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City Council to Discuss Future of Santa Monica Airport, Higher Landing Fees

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

April 30, 2013 -- The Santa Monica City Council will tackle a wide-range of issues surrounding the City's local airport Tuesday, including increased landing fees to help the airport carry its own weight.

At a special meeting dedicated entirely to the Santa Monica Airport (SMO), the Council will decide whether to increase landing fees by more than $3 per thousand pounds in the hopes of raising the airport's annual revenue by $1.5 million.

Increasing the landing fees and ending the current exemption for SMO-based aircraft would offset the amount of money invested in the airport by the City's General Fund.

To date, SMO is $13.3 million in the red with City, with the airport receiving a $3.3 million loan from the General Fund to cover expenses in the 2011-2012 financial year.

“For many years, the City's General Fund has subsidized Airport operations; but, demands upon the General Fund have increased,” staff said. “And, current fiscal realities, including the end of redevelopment, dictate that all City enterprises, including the Airport, must become self-supporting.”

The increased fee -- from $2.07 to $5.48 per thousand pounds of “maximum gross landing weight” -- would “provide sufficient revenues to maintain the public-use runways, taxiways, taxi lanes, ramps, and grounds, which comprise the public-use aviation facilities,” staff said.

However, increasing landing fees will be only a small part of Tuesday's discussion as residents prepare to address their concerns over the future of the airport following July 1, 2015, when a 1984 agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration expires.

Marty Rubin, founder of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP) and long-time neighbor of SMO, is rousing the troops to speak at Tuesday's meeting.

“We always attempt to wake up the neighbors to come to important meetings,” said Rubin, who called Tuesday's meeting “critical.”

His organization is one of several that advocate for the reduction of operations and, if possible, closure of the single-runway airport, which was bought by the City in 1926.

Sunset Park Anti-Airport, Inc. (SPAA) and Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic (CASMAT) have joined with CRAAP to advocate for using the expiration of the 1984 agreement to shorten the runway by 2,000 feet and replacing it with a park.

Anti-airport organizations have advocated for the closure of the airport unless “a firm agreement is made with the FAA that guarantees operational changes sufficient to significantly mitigate adverse Airport impacts on surrounding neighborhoods,” staff said.

Last year, there were 102,675 total operations of which 12,414 were jet operations, according to staff.

The groups have argued that noise and pollution from the airplanes have had negative impacts on the neighborhoods that have popped up around the airport in recent years.

Still, City staff isn't sure about closing the airport, which they say “would entail a long and costly legal battle of uncertain outcome.”

Even so, staff says that maintaining the status quo isn't desirable in light of residents' complaints.

While some have begun discussing what should be done with the 187 acres of land currently being used for aviation purposes, others say it’s still too early.

“I think it's too early to discuss what uses there would be if it is not an airport,” said Mayor Pam O'Connor, adding, “I'm not sure we're going to have a specific direction.” “We're going to see where the Council lands tomorrow,” she said.

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