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Community Process to Chart Airport's Future Kicks Off Amid Concerns

 

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By Jorge Casuso

April 30, 2024 -- The City next month will take a major step in planning for the future of Santa Monica Airport amid lingering concerns that some of the land will be used for housing or that the airport will stay open.

Airport officials updated the City Council on Monday with an Information item outlining the steps necessary "to close the airport as of midnight on December 31, 2028."

The first step in the "community engagement process" for the Airport Conversion Project kicks off at Clover Park on May 19 at 11 a.m., according to the information item.

Participants will be able "to listen, to learn, to share ideas and to meet other community members" interested in the future of the 227-acre-site that is more than eight times the size of Palisades Park.

The community engagement process -- which includes four "pop-up events" in May and June -- will take place over 21 months and cost $2.1 million ("Airport Plan Takes Off," January 25, 2023).

The process will be used "to establish a preferred planning scenario for the airport property," which will "deliver a 'Great Park' that will serve Santa Monica for generations to come," according to the item.

The Council must approve a "preferred scenario" by January 2026 in order to develop a state-mandated Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that "requires a project definition."

"The Council must then vote to certify the EIR and can then vote to close the Airport," according to the information item. "This is anticipated to be no later than June 2028."

The information item, prepared by Airport Director Stelios Makrides and Amber Richane, who heads Special Projects, notes that under the 2017 Consent Decree with the FAA "the City may not unreasonably limit or prohibit aeronautical uses at the Airport."

"The City is obligated to offer no less than a three-year lease to new and existing commercial aeronautical service provider tenants -- such as flight schools and aircraft mechanics -- that can meet the requirements of the City’s Minimum Standards."

The information item also notes that in March 2022, leaded aviation fuel was replaced with an unleaded alternative at the City’s southside self-serve fuel tank, "a significant accomplishment."

"Since then, 100 percent of flight schools and almost all tenants have transitioned their compatible aircraft to the new unleaded fuel."

The information item comes as some anti-airport activists have expressed concerns that Airport officials are "involved in supporting and expanding airport businesses in open meetings and behind closed doors."

The allegations were outlined in a public email sent Saturday by Alan Levenson, who heads No Jets, titled "City Staff Is Not Following City Council Directives to Close The Airport!"

In the email, Levenson alleges that Airport officials have been holding discussion with several companies to install an eVTOL (electric airplane) charging station at the airport.

"City Council has publicly directed staff to move forward with a two million dollar process to vision and begin planning the future park," Levenson wrote.

"Yet staff members are involved in supporting and expanding airport businesses in open meetings and behind closed doors."

In an email to The Lookout, Mayor Phil Brock said "there is no real credence to Mr. Levenson’s allegations."

"One important thing to remember: All leases expire on or before 12/31/2028. That is an absolute. We are not allowed to stop all leasing now as that might lead to intervention by the FAA."

Brock said some residents are concerned the Airport land will be used to meet the State's mandate that the City plan to build 6,168 affordable housing units by the end of 2029.

To residents who ask, Brock said he has been sending the following message:

"The airport will close on December 31, 2028 and the long process to begin a park will officially begin," Brock writes.

"We know that there are elements of our city that favor supersized development at the remains of SMO. My job is to derail that effort."


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