Updated: Santa Monica Airport Air Quality Monitoring Contract May Benefit Airport Commissioner and Her Associate

In a rush to spend $54,000 out of the Airport Fund to placate the airport commission, the City of Santa Monica stated in a press release, “Tufts University (in Boston) was selected to perform an air quality study through a competitive bid process.” The process of awarding the contract was “expedited” according to Airport Commission meeting recordings.

“The City of Santa Monica is commissioning an independent academic study of pollution levels emanating from Santa Monica Airport, coinciding with the temporary runway shortening construction closure," said City Manager Rick Cole.

Former Santa Monica Airport Commissioner, Suzanne Paulson, a known anti airport politician, asked the City of Santa Monica to finance an air quality study at Santa Monica Airport (KSMO). The goal was to, “update the air quality study conducted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD).” Paulson presented a document titled, “Air Quality Impact Experiment Proposal” to the City.

Council member Sue Himmelrich voiced support for conducting the study, saying it would provide the City with a baseline, since the study would include the period when KSMO was closed. Himmelrich said, “It would be best that it not be performed by a current airport commissioner, ” which may have led to Paulson’s resignation. Paulson recused herself from the August 28th 2017 Airport Commission meeting, while the discussion of funding this study took place.

It is not clear how Tufts University is “independent” since Scott Fruin, from USC (an associate of Suzanne Paulson) is on site administrating this study. The Santa Monica City Manager’s office has made it abundantly clear that Paulson is not getting paid directly by the city under the current air quality contract with Tufts University. Senior City staff said, “Paulson submitted a proposal that was too expensive...we could not afford UCLA.”

To be competitive, Tufts would have to outsource the complicated tasks of installing, maintaining and insuring the integrity of the air quality measuring equipment. It would not be cost effective to ship monitoring stations and travel from Boston to oversee the installation process and gather the data. Paulson was privy to the budget parameters for the proposed study, since she wrote the proposal, so it is surprising the contract would go to a vendor 3000 miles away. A person working on the study said, “Suzanne will be collaborating on this study.”

When the AQMD study was done in 2010, there were six test sites. One site was located in Central Los Angeles as a control. The results of the AQMD study stated there were, “no significant differences between air quality on, near or far from the airport locations.”

The new Tufts University contract has only two air quality monitoring sites, less than 500 feet apart, and no control location.

These two sites are heavily subjected to ground transportation from Bundy Drive and the I-10 and I-405 freeway interchange, the busiest freeway interchange in North America. The data gathering did not start until after airport construction (to shorten the runway) was grinding up concrete and airport tarmac and the Thomas and Skirball fires were contaminating the air. With the fires, strong winds, and Temporary Flight Restrictions for firefighting aircraft, there were less than 10% of the normal flight operations at the Santa Monica Airport. A KSMO air traffic controller said, “operators don’t want to fly with TFRs, smoke, and turbulence. We have had very limited jet traffic.”

Scott Fruin, (USC professor), was working at the monitoring site located on the east side of the airport on January 3rd. He acknowledged, “based on when these units were installed and all that was going on, [fires and construction] it may be challenging to find valuable data.” Fruin has been a long-term collaborator with Suzanne Paulson, a UCLA professor. Fruin and Paulson have published studies together, including papers on Santa Monica Airport air quality and have been quoted together in news articles, including a Los Angeles Times Article on freeway pollution, published Dec 30th, 2017.

This recent LA Times article states that sites within 1,000 feet of any freeway are generally highest in pollution, and associated with rising rates of asthma, cancer, and a growing list of other associated health problems. Another article published by UCLA environmental health researchers shows findings of harmful pollutants 1.5 miles away from the I-10 freeway. There is broad consensus that freeway pollution impacts the entire Santa Monica Airport footprint as well as surrounding communities.

One of the two air-monitoring stations in this current study is set up in the backyard of an anti-airport activist who has lived (in the same house) within 500 feet the Santa Monica Airport for decades. She had one of the six air-sampling monitors at her home in 2010 when AQMD did their study. Before the runway was shortened, this property was within what the FAA calls an “approach Runway Protection Zone”. A new airport would not have homes located within a RPZ.

Many property owners adjacent to the Santa Monica Airport have been patiently waiting for an airport closure. Two homes were recently built on Dewey Street, less than 500 feet West of the airport. These homes sold in 2017 for over $3.5 Million and each homeowner is now paying over $36,000 in annual property taxes. Many people involved with Santa Monica Airport politics call the controversy “an old-fashioned land grab.”

Currently, the City of Santa Monica has not fully resolved a Part 16 Complaint with the FAA that addresses over $6 Million of misappropriated funds that were diverted out of the airport fund. This new air quality study appears to be another politically-motivated diversion of funds. The Santa Monica Airport Commission has no active pilots or members with any pertinent aviation experience. Many of the recent commission members live close to the airport. This new $54,000 air quality study appears to be crippled by politics dictating science.

Without a control measurement and minimal jet traffic, combined with the added pollution of forest fires and airport construction, it will be unlikely for any meaningful scientific data to be extracted from air quality measuring equipment.

The extensive AQMD study in 2010 concluded, “Long-term average concentrations near...KSMO were generally similar to, and often lower than, those measured elsewhere in the South Coast Air Basin.”

On January 20, 2018, there was an electric airplane presentation at the Santa Monica Airport Museum of Flying by Sun Flyer Aircraft. A Santa Monica business has placed a deposit on a Sun Flyer electric airplane that should be flying at the Santa Monica Airport within two years. Electric airplanes would not register on an air quality study, since they do not exhaust any gases or particulates. A resident living under the flight path said, “the future of aviation at the Santa Monica Airport will be electric aircraft since they are nearly silent in operation and will serve the community’s interests.”

While working on the air quality testing equipment at the east end of the airport, Fruin was asked what happens to the results of this air quality study, “Ultimately the City is the client and they get to decide if they release part of the data or any data at all. They could also choose to not release anything.”

Locations of air monitoring equipment



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