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Santa Monica Airport Advisor Nelson Hernandez Shares Final Thoughts

Editor's note: The following email was sent to stakeholders interested in issues affecting the Sana Monica Airport.

I hope this email finds you in good health. I consider this a very special email because it will be my last communication to you as a group. I am happy to share that on October 6th, I am retiring and will be leaving my post as Senior Advisor of Airport Affairs.

Thirty-four years of military, federal, state, regional and local government service is enough, or as we say in Spanish, Basta! (Or is 34 years enough? See below.) Indulge me as I share some of my personal insights on the past two years of work. It has been quite an adventure!

Nelson HernandezNelson Hernandez (Courtesy City
of Santa Monica)

Just over two years ago, I saw a job announcement for Senior Advisor to the City Manager and I decided to apply. I read hundreds of news articles, Airport Commission and City Council reports. I read articles by aviation lawyers, State Attorney General opinions, City Attorney opinions, NBAA statements, AOPA statements, FAA Part 16 decisions, etc.

After a great deal of research along with my extensive background in federal grants administration and years of real estate practice, I concluded the City of Santa Monica was in the right on the issues. Having never joined a cause I knew to be wrong, I accepted the job offer.

When I started this job , I heard many opinions, including:

“Closing the airport is a lost cause, the FAA will never agree.”

“The City is not serious about regaining control of airport land.”

“Big money interests will never let the airport close.”

“The former City Attorney is secretly trying to sabotage the case.”

“The 1948 Instrument of Transfer is iron clad."

“The 1994 grant assurances are bullet proof.”

“SMO is part of the national aviation system and the entire American aviation system will collapse without it!”

I listened to these opinions, and began my work determined and optimistic.

It took a little over a year, but in February of 2017, the City Council agreed to a historic Consent Decree with the federal government to close the airport in 2028 and shorten the runway to 3,500 feet in the interim.

Many people thought shortening the runway would never happen yet construction to shorten the runway begins October 9 and is scheduled to be complete by December 30. According to national aviation experts and local air traffic controllers, we anticipate a 45 percent reduction in jet traffic.

How did we accomplish this? It started and ended with community support and courage by the City Council, City Manager and City Attorney. In my view, our outside legal counsel at Morrison & Foerster also did an outstanding job.

But in the end, it was people power over a small but determined elite. To you, the Santa Monica Community, I say congratulations!

In the past two years, we also fundamentally reformed the economics at the airport. In 2015, Santa Monica Airport generated $5.8M in annual rent revenue and owed the City’s general fund millions.

In 2017, because Council’s policy to eliminate subtenant leases, and bring all tenants to market rates, the Airport will generate over $13M in annual rent revenue.

This means the airport will be financially self-sufficient, generate enough funds to repair and replace facilities, (there is a huge back logged of deferred maintenance) and finally repay the debt owed to Santa Monica taxpayers. A job well done.

Despite the great leap forward, there is still some unfinished business. To ensure continued progress, City Manager Rick Cole has appointed Suja Lowenthal as my replacement. Suja is a current City employee, working at the Big Blue Bus. She is well qualified to serve in the position and I am confident will devote all of her creative talents to the job.

Now what will I do? My intent was to retire and chill in Puerto Rico because that is my family origin. Now that Hurricane Maria has hit the island I will go there to work with FEMA and help the island recover.

Bad times is when you need friends and family. I am hurt deeply by what happened to Puerto Rico -- the enchanted island that truly lives up to its name. If you want to help Puerto Rico, I encourage you to visit when the time is right and stay for as long as possible.

Despite the new travel restrictions imposed by the President my passport is valid, I think?. So, eventually once Puerto Rico is a bit more stable I will travel overseas and return to the USA, if allowed back in. Ha ha! I will also definitely teach yoga. Given the zaniness in DC, I will continue to write political satire.

I will miss the work at the City and hope you will continue to remain engaged and active on all airport issues and the City in general. And by the way my, my encouragement to remain engaged in airport issues also applies to the pro-aviation activists.

I want to thank my colleagues at City Hall for their support. I encourage everyone to treat each other with respect and work together to keep Santa Monica a wonderful community.

Amen! Hari Ohm! Inshala! Sadhu!

Now I fly off into the sunset, but not over Sunset Park residents!

Nelson Hernandez
Former Senior Advisor to the City Manager

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