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
How Inversion Begets Perversion
"Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts." - Bernard Baruch
Two major themes in a growing disenchantment with Santa Monica government are beginning to coalesce in the minds of the citizens: The first is a sense that the city government is inept at planning adequately for future needs; second, city priorities are perceived as based on political or even personal goals rather than sound principles of good government and what is best for the citizens. The first leads to loss of “liveability” and the second leads to waste of resources, degradation of democratic process, and increased costs.
Now in it's fourth decade, the city’s romance with rent control and low–income housing is bearing a bitter offspring. The constant push to increase this power base has lead to unbridled development to the point that the city’s streets are choked and gridlocked most of each day. The City’s answer to this failure to plan is for everyone to walk, take the bus, or ride a bike. The decision to route the Metro line down Colorado rather than Olympic Boulevard defies comprehension, but is illustrative of the current penchant of letting ideology and political expediency determine public policy. A recent alarming trend seen at all levels of city government is the subversion of open and transparent government by the use of texting and private email to do the day-to-day business of government. This is government in secret and these covert communication channels are ready made to facilitate violations of the Brown Act, the Oaks Initiative and corruption in general.
Facts are facts, and opinions are opinions–a simple enough concept, but City Council has compounded these into an unholy amalgam to form opinions about facts, which they then attempt to use in justification for their decisions on how to run the city. Time and again we have seen the council decide on a policy and then direct city staff to find the justification for it by cherry-picking facts and figures, or by pursuing costly and futile legal proceedings trying to get validation.
An allegation you will hear time and again from the city government is that whom-so-ever they are trying to disfranchise are “elitists”, the “one percent”, the privileged few that use the public resources for private gain. They say it about the users of the airport and they say it about the arts community at Bergamot Station. Of course the real culprits, the real privileged few, are the one percent of the one percent–the anything goes, hell-bent for development, City Council.
Many believe that the decision to route the Metro line down Colorado Blvd., is the worst decision in city history. This may prove true, but it would surely be eclipsed if the current attempts to close the Municipal Airport succeed. The misguided attempt to purloin airport land and spur yet more development has cost taxpayers millions of dollars over the last decade, damaged one of the top six revenue producers for the city, and failed miserably to develop the business potential at the airport. The City Council has neglected utterly its fiduciary responsibility to properly manage the airport.
Santa Monica Municipal Airport imposes a finite limit on high-rise development because its protected airspace cannot be encroached upon by ground-based structures. This is part of the Code of Federal Regulations and is enforced by the State of California and County of Los Angeles. Part of the Council’s desperation to close the airport is that doing so would remove these restrictions. Developers nationwide also have a vested interest in seeing these restrictions removed on some of the most desired land in the country were the airport to close.
The fact is that Santa Monica Municipal Airport is a great asset to our town, and it is ranked down at 23rdout of 25 as a source of concern by its own citizens in a citywide poll. It is one of the top economic drivers for the city and is so despite being in operation for only fifteen hours each day. Santa Monica resident’s exposure to danger is insignificant compared to other forms of transportation across the board; including threats to life and limb, pollution, and noise. Our airport gives more bang for the buck with less downside than any other acreage in the city. Our airport is safe, clean, efficient, and quiet while bringing in an excess of 250–300 million dollars a year in revenue and IT IS IRREPLACEABLE–once removed it can never be put back.
On March 11, 2016, a panel of three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit heard an appeal by the city in its lawsuit against the FAA. What is the appeal about and what does it mean if the city wins the appeal?
The city’s lawsuit is about the Instrument of Transfer, a 1948 agreement that the city signed with the United States. In the early months of World War II, the city leased about 169 acres of land to the U.S. Department of War, including the existing Santa Monica municipal airport and a municipal golf course. The airport was of great importance to the war effort as it was home to the Douglas Aircraft factory, which would end up employing tens of thousands of workers and build thousands of military aircraft during the war. The War Department also built a training facility at the airport, and it built a new, larger 5000-foot runway and taxiway system, which is essentially the runway and taxiway system that we have today.
After the war had ended but before the leases had expired, the city asked that the federal government return the land to the city, and the 1948 Instrument of Transfer was the result. Among other things, this agreement returned the leased land to the city, but in exchange the city agreed to a number of legal conditions, which according to the agreement last “forever” or until the federal government agrees to release the city from the conditions. Among the legal conditions is a requirement that the land be used “for public airport purposes for the benefit of the public, on reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination” and a requirement that the city maintain “the entire landing area.”
The FAA has the power to enforce conditions like this by going to court and obtaining an injunction against the city, like it did when the city tried to ban category C&D jets in 2008. But, the Instrument of Transfer also has a provision saying that if the city violates any of the conditions in the agreement, the federal government can chose to have the property rights covered by the Instrument of Transfer “revert” to the federal government. The FAA has stated that it interprets this reversion provision to mean that the federal government can take ownership of the 169 acres of land from the city, if the city violates the agreement. The city argues that the reversion provision only means the federal government can get its lease to that property back. However, that lease would have expired in 1953 so, according to the city, the federal government cannot take any land back under the reversion provision.
This dispute over the reversion provision is the main basis of the lawsuit the city brought against the federal government in October 2013. The lawsuit was brought under the federal Quiet Title Act, which allows parties to bring lawsuits in federal court to resolve property disputes they have with the federal government. However, the Quiet Title Act contains a “statute of limitations” which says that a party has to sue the federal government within 12 years after it learns that the government claims a right in the property, or that party loses the ability to file a suit under the Quiet Title Act.
The federal government responded to the city’s lawsuit by asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit, because according to the government, the city had known the government claimed rights in the land going all the way back to 1948. The city responded that it didn’t know about the FAA’s exact interpretation of the reversion provision until 2008, and therefore was within the 12-year limit. The district court judge agreed with the federal government and dismissed the case. The city appealed that dismissal, and that appeal is what the Ninth Circuit hearing was about.
The judges did not indicate how they were going to rule at the hearing, and we will most likely have to wait another few months before they announce their decision. Regardless of how they rule, the dispute will not be over. The losing party could attempt to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, though the Supreme Court only agrees to accept a small percentage of appeals. If the city ultimately wins the appeal (in the Ninth Circuit or the Supreme Court), the case will go back to the district court, where each side will have the opportunity to present evidence and the court will likely decide how the reversion provision should be interpreted. If the city loses the appeal, then the lawsuit will be over, but we still won’t have a definitive interpretation of the reversion provision. Most likely, that would only happen if the city tried to close the airport and the FAA tried to actually use the reversion provision.
Even without the reversion provision, the FAA says that the city has to keep operating the airport, both because of the conditions in the Instrument of Transfer and because of grant assurances related to money the city accepted from the FAA in 2003. Regardless of how the Ninth Circuit rules, the airport isn’t closing anytime soon, and there will be lawsuits about the airport for years to come. If you just can't get enough and want to see for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQkOn93_Kco
Nothing sounds more democratic than local citizens having control over their own land, but is that all there is to it? Real estate rights are not absolute, but vary according to custom and need. When you buy a house, you do not necessarily get a bundle of rights to drill for oil or mine for gold-they are often separate from the use of the land surface. Cities traditionally have many and far reaching rights over the land held for their citizens. One major exception is transportation facilities: rail roads, highways, ports and airports.
Transportation is a matter of interstate commerce and so the Federal Government preempts many aspects of local control of land to insure that planes, boats, cars, trucks, and trains can carry America's goods and conduct America's business unimpeded by local agenda.
Our own municipal airport is a perfect example. The city government is allowed to run the airport and reap the profits, but under the terms of federal law it may not close the airport, abuse its tenants, and/or re-purpose the land. This is not unusual: the city cannot open or close freeway ramps or paint the guardrails rainbow colors. They cannot re-route or obstruct railways. They can benefit from the commerce these things bring, but they cannot exert ultimate conrol over the land or water they traverse.
When our city government–the Mayor and Council, the City Manager and his new sidekick Mr. Hernandez assert that they are only looking after the welfare of the citizens by trying to get "local" control of their own land they are conveniently ignoring these hard facts. "Local control of our land" is code (George Orwell called it newspeak, a tactic to narrow the scope of thought) for "close the airport and develop the land." That is the real intent and the impetus behind all the rhetoric and why they gamble away so many millions of taxpayer dollars in state and federal courts trying to get the right to close the airport.
If you feel that development, costs, and congestion are out of control now, imagine what replacing hundreds of acres of low impact–high revenue airport land that is all but dormant during the night-time hours, with high density, high infrastructure, and intensive use (24/7) development would be like. But wait, it's going to be a giant park right? Really? The Joe Hill song said it lifetimes ago: "You'll get pie in sky when you die........IT'S A LIE!"
Once again, in order to preserve the Santa Monica Municipal Airport, it has become necessary for us to go to the forum (the FAA this time) and state our case against the City of Santa Monica. Last Friday, February 5, a new and comprehensive Part 16 complaint was filed with the FAA in Washington (see our documents section in “About” for the full text). It was filed in response to the City’s redoubled efforts to ruin and close the airport in defiance of its obligations delineated in the Federal Grant Assurances and the 1948 Instrument Of Transfer implementing the Congressional Surplus Property Act of 1947.
The problem this time is a rerun of tactics in the late 1970’s–an attempt to strangle the airport with a death of a thousand cuts method exemplified by various actions designed to impede the usefulness of the airport to aviators and sap the profitability from airport businesses.
One of the more onerous of these is the outrageous landing fees imposed on ALL aircraft using SMO, even those based here who already pay rent to use the field. To justify the imposition of fees under federal guidelines, the airport must be losing money– not breaking even or showing a profit as ours traditionally does. The City has been playing a shell game with the money to generate a false deficit and we are demanding an accounting, perhaps leading to an audit by the United States Department of Justice. We contend that the city has unlawfully diverted revenue.
A second outrage addressed is the city’s refusal to issue leases, thus preventing airport businesses from making long term plans, obtaining leases, and in general enjoying the reasonable privileges of a tenant as do other businesses in the city. We contend, as well, that the city has acted discriminatorily in its leasing practices to other tenants on airport land. These and many other issues are addressed in this Part 16 document as well.
Please take some time and review the filing document and you will have a good understanding of the issues as they are understood at the present time.
One final note: these challenges do not come cheap even with copious volunteer help. We are in a pitched battle and we remind you that saving things that matter has an out of pocket cost that MUST be met. Please contribute generously to the SMAA today so that we can continue to protect one of America’s iconic airports.
Following the FAA determination that was published on December 4th., stating that grant assurances stemming from the construction of the runway 21 blast fence in 2003 must remain in effect until 2023 the City of Santa Monica requested a hearing with the FAA so that they might explain why the FAA was wrong and they were right. The FAA declined to grant that hearing today. We expect the city to appeal the original Part 16 decision to the FAA Administrator. We fully expect him to uphold the original determination. The city's last desperate move would then be to appeal the decision in the Federal Courts. We expect that they will in fact do that, and we are confident that they will again fail to make their case. One thing, though, is for certain–the citizens of Santa Monica will have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars of their taxes squandered yet again.