitors, who come to use the beach and our other attractions. Being a regional, even international, center for recreation is part of Santa Monica’s identity and character, and a beautiful park will be consistent with that history.
Third, the argument ignores the fact that we residents of Santa Monica don’t lock ourselves into the city’s limits; we freely use regional attractions all around us, including parks and cultural facilities like museums and concert halls. We know we are part of something big. We share and they share.
Fourth, there is every reason to believe that because of the importance of the new park to the region, Santa Monica would not need to bear all the costs of building the park. Regional funding should be available. Keep in mind that the most costly item in the capital costs of building a park has already been paid for – the land itself, which was purchased in the ’20s with money raised from a parks bond. Airport2Park.org, which is sponsoring the workshop Thursday evening, intends to explore financing possibilities at a future event.
Thanks for reading.