Of Rights & Wrongs

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People ask why, if the Santa Monica owns the land at the Municipal Airport, it cannot close it at will and use the land for something else? The answer is simple; it cannot, because while the City of Santa Monica does own the Municipal Airport, it does not have complete control over the land because of agreements made with the Government of the United States in 1948, which require the land to be used for an airport “forever”. The City contests this fact, but that is the law.

Are the City’s rights of ownership are being denied? They are not. The City cannot repurpose the land under the freeways or the metro line either, although both occupy city land. Under the terms of the Surplus Property Act, the City does not “allow” the airport to operate, it does not have the authority under Federal law to do anything else.

With regard to the City Council, there seems to be a froward and ongoing misconstruing of the terms and meaning of the 1984 Airport Agreement between the City and the Federal Government (in this instance, the FAA). The 1984 Agreement does not speak to the City’s obligation to keep the airport open until 2015 or any other specific time. It was a 30 year agreement on how the airport was to be run until 2015, e.g. the lower south-east aircraft tiedown area adjacent to the dog park was released as “residual” land way back in 1984, but was not repurposed by the City because it had an obligation to supply space for a minimum “fleet” size of 520 aircraft. The City could not do this without using the residual land. The 1984 Agreement resulted from the City’s ill-fated attempt to close the airport in 1981.

The timing-out of the 1984 agreement does not affect the terms of the Surplus Property Act and was not intended to do so. The obligation for the airport to remain open is, rather, a covenant of the agreement made under the Surplus Property Act as provided in the 1948 Instrument Of Transfer (IOT). This document, eagerly signed by the City at the time, requires that the land be used for an airport “forever”. The City did not agree to allow the airport to remain operation from 1984 to 2015, but rather, acquiesced to Federal demands and the threat of action by the United States Department of Justice.

The reasoning in 1984 was that this 30 year agreement delineating the nuts and bolts of how the airport was to be run would be, through participation and cooperation between the Santa Monica, its citizens, and the airport users, renegotiated at the end of its term. That process failed to materialize and now the City, asserting a false sovereignty, is running rough-shod over the rights of airport tenants and users.

The 2023 date referring to the end of city obligations under the grant assurances to the Federal Government, like the 1984 Agreement, does not bear on the whether the airport can close or not. It merely speaks to how the airport must operate for a specific period of time. If the City were to prevail in their court challenge to this date, that still would not confer the right to close the airport as of 2015, 2023, or any specific time in the future.

 Clearly, the City does not feel bound by the actions of wiser City fathers in the past and continues to spend millions in taxpayer dollars in pursuit of their goal to close the airport and reuse the land for other purposes, which, by virtue of prop. LC, they can do without a vote of the people in four specific, but broadly interpreted categories.

As it stands at the moment, the City will have its day in court sometime this spring to challenge the validity of the IOT. We expect them to lose.

 

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Plumb Crazy

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The City of Santa Monica’s bogeyman designate, and City Managers’ dog’s body, Nelson Hernandez, is trying to frighten the citizens out of nine year’s growth with tales of lead poisoning from aircraft at our airport. Fortunately, like all hobgoblins, it is the stuff of an over-active imagination a veritable Simoom of hot, thin air.

What is really in Mr. Hernandez’s bag of tricks when he says that about a half ton of “lead fumes” are spread over the city annually?  He doesn’t say how he arrived at this figure, but most likely it comes from the flowage of avgas at the airport times the tetra ethyl lead content per gallon and assumes that all of the combustion byproducts land in Santa Monica.

Balderdash!

The problem with this idea is that the exhaust from piston aircraft doesn’t settle to the ground under the flightpaths of the aircraft like so many fishing weights falling from heaven. It stays airborne for hours, days, and weeks spread over millions of square miles of land, and only a fraction of that fuel is burned over Santa Monica anyway. It is diluted beyond all significance.

That is why scientists cannot find elevated lead levels around the airport–there just aren’t any. It is why no one can find detrimental health effects from lead around the airport-there simply aren’t any to find! I suppose that Mr. Hernandez could argue that the boneheaded decisions made by our City Council must be caused by lead poisoning because lead impairs cognition but, of course, the Council is just froward.

Aren’t there alternative fuels that don’t have lead compounds we can substitute for leaded fuel like Hernandez says?  No, he’s lying; there are none currently available, but we expect them by 2019. Are we in any danger until then? No, we are not; not at all. We have never been in any danger, and there is no crisis of lead contamination/poisoning in our city. You can bet there will be no lead remediation needed if developers ever get their greedy hands on the airport land either.

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Mayor is "disappointed, but not surprised"–we are stirred, but not shaken

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Forging ahead with its policy of seize and resist the City attempted to evict  Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers–the FAA responded with cease and desist. Last Tuesday, December 13, the FAA exercised its authority under the Code of Federal Regulations to shield two business tenants and the flying public at Santa Monica Municipal Airport from the consequences of the most recent of the City’s careless and reckless assaults on its own airport. This protection took the form of an interim cease and desist order which enjoins the City from further action until such time as the FAA can finish with its scrutiny of City airport policies which began with a formal Notice of Investigation (NOI) two months ago.

The City action which precipitated this response from the Federal Government was its attempt to evict the two Fixed Base Operators (FBO’s:Atlantic & American Flyers) who supply essential services to the aviation community that use the Airport (SMO) without making suitable arrangements to assume all of those duties themselves as is required under the Federal law.

In order to evict the present FBO’s, the City would need to be able to assume all the activities currently carried out by those businesses. As the FAA points out in the C & D order, the City has made no credible attempts to put together the resources (some of which require considerable time and expenditure) to do that and, hence, if the FBO”S were forced out, the City could not provide the services and meet its obligations under the law–plain and simple.

Some folks believe that was the City’s real plan all along based on its publically proclaimed intention to remove all aviation services from the airport to facilitate its closing by strangling it. The FAA is evidently taking this threat seriously and has moved to maintain the current state of affairs until such times as the truth can be ascertained. That is straight forward and to the point–a sober and deliberate act to protect those for whom it is responsible as a Federal Agency. It is foolish not to believe that the FAA is committed and serious about this–they are not "bluffing" as Mr. Hernandez would have us believe.

The thing that is peculiar is the City’s response as articulated by the Mayor Mr.Vasquez  and echoed by the City Manager’s dog’s body Mr. Hernandez. There appears to be a willful mis-interpretation of the law and an attempt at misleading the public. The Mayor says with regard to the order: “We are disappointed, but not surprised...” This implies that they knew that they were acting in bad faith and would be brought to task for it but they don’t like being caught. So why on earth did they choose to do it? It always hurts when you shoot yourself in the foot. 

Mr. Hernandez also cites an ignorant and foolish blog by a one-time air traffic controller Jim Lewis: “You may find reading the link below interesting.  It is the opinion of a former FAA official.  No endorsement of his analysis by the City is implied.”,(but, of course, Lewis gets paid when you click on his blog). Note the disclaimer. The author in question is not a former FAA “official”, but rather, just a guy who worked in a control tower (just because you work in a Hospital doesn’t make you a doctor). He is confused about the applicable law and his contention that the FAA is “bluffing” is merely ignorant bravado, yet he is one of Mr. Hernadez’s many dubious ‘experts’.

What the City chooses not to recognize is that their claim to the airport land comes with certain provisos, one of which is that it must be used for a functioning airport. That is the contract the City signed with the Government of the United States 7 decades ago. The City is welcome to run the airport and reap the considerable income it provides to the city coffers, but it is not allowed to close it and deprive the rest of the country of an important piece of its aviation transportation infrastructure. It is not an exception or particularly unusual–the City doesn’t own the freeways within its boundaries, either. That is the crux of the matter.

The FAA is not pledged to protect private business or municipal interest. It is charged with protecting the public’s access to our nation’s greatest resource–our American airspace–our spacious and halcyon skies, and they are doing a good job. We commend them.

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Behind the Iron(ic) Curtain

 

 

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Welcome To The New People’s Republic Of Santa Monica

 

Well, well, well, the cat’s out of the bag. The City’s Press release, issued just last week regarding terminating leaseholds at the Municipal Airport, states in part:

“In the meantime, the Council has directed staff to proceed in an orderly fashion to assert our right to take over all legally-required Field-Based Operations at Santa Monica Airport and to establish a City-run fixed-base operation (FBO) that operates in the public interest and not for private profit. A trial date for the eviction lawsuit will be calendared by the division of the Superior Court that handles these unlawful detainer proceedings.”

 What a noble sentiment! How could something as unAmerican as private profit ever have gained a foothold in our bastion of cradle to grave socialist engineering here in sunny Southern California? It must surely be obvious to everyone that no private enterprise could ever operate for the public interest, right?

 So, why stop there? The airport is only a tiny bit of the rampant private enterprise that has infiltrated our city. Let’s cancel every leasehold in the city just as soon as we can. The cleaners, the barbers, the nail shops, the department stores, the doctor’s and dentist’s offices, the car dealers and gas stations. The theatres and the restaurants. All the residential housing. We mustn’t forget the highways and the Metro rail either. Let the City Government with its singular track record run everything in town–a single go to place that fits all-fits none. What a concept!

 It’s not a new idea, merely one that is out of fashion. We’ve had company towns all over the country, so why not revive it here in Bell By The Bay? We wouldn’t even need money, just proof of residency.  As an added plus, there would be no question of eternal salvation: “Saint Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go; I owe my soul to the company store.”

  It is weirdly appropriate that a city government that is continually harping about “our land” is so determined to dig their own graves in it.

 

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A Costly Fool's Errand

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The City of Santa Monica continues to pursue its misguided and irresponsible program to  destroy the economic basis for the Municipal Airport in an effort to make an end-run around the United States Congress (and the Surplus Property Act) and permanently end access to the national airspace.

The City evidently believes that if it can get rid of the aviation businesses at the airport, then there will be no one willing or able to thwart their efforts to take the land for development. What’s the evidence?

The City is trying to evict the two biggest Fixed Base Operations at the airport: Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers. Both these businesses sell fuel and the City has indicated that it wants to be the fuel vendor in the future. This will require the City to buy all the capital equipment and hire and train municipal employees for this task as they have zip at the current time. They haven’t even begun this process, yet they are attempting to evict the current providers, which would leave a huge gap in fuel availability. We believe that to be their real purpose.

This is not only a dumb idea, but will cost the citizens a bundle of money. Under the current system, the City gets rent from both these entities and a percentage of the flowage of fuel. It's good income with no work, investment or responsibility. Running these operations themselves instead will result in a net loss for Santa Monica. The City is proposing to buy expensive ground support equipment and train new city employees along (with their considerable entitlements), and purchase the requisite liability insurance all to be written off within months of their implementation if their plan to close the airport were to succeed.

This is fiscal irresponsibility rivaling some of the other nearby criminal enterprises like the City of Bell. Is there any question about the quality of customer service Santa Monica would provide at the airport given their recent actions and published comments about their plans for the future? You would be lucky if you didn’t have to pay to use the toilets and bring your own water to flush them!

This is sheer craziness and recklessness born out of greed and panic. The Federal Government has made it abundantly clear that the airport must remain, just as they did in 1984. This fool’s errand has already cost the taxpayers millions of dollars and will cost millions more if a clear signal isn’t sent to the City Council this November; failing that, it may have to wait until 2018 when election by district will become the new law of this currently lawless land.

 

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NBAA Calls for FAA to Step Up Efforts to Halt 'Strangulation Strategy' for SMO

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Click here to make a donation to the SMAA legal fund

Washington, DC, Oct. 14, 2016 – Today, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen cited "an urgent need for further, stricter action" by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to halt blatant actions by city officials in Santa Monica, CA, to drive local businesses from Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO).

Bolen’s letter marks the most recent action NBAA has taken to preserve the historic Southern California airport’s important role in the nation’s aviation system. Earlier this year, NBAA joined with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) to file an FAA Part 16 complaint alleging that city officials have improperly diverted airport funds, charged excessive and unreasonable landing fees and denied leases on property to airport businesses.

For its part, the FAA issued a notice of investigation into the leasing and related issues last month, requiring the city to explain its rationale for attempts to evict two longstanding aviation service providers at SMO, Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers. The agency also subpoenaed city officials to appear in person to address the matter.

In addition to the notice of investigation and related legal proceedings, in August the FAA also reaffirmed the city's overall obligation, under terms of federal grant assurances, to keep the airport open through 2023. A separate case, now under deliberation, concerns whether Santa Monica is further required to operate SMO in perpetuity under terms of the 1948 Instrument of Transfer that gave control of the airfield back to the city after significant improvements made by the Army during World War II.

While welcoming the FAA’s recent moves to ensure the airport’s continued operation, Bolen’s letter urged the agency to step up its efforts to stop “the city’s ongoing, self-described ‘strangulation’ strategy for SMO.”

“The city has not stopped – and indeed, has accelerated – its efforts to restrict aeronautical uses of SMO," Bolen wrote in his Oct. 14 letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

“As the city continues to implement its strategy, there is a significant risk that if the FAA does not take immediate steps to ensure the future of SMO, any ultimate victory will be pyrrhic, because in the meantime, the city will succeed in withering away the services available at the airport, and along with them its aeronautical user base,” he concluded.

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Nemo Insula Est

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Just about 4 centuries ago John Donne declared that we do not live our lives separate from each other unencumbered by mutual ties and obligations, mutual benefits and protections. This has proved a difficult lesson, oft in need of repetition and as yet unlearned universally and the proof of this can easily be found.

We hear a lot these days about local control of our city’s destiny as reflected in the way in which the city government attempts to control and develop land within its borders. Local control, what could be wrong with that? Shouldn’t each sovereign city have complete and total control over its real estate to do with as its governors deem fit? Isn’t that what cityhood is all about-control of all things within the city borders?

While it makes sense that cities should have the final say on most things, there are many exceptions. Santa Monica, a bastion of renter’s rights is still subject to the rent laws laid down by the State of California. It gladly submits to the uniform fire and safety codes, and the national plumbing and electrical codes.  Prominent exceptions to “local control” are the major transportation infrastructures that connect cities and states to the rest of the nation–the railroads, the waterways, our interstate highway system and, of course the national air transportation system.

Not all cities are fortunate enough to have a piece of even one of these assets, but our town, Santa Monica, has all of them: The Pacific ocean, the MetroRail, The Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway (Interstate route 10), and the 100 year old Municipal Airport-historical Clover Field. The City has little control over these assets although it is privileged to profit by them and they all make the city a better place to live and work. Somehow, big-time developers, and those in the City Government in their thrall, have gotten the absurd notion in their heads that the airport is somehow different and fair game for them to do with as their whimsy dictates.

We have seen attempts over the last half-century to wrest the airport land from control of the United States Government and repurpose it to gain a short term development windfall at the cost of being disconnected from the rest of the country by air forever. This is simply too high a price to pay. Why ruin an asset that pays its own way both in the City’s bottom line and in the prosperity it generates through the cornucopia of general aviation?

A much more enlightened approach would be to recognize the logical and legal limitations of local control and embrace the common sense for the common good approach of local participation in the national air transportation network. The insular approach taken by City Hall is shortsighted and self-defeating in the long run. As the nation continues to mature and expand into all the available land, we need to look ahead and preserve what we cannot replace.

There is breath-taking irony in a city that touts “sustainability” but continues to try to convert every square foot of its land into ever more grandiose development which has already made it nearly impossible to get around town to do one’s daily business. Closing the airport, as the City Council has recently voted unanimously to do, is the epitome of pig-headedness and, if it were to succeed, would make life for all of us worse, not better.

If the City’s elected representatives weren’t deafened by their own clamoring to close the airport and the siren call of developer money, they might hear a distant bell tolling to remind them that no city is an island entire of itself, but every city is a piece of the continent, a part of the American main.

That bell tolls for thee Santa Monica-pay heed lest you lose forever one of your birthrights. We nearly lost the pier once, don’t play the same fast and loose game with the airport.  Do the right thing: Invest in it- it will make you proud.

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Myth-Begotten Slander at City Hall

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_Hercules_and_Cerberus_350.jpgIn ancient times there was a three-headed dog, Cerberus, who guarded the gates to Hades. One of the twelve labors of Hercules was to capture this beast and sequester him. The beast has escaped time and again throughout history since, and currently, under the name Credulous, guards the Council Chambers at City Hall. His heads are: Noise, Pollution, and Safety, and from these rabid jaws the City Council would fain save us all.

Why would anyone want to keep such a noisy, barking dog? They don’t want to, of course, but they must. You see, without these three made up menaces, their efforts to close the airport would look like the insanity that it is.

The first head of Credulous, Noise, has a big bark, but no teeth. Our airport is one of the quietest general aviation airports in America. It has an extraordinary compliance rate with the rigorously enforced noise abatement rules and regulations. The noise footprint outside of the airport boundary is held at 65 dBls or lower. What few complaints that come in from the neighborhood are generated almost entirely by two households.  Pilots using the airport are encouraged to choose flight paths that lessen the noise impact on the community. Santa Monica Airport is a good, quiet neighbor as can be clearly seen in the Airport’s monthly noise report to the Airport Commission.

The second head of Credulous is Pollution and has the foulest breath of the three. Acre by acre, Santa Monica Airport uses the least resources and produces the least waste of any city land. Studies by the Federal Government have found zero evidence of pollution at the airport as have city core drillings done just this year. Exhaust from cars and trucks are many orders of magnitude greater than anything the airport produces. Although there is lead in aviation fuel for piston aircraft, the EPA can find no elevated levels of it around the airport. This will become moot in a couple of years anyway when new reformulated fuels become available. There is no significant pollution problem at the airport.

The last head of Credulous is Safety-it is blind. This head yaps incessantly about safety in a city where no citizen has been injured or killed by aviation in the airport’s 100 year history. On the other hand, Santa Monica is the number one most dangerous city in California for pedestrians.

The City government spreads these falsehoods because they have, otherwise, no excuse for trying to close the airport and grab the land for development.

H.L. Mencken explained it all to us 94 years ago: “...the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be lead to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Recall that another of Hercules twelve labors was to clean out the Augean stables. We believe that you cannot run a great airport in a dirty city so I guess we all know what lies ahead. Put on your hip-waders and roll up your sleeves!

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How Long Must SMO Remain Open?

An oft-repeated phrase in the media and elsewhere these days is that the City’s  obligations to operate the our airport run “until at least 2023”. What is the real significance of this date to our airport? Does that phrase imply that the City can close the airport after 2023? No, it means no such thing.

When a city accepts federal funds to improve infrastructure, that money comes with obligations, as well it should. For aviation improvements those obligations run for the life of the improvement or twenty years, whichever comes first, starting from the time the money is spent. Santa Monica spent the last federal dollars on a blast fence at the eastern end of the runway in 2003, and since the expected lifetime of that structure is anticipated to be a half-century or more, the grant assurances pertinent to it, will run for twenty years until 2023.

What are those obligations? By in large, in the simplest terms, they require that the city run the airport in such a manner that the value of the grant money spent will not be wasted. The city must run the airport safely and treat its tenants fairly, and, of course it cannot seek to close the facility while grant assurances are in effect.

In our case, the Santa Monica Municipal Airport, this last proviso is moot since other obligations incurred by the City in 1948 and 1949 preclude the airport ever being closed unless the Federal Government, through the FAA, were to deem it no longer necessary or useful to America’s aviation infrastructure–an event unlikely in the extreme. Thus, our airport is more than amply protected by these older agreements.

The primary value of grant assurances, on the other hand, is that they clearly define obligations and provide a streamlined judicial process to settle disputes between the host municipality and the aviation community. In our case, preventing closure is not the primary advantage of the current grant assurances.

The ending of the grant assurances in 2023 has no bearing on the ability of the City to close this airport. The City of Santa Monica simply does not have the authority to do so. That power is reserved for the Federal Government.

Because the grant assurances are not the primary reason that the City cannot close the airport, there is no excuse, even amongst those shortsighted individuals who wish to see it closed and the land developed, not to take the money. There is no valid reason to eschew federal grant money that can improve our airport. The citizens should demand that the City Council apply for all the federal money they can get just as they did for the rebuilding of the incline and the metro-rail. It is irresponsible and wrongheaded not to do that when the money is there for the asking.

 

 

 

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City Council Votes To Turn The Sky Green.

Farfetched? Not really, considering that they just voted to close the airport!

The City has absolutely no authority and no legal means to close the Santa Monica Municipal Airport. The City has binding agreements made in 1948 and later with the government of the United States to maintain and operate the airport as an airport forever.

The airport land, purchased in 1926 for an airport, like the land under the metro or the 10 freeway or PCH is not city property, free and clear, to do with as they wish or as the whim strikes them. Over the last half-century, the City has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on one magic potion after another trying to get control of the land, but swill as much of this expensive draught as the taxpayers are willing to stomach, the fact remains: The Federal Government says the airport must remain open and operating in perpetuity.

Government bodies, city councils included, can vote on anything they want. There is no limit no matter how foolish, or ignorant, or asinine those votes might be. The limit to their powers becomes apparent when they attempt to implement an ill-conceived, illegal, or idiotic vote.

The sooner the City accepts this simple fact and begins to avail itself to the cornucopia of federal funding available to improve operations at the airport, the better. The Municipal Airport is more than simply self-sustaining; it is an enormous economic engine for Santa Monica. It generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the city even as the city fathers treat it like a bastard child. Imagine what this airport could do with the unreserved and much deserved support of the City. The sky, no matter what color it may be, is the limit.

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