If you’ve bought groceries recently in Santa Monica, or if you will anytime soon, chances are you’ve been asked or will be asked to sign a petition for an initiative to “give the people the right to vote on the airport,” or to “stop overdevelopment at the airport.” Maybe a canvasser has come to your door.
Please, don’t sign the petition, and if you have signed it, please contact the City Clerk to withdraw your signature (details on that below).
Here’s the truth about the petition. The aviation industry, through its lobbying organization, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), is funding a sham initiative to change Santa Monica’s City Charter to keep Santa Monica Airport, which the City of Santa Monica owns, operating for their own private benefit. They’ve funded an army of paid signature-gatherers in a desperate move to derail 50 years of Santa Monicans’ trying to take control of the airport’s more than 200 acres of land, most of which residents bought and paid for with a parks bond nearly 90 years ago.
Back then, in the 1920s, flying was a still romantic thing, different from today. In what was basically an empty wilderness one could even think of a grass airstrip as park-like. In only a few years, however, accelerated by the run-up to World War II, aviation became an industry and the park became the site of Douglas Aircraft and one of the world’s largest factories — an arsenal of democracy.
Today, Douglas is long gone — it moved out when Santa Monica refused to condemn houses to extend the runway so that Douglas could build DC-8’s here — but the aviation industry remains, mostly in the form of private jet operators. The airport is a cash cow for them, subsidized by the City and made possible by low rents on leases dating back 30 years.
To take one example, according to data unearthed by the Airport Commission, Atlantic Aviation, the largest jet operator at the airport, pays the City rent of $200,000 per year, and then rents to sub-tenants for over $4 million per year. Meanwhile, the City has been subsidizing operations at the airport to the tune of $1 million per year. The average monthly rent aviation tenants pay the City is 6¢ per square foot — when the market rate is nearly $4!
All the residents of Santa Monica own the Santa Monica Airport and all of us should benefit from the airport land, not just a few.
Predictably, the industry has jumped on two popular themes in Santa Monica politics to create a smokescreen to cover the motives behind the initiative: the theme that the people need to take control over decision-making and the theme that the city is being over-developed. These themes were, of course, exemplified by Residocracy’s recent, successful campaign to get enough signatures to put the Hines-Paper Mate development to a referendum vote.
But there is no similarity between the Residocracy campaign — which was a genuine movement of residents, who did most of the signature gathering on a volunteer basis — and the aviation industry’s campaign, which has no roots among any community groups in Santa Monica and is funded entirely by the industry. In fact, community groups are lining up against the initiative — as of today, Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, Friends of Sunset Park, Mid City Neighbors and Northeast Neighbors have all come out against the initiative, with more opposition from more groups on the way.
The aviation industry’s initiative purports to be about giving the people the right to vote on the future of the airport, but that’s not what it’s about. Through the referendum process, as shown by the Hines petition, Santa Monicans can already bring any action the City Council takes about the airport to a vote.
Nor is the initiative about preventing overdevelopment. The City Council in a “wall-to-wall” unanimous vote at a meeting in March initiated a process to ensure that there will not be intensive development on the airport land, a process that can lead to building a great public park there. The fact is, as expressed by Mayor Pam O’Connor at the council meeting in March, the airport is not a good place for development, since it’s poorly connected to transit corridors and the street grid.
The initiative is about stopping any planning for alternatives at the airport. According to the AOPA website, the initiative“requires the city to continue to operate the airport in a manner that supports its aviation purposes and stipulates that the city cannot impose new restrictions that would inhibit…the full use of aviation facilities.”
The purpose of the initiative is to prevent any change at Santa Monica Airport.
Airport businesses have known since 1984 that Santa Monica would take control of the Airport land in 2015, and that it was likely that the City would close the airport. The airport businesses say it’s the residents who moved near the airport and who therefore should forever bear the burden of increasing jet traffic, yet it’s the businesses that have known for 30 years that their time was running out. Now they are using this phony initiative so they can keep feeding from the public trough.
You can expect to see a lot of signature-gatherers in the next couple of weeks. Although the AOPA has six months from April 10 to get the 9,000 or so signatures it needs to get the initiative on a ballot, to place the initiative on this November’s ballot, the AOPA needs to get those signatures by mid-May at the latest to cover the time it takes for the County to certify the signatures and the City Council to review the measure before it goes on the ballot.
If the AOPA doesn’t get the initiative on this November’s ballot, because the initiative calls for a charter amendment it could not be voted on earlier than the June 2016 statewide primary election. By then the AOPA knows that the City Council will have had plenty of time to craft a plan for the future of the airport land that the residents of Santa Monica will support. This is the aviation industry’s last chance to stop the City and its residents from taking control of their property at the airport.
Thanks for reading — and thanks for not signing the petition.
(If you have already signed the petition, and want to rescind your signature, call the Santa Monica City Clerk’s office at (310) 458-8211.)