Negatives (and proving and disproving them) about Santa Monica Airport

The campaign to collect signatures for the aviation industry’s initiative to perpetuate Santa Monica Airport (SMO) is coming to a head. If the initiative’s sponsor, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), through its phony grass roots organization “Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions,” doesn’t turn in enough signatures soon for county election officials to review, the initiative won’t make the November ballot. That would postpone a vote on the initiative until June 2016 because charter amendments, such as the AOPA initiative, need to be voted on at statewide primary or general elections.

The would be a disaster for the AOPA because by 2016 the Santa Monica City Council will have been able to create a real plan for voters to consider as an alternative to the airport. Until then the AOPA has the advantage because it can promote its initiative as an alternative to whatever parade of horribles it can conjure up for the future of the airport land.

Those Santa Monicans who want to close SMO, including those of us who want to turn the mile-long runway and adjacent areas into a great park, don’t fear a vote. We’ve always expected there would be a vote, because we expect that if the City Council votes to close the airport, the AOPA would mount a referendum campaign to put the council’s decision on the ballot.

That, however, would be a fair vote because the voters would have two concrete alternatives — keep the airport or do something specifically different. (I hope that something is a big park, in which case I’ll have to come up with a different adjective than “concrete” to describe the alternative.) Assuming the alternative makes sense, we believe we’d win that vote. (Putting massive development on the site, as AOPA signature gatherers say will happen, is not an alternative that makes sense.)

While the AOPA and its allies like to call us pro-park folks dreamers, the AOPA initiative is based on nightmares. The proponents of the initiative and other supporters of SMO don’t have to prove their claims while we opponents are left having to prove (or disprove!) negatives. Not only that, but besides requiring a vote on any airport plans the initiative also has provisions that would stymie any planning for a non-aviation future for the airport land or even managing the city-owned properties at SMO, without the city being overwhelmed with litigation.

I’ll tell you one thing — the truth doesn’t work for the signature gatherers. I’ve been part of the crew of residents trying to block the AOPA’s paid signature gatherers in grocery store parking lots all over town, and it’s been interesting to hear them make their pitch. The one truthful pitch, namely, to sign the initiative to “save Santa Monica Airport,” is a clunker. I’ve watched signature gatherers say that hundreds of times to passersby, and almost zero have responded.

There have been many unfounded arguments that the signature gatherers make, but none is more pernicious than one that if SMO doesn’t exist, flight patterns will change, and air traffic using LAX will fly low over Santa Monica. As is typical, I’ve never seen any evidence to back this up. Instead, the airport’s boosters leave it to airport opponents to prove the negative that air traffic patterns won’t change.

Neither I nor anyone else can tell you exactly what will happen to flying around here if the airport closes, but I can point out what looks like craziness when I see it. And it is crazy to think that LAX air traffic will change significantly.

Why? Flights landing at LAX descend gradually from the east. They take off over the ocean, then climb and turn if they are heading east, north or south. These are the most important patterns affecting flights in the area.

For instance, if you’ve flown from northern California, you know that flights from the north already fly over the Santa Monica Mountains and northern Santa Monica, but they fly fairly high. These commercial jets coming in from the north typically fly at altitudes between 6,000 and 9,000 feet. They need to be up high enough to fly east over downtown L.A. before making U-turns to descend into LAX. It’s absurd to think that if SMO isn’t there they are going to fly low over Santa Monica, Venice, Marina del Rey, and Playa del Rey to land at LAX from the northwest.

Similarly, if you fly out of LAX, you know that you sometimes turn and fly back over Santa Monica, but from the ground you know that those planes are already high enough not to be a nuisance.

Another reason that commercial flights will continue to fly high over Santa Monica and the Westside is that regardless of the presence of SMO, the sky up to about 7,000 feet is full of private aircraft. The best way to see this is to spend some time looking a flights over Santa Monica through the lens of the airport’s PublicVue website.

PublicVue Screen Shot showing flights around Santa Monica

PublicVue Screen Shot showing flights around Santa Monica

If you monitor PublicVue, you’ll see that there are flight paths along the coast for general aviation (i.e., non-commercial) flights, with connections to inland airports such as Van Nuys, Burbank, and Long Beach, that at altitudes around 4,000 to 6,000 feet are below commercial flight and above the LAX landing paths. The takeoffs and landings to and from Santa Monica Airport are, obviously, below these altitudes — it’s not the planes taking off from SMO and climbing to 1,000 feet or so that keep the big jets up high, above 7,000 feet, it’s all the other private planes passing through.

If you signed the AOPA initiative because a signature gatherer persuaded you that you needed to sign to keep LAX air traffic from swooping down low over your neighborhood, you can rescind your signature by filling out and signing a simple form, and sending to the City Clerk. You can get a copy of the form through the CASMAT website.

Thanks for reading.

4 thoughts on “Negatives (and proving and disproving them) about Santa Monica Airport

  1. Mr. Gruber is dangerous for Santa Monica. His analysis of flight patterns to LAX is uninformed and misleading. Traffic from LAX flies out over the ocean before turning because it must to gain the necessary altitude to remain above the Santa Monica Airport airspace. The airlines are salivating at the prospects of saving millions of dollars in fuel costs by turning to the east earlier and at lower altitudes. As for arriving traffic, again the SM airspace prevents the flights from descending earlier thereby being able to turn sooner to land at LAX. Mr. Gruber’s point on private aircraft is outside of reality. LAX traffic is not routed above smaller airplanes, rather smaller airplanes are routed around LAX traffic. This is dangerous misinformation that Mr. Gruber has failed to sufficiently research while offering the public a course of action.

    Anyone who acts upon such uninformed analysis and misleading conclusions needs to be prepared to deal with the nasty unintended consequences of well meaning actions. I recommend anyone reading this column to do your own research and not base any decisions on the wildly misinformed and dangerous opinions of someone too lazy to do the research themselves.

  2. Pingback: Three items of interest |

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