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Candidates Tackle Jet Traffic

By Jorge Casuso

September 17 – It was a forum on a major issue the City Council can do little about attended by an audience that by and large can’t vote in the November race for four council seats.

But last week’s forum on the Santa Monica Airport provided a glimpse into the difficult – if not impossible – task of regulating jet traffic at the airport and resulted in a unanimous call to study the impacts of pollution on neighboring residents, many of whom live in Los Angeles.

As expected, the four incumbents – Mayor Richard Bloom and Council members Michael Feinstein, Ken Genser and Herb Katz – touted the City’s efforts to curb jet traffic by shortening the runways, passing a strict noise ordinance, boosting fines for violations, fighting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and appointing residents to the City’s Airport Commission.

“The airport commission is now dominated by residents, and we’ve enacted one of the most restrictive noise ordinances in the city,” said Bloom. “We will continue to do everything. We have seen changes, we have seen improvements, but the increase in jet traffic has outpaced the improvements. So there’s a lot of work to be done.”

But the incumbents also acknowledged that the FAA controls the runway and skies and there is little the City can do about the jet noise and emissions that for years have rattled windows, blown lawn furniture across patios and coated the surrounding neighborhoods with a dark film.

“We don’t have the jurisdiction,” said Katz, one of the dozen candidates attending the forum at the Ken Edwards Center last Monday night. “We’re trying to make changes.”

“We do have limited authority, and it does take some creative thinking,” said Genser, who is running for a fifth term. “We must do everything we can possibly do, (but) it’s not a straight-ahead path. I encourage people to understand the regulations that affect the City’s jurisdiction.”

One potential plan of attack against the FAA’s grip on the airport received near unanimous support from the candidates -- conduct a thorough study of the health impacts of jet pollution on neighboring residents and hold federal officials accountable.

“I would look at it as a priority health issue,” said Matt Dinolfo, a physician who is making his second council bid. “I have a fair amount of experience dealing with environmental hazards. This could potentially be a health hazard.”

Dinolfo’s suggestion was echoed by the other candidates.

“It has to be done through a study,” said Katz, who is running for a forth term. “We have to show... impacts. That’s how you attack them (the FAA). That’s how you get them to back off.”

“The higher up we tie a study to legal responsibility,” said Councilman Michael Feinstien, the more “it gives us leverage” to fight the FAA.

“The AQMD (Air Quality Management District) is seeking more jurisdiction,” said Feinstein, who is running for a third term. “We need to piggy back on that.”

The forum, the first in the hotly contested race, also provided a telling glimpse of how the different candidates would try to resolve, not only the airport issue, but other concerns facing the city.

Bobby Shriver, a homeowner who entered the political fray after a run-in with the City’s bureaucracy – presented himself as a well-connected negotiator.

“I have a lot of experience working in Washington, where, honestly, the rubber does hit the road,” said Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family who said he worked with the Bush administration to fight AIDS in Africa. “I will work my can off.”

In addition, Shriver said he would lobby jet owners to use other airports.

“Jets don’t land at this airport, people land at the airport,” he said. “You can lobby those people who land there.”

Maria Loya, a Pico neighborhood activist, stressed a regional approach.

“We need to employ a different strategy, work with the City of LA, develop an FAA strategy,” she said.

Some candidates said the best chance for change would be replacing the administration in the nation’s capital.

“Elect Kerry,” said Patricia Hoffman. “If we have the same FAA, we won’t get anything done with the local government.”

Candidates Linda Armstrong and Jon Mann, Green Party members who are running together, had a simple, clear-cut answer, but it is something the council has no power to do.

“I would ban jet aircraft,” Armstrong responded to nearly every question.

“I think we should close it down,” Mann said.

During the forum, Marty Rubin, the director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, which organized the event, gave a public assessment of the solutions presented by the candidates.

“I’ve heard a lot of the same old, same old,” Rubin said. “That’s not going to bring fresh air into the homes of the people east of the airport.”

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