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.
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.
Santa Monica Airport Fixed Base Operator (FBO) Atlantic Aviation has filed a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration in response to the actions taken by Santa Monica's elected officials. Click here to download the PDF of the Atlantic Aviation's Part 16 complaint.
Mark Twain is alleged to have once said:
"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”
This is just the problem with the folks that insist that Santa Monica Municipal Airport, historical Cloverfield, was supposed to be a park. The truth is that the land was purchased for the express purpose of having an airport for the city by using a parkland bond in the mid 1920’s.
People in and out of city government that tell us that the land beneath our airport was originally bought for a park are just plain wrong. It is parkland, but it was purchased for an airport.
When the city fathers decided that an airport was part of the path to Santa Monica’s future, they petitioned the state government in Sacramento to modify the parkland law to recognize aviation as a legitimate parkland use. Much to the short–sighted present day City Council's chagrin, that law, written nearly one hundred years ago at this city’s behest, is still the law of the land. In California a park can be used as an airport as long as an airport is needed. The land use is equivalent under the law.
Any change in this parkland status would require a 2/3 vote of registered voters, a difficult hurdle to clear indeed. Lesser votes like those in last November’s low turnout election can never supersede this requirement.
One of the things you will often hear the City Council allege, in fact Councilman Winterer did so on NPR just today (8/29/16,) is that the Fixed Base Operators on the north side of our Airport had a special arrangement enforced by the FAA that made the City lease to these FBO's at below market rates.
Well, as William Blake told us: “ A truth that's told with bad intent, beats all the lies you can invent” and so it is still.
When Douglas aircraft failed to reach an understanding with the City in the late 1970's and moved out, the City Council, as short-sighted then as it is today, decided that the time was ripe to grab the land and voted to close the airport. Accordingly, eviction notices we served on all the airport tenants in 1981. Those tenants fought back with the end result that Santa Monica had to settle the matter with now famous 1984 thirty year Airport Agreement with the FAA which made abundantly clear, among other things, that the Federal Government was the final arbiter in these airport matters.
Part of the plan set forth in that agreement was to build out the north side of the field, which Douglas left as bare unimproved earth with no plumbing or electrical service. To offset the cost of the new business buildings, hangars and, of course, the Museum of Flying, as is standard business practice, the land was leased at a reduced rate to allow the new tenants to amortize cost of their capital outlay over thirty years. Nothing special here-no sweetheart deals, nothing under the table, nothing unusual at all. Just normal business incentive.
There are, of course, sweetheart deals with land at the airport. That is true, but those are between the City and Santa Monica College as the City has freely admitted in recent court filings. That is, as they say, another kettle of ripening fish altogether.
Well folks it’s déjà vu all over again, or so it seems at the Santa Monica City Council with last Tuesday’s replay of their 1980 vote to close the Santa Monica Municipal Airport. That time it cost the City a 30 year contract with the Federal Government that only ran to term last year. Now, only a year later they are hell-bent-for-leather down the same road.
It appears that the Councilmen have imbibed their own kool-aid and are completely out of touch with the majority of their citizens as is plainly evident on the City’s own FB page. The unsavoriness of the present council is breathtaking. Two council members, one being the Mayor himself, Mr. Vasquez, and Councilman Winterer both with real estate investments right off the end of the airport runway introduced this malicious and ill-considered motion and then had the indecency to vote on it themselves having accepted the dubious benediction of the City Attorney Marsha Moutre.
This vote has formalized a conflict of interest for the City. Santa Monica has legal obligations under the authority of the FAA on how they must operate the airport. It is not theirs to do with as they please no matter how much they desire that. To take a formal position in opposition to established law is a costly fool’s errand. It is a waste of time and resources and will be fought tooth and nail by aviation interests here, and across the country.
What would this unabashed self-interest gain for us were it to prove successful? At the very least would be the permanent loss of one of the major assets in the city replacing its high income to cost ratio with another money losing park and lots more development. None of this will require citizen input thanks to last November’s Proposition LC (Lost Control) that disfranchised Santa Monica voters with regard to airport land use.
Our Municipal Airport is a unique asset. It brings in enormous revenue (it is one of the top 6 producers in the whole city) with only a fraction of the resources required of other high-producing land uses. Bringing in over a quarter of a billion dollars a year in direct benefits, our airport uses less water, less electricity, less manpower, is safer (virtually no crime, auto accidents or pedestrian injuries) and produces less waste and pollution than any other land in the city. It is, hands down, one of the best things in our town and a few narrow interests would gladly bury it for their own benefit. We could not let that happen in the past and we cannot let it happen now.
Yet, a few self-interested politicos would destroy it all for some short-term gain–or, as the venerable 'Breeches' Bible put it long ago, they would “trade their birthright (and ours too) for a mess of pottage.” And this would lead to a catastrophe of truly biblical proportions.
Our airport is a keystone in the foundation for Santa Monica’s future. Aviation will become even more crucial in the future than it has been in the past and what a past that has been considering that a big part of the victory in WWII was made right here with Douglas Aircraft that built the city we have today in the process. Close the airport now and we will never know the benefits denied to future generations. This proposal is arrogance beyond belief, but not unprecedented, in our elected at large city government.
The Council’s public stance with regard to the users and the businesses at the airport is nothing short of criminal–a total abnegation of their fiduciary responsibilities. Should they fail to wrest control of the land from the FAA, as they most certainly will, they have vowed to inflict as much damage as they can to the business community in their role as landlord (ironic considering the City’s attitude toward landlords, but then the shoe is on the other foot here). City fathers are supposed to insure the growth and viability of their businessmen and facilitate commerce not hamstring efforts to build and prosper in Santa Monica.
What is wrong with these people? Unbridled self-interest, that’s what! They want the dirt, pure and simple.
Folks who would like to see our airport close have been crowing of late about the supposed benefits they imagine they have gained by the passage of measure LC at the last election. They cite LC as “Local Control” and assert that it gives the citizens and the city government more control of land at the Municipal Airport. It does nothing of the kind.
LC would be better described as “Lost Control” since it specifically denies citizen voter input on the legal uses of land at the airport that are not used for aviation.
All of the land that comprises our airport is parkland under California law and may only be used for bonafide parkland uses. Due to an amendment to California State Law requested by the City of Santa Monica in the 1920’s, aviation is one of those uses. It states simply that a park may be used for an airport as long as an airport is needed. Aviation parkland, additionally, is subject to Federal Law.
Any land at the airport that is not used for aviation must still be used for parkland purposes and changing that requires a 2/3 vote of the registered voters-a difficult hurdle indeed.
LC conferred no rights upon the city government that it did not already have, it merely disfranchised the electorate with regard to future land use decisions at the airport within existing law. LC represents a net loss for participatory democracy.
The LC proponents would have us believe that a simple majority vote in a low voter turnout election can somehow overturn the statutory requirement of a 2/3 majority of all of the registered voters. t’ain’t so.
The City government here in Santa Monica has become adept at talking out of both sides of its mouth with regard to our Municipal Airport. For many years an anti-airport public stance has been de rigueur for anyone running for office in this town. Many reasons are cited as justification, but all of them are without merit when we look at the facts, which show that our airport is clean, quiet, safe and profitable.
So why is the city trying to close it? Or are they?
While it is apparent that the City Council and their developer friends would like to get their hands on the airport real estate unencumbered by parkland status, the Council and staff are quietly positioning to spends millions on airport improvements using the monies they are getting from the newly acquired rentals on the north side of the field and the wrongly imposed landing fees for aircraft using the facility.
Part of the reason for this is that funds raised by the airport must remain at the airport under Federal law and cannot be absorbed into the City’s general fund. Another part of the reason may be that the City realizes that the odds of prevailing in the current litigation at the 9th Circuit to wrest ultimate control over the land from the FAA and close the airport are meager indeed.
It could also be that the current lawsuit calling for an end to council elections "at large" has these brigands in a state of abject panic. When council elections are done by district , as they ought to be, there will be no particular advantage to most candidates to bash the airport
We look forward to seeing long–neglected facilities at the airport refurbished and improved. It is high time that this was done. The condition of the Airport infrastructure is a shameful disgrace.
We will remain vigilant to prevent any monies being spent in such a fashion as to unfairly encroach on the on our ability to use or enjoy the airport within reasonable limits such as onerous and over-the-top security measures applicable to large Part 121 airports like LAX or attempting to unduly “harden” the public viewing areas making access difficult or unrewarding.
Many folks have noticed that certain parts of the airport that recently had aircraft parked on them are now empty. What happened? Did somebody drop the ball?
The land in question, notably the previous south-east tiedowns, adjacent to the dog park was removed from aviation use in 1984 under the terms of an agreement between the Federal government and the City of Santa Monica. Another part of that same agreement took precedent however. That part of the 1984 agreement mandated accommodation of a minimum fleet size and so sufficient space had to be maintained to provide for it.
When the 1984 agreement timed-out last year the minimum fleet size provision lapsed and the land given up in 1984 finally became available to the city as “residual land” for legitimate non-aviation, parkland uses. This transaction was signed, sealed, and delivered thirty years ago but has only just now become visible.
Was it a wise decision? Maybe, and maybe not.
The fact is that it was a decision agreed upon by the City and the FAA as a result of the City’s attempt to close the airport in 1980 and is not the result in any way of any recent actions by the City, although one gets the impression that the current crop of politicians would like to take credit for it.
The U.S. Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol mobilized in May to rehearse disaster relief and search and rescue operations in support of Southland emergency relief. In this exercise, a missing aircraft triggered mobilization of the all-volunteer organization, which counts emergency services disaster response and search and rescue as primary missions.
Santa Monica airport was the incident command post, hosting logistics, communications and search aircraft. Tasking for emergency operations typically comes from the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in Florida.
Over 30 volunteers from the Los Angeles County Civil Air Patrol were involved in training operations, flying three single engine Cessna aircraft and operating various ground vehicles, including mobile computerized communications systems.
The need to practice staging from Santa Monica airport became apparent early last week when CAP launched search and rescue operations to locate a missing small airplane whose flight path followed the local coast line. Lessons learned from that effort convinced CAP leadership that staging from Santa Monica will increase the number of available volunteers during a future search, particularly during traffic hours. “We are grateful to have this central location to prepare for the day we are needed for an actual emergency in West Los Angeles,” said Capt. Charles Christian, incident commander at the Santa Monica command center. “Civil Air Patrol volunteers and resources are ready to help our communities in any way we can and they’re proving it by taking part in this important exercise.”
Santa Monica airport is home to CAP Clover Field Composite Squadron 51. The Squadron has over seventy adult and youth members who focus on emergency services, aerospace education and cadet programs. “We are proud to serve our local community,” said Capt Mark La Rouche, Squadron 51 Commander. “Our cadets and senior members are truly ‘always vigilant’ against that inevitable day of true need.”
The Civil Air Patrol, the longtime all-volunteer U.S. Air Force auxiliary, is the newest member of the Air Force’s TotalForce, which consists of Regular Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, along with Air Force retired military and civilian employees. CAP, in its Total Force role, operates a fleet of 550 aircraft and performs about
85 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 70 lives annually. Civil Air Patrol’s 58,000 members nationwide also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. Its Airmen additionally play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to more than 24,000 young people currently participating in the CAP cadet program. Civil Air Patrol received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014 in honor of the heroic efforts of its World War II veterans. Congressionally chartered 74 years ago, the nonprofit organization also participates in Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans. Visit www.capvolunteernow.com for more information.
CAP contact: Bill Daniels – William.Daniels@CawgCap.org – (818) 433-8003