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City cedes control of airport future to residents

The Santa Monica City Council has offered residents the guarantee they asked for: limits on future development at city-owned Santa Monica Airport (SMO).

The city is asking for voter approval of a measure amending the City charter to prohibit new development on airport land, except for parks and open spaces, and recreational facilities. Any other type of new development would require further voter approval.

That gives residents what they wanted — the means to protect the airport land from over-develop- ment if flight operations are reduced or end.

Current non-aviation lease-holders could remain: restaurants, a little theater, the flight museum, Barker Hangar, and other cultural, educational and arts-centered facilities, as well as existing studios and offices.

“Santa Monica voters have made it clear they don’t want another Century City on the airport campus,’’ said John Fairweather, chair of the Committee for Local Control of Santa Monica Airport Land (CLCSMAL). “This assures residents that voting `yes’ on the city measure and ‘no’ on the lobbyist measure will end concern about high-density development on that land.”

Two Washington-based aviation lobbies, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), are funding an opposing measure. Although touting it as “anti-development,” it actually says nothing about development. It would simply preserve or increase flight operations. (Business jet operations at SMO have been growing steadily).

Their measure would also strip the city of its authority to run the airport and block it from managing its leases, potentially costing residents millions of dollars.

The lobbyists are reacting to three factors: 1. The city’s recent move to explore ways to reduce or eliminate jet traffic and student flight schools that produce most of SMO’s noise, pollution and danger. 2. The expiration in July 2015 of all leases at SMO. 3. The city recently increased SMO’s landing fees, ending years of using money from non-aviation activity and the general fund to subsidize flight operations.

Fairweather added that the city measure “will lead to a cleaner, quieter, healthier city that will benefit all Santa Monicans and make the city even more special than it is.”

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