Saturday, January 28, 2017

Santa Monica Airport (KSMO), California

Soon the Museum of Flight Will be all that remains of the airport 

Santa Monica Airport is the oldest airport in Los Angeles County and at 110 years old, the fifth oldest in the State of California. It would appear that this afternoon, the City Council has negotiated with the FAA for the authority to close the airport on New Year's Day, 2029.

Closing the airport has become a popular cause in Santa Monica. Airport opponents point out that due to the airports unique history as the Douglas aircraft headquarters until 1972, no where in America is an airport runway so close to homes. And of course any home in Santa Monica is worth a lot of money, so it has become an anomaly to have a municipal airport located in an expensive neighborhood.

The deal negotiated with the federal government, apparently will allow the airport to be closed permanently on January 1, 2029. The airport runway will be reduced in length to 3500 feet immediately, effectively preventing charter service that was supposed to start on Wednesday, February 6, 2017. The City will otherwise not interfere in the operation of the Airport until 2029.

At that time, the airport's 227 acre parcel will revert to the City of Santa Monica which could turn it into a park or more likely, develop it intensively like Playa Vista. The land is worth over $1 billion, and there will be pressures to develop it no doubt.

The Council vote was 4-3, with Kevin McKeown, Sue Himmelrich and Tony Vasquez voting against the agreement because they would like to close the airport immediately. His statement is below.

Personally, I suspect there is more to the timing of this announcement. The outgoing FAA administrator probably offered the City a better deal than the City felt it could get from the Trump Administration later. While the FAA absolutely has authority to close airports, the bottom line is Trump could undo this agreement if he wants, and I suspect we will hear more about that presently.

Councilmember Kevin McKeown says the Trump administration has signed off on the agreement "which gives me pause." At least one City Councilmember disagrees, describing this as a late-term, Obama administration decision. Santa Monica of course, votes heavily Democratic, so that makes more sense to me.

Cited reasons for public support of airport closure are an alleged threat to safety, despite no ground fatalities in the neighborhood around the airport in over a century. A student pilot crashed into an apartment building directly adjacent to a gasoline filling station in November 21993, resulting in three fatalities (none on the ground). Actor Harrison Ford crashed onto the nearby Penmar Golf Course in 2013, which "galvanized opposition to the airport," said the Los Angeles Times.

McKeown released the following statement:

The decision by the Santa Monica City Council this morning was NOT unanimous. This is the statement I have just read into the minutes, immediately following the vote:

Mayor, I'd like to place on the record the reason for my "no" vote.

Five months ago this Council, with my enthusiastic support, voted to close Santa Monica Airport by June 30, 2018, the beginning of next summer. Today's settlement keeps the airport open until December 31, 2028, essentially until 2029 – that's twelve long years from now.

With this settlement, we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This, at a time when the FAA's willingness to negotiate revealed that the FAA itself suspected they would lose their court battles with Santa Monica - even while they continue to hold our land hostage.

I was silent in public discussion today because the decision had already been made, and the documents had been signed in Washington. I can assure the community I was adamant, and consistent, in my opposition to this settlement, and expressed my opposition repeatedly in closed session legal discussions that led to today's public action.

This consent decree means that planes, including some jets, will continue to fly for 12 more years. The mandate Santa Monica voters sent the Council with Measure LC is deferred for 12 more years. Airport Park is delayed for 12 more years. I vote no for all those reasons.

Kevin McKeown, Councilmember, Santa Monica

Read more here:

Trump Admin Sandbagged on Santa Monica Airport (KSMO) Closure; Will No Doubt Reverse It 

It seems apparent that the Trump Administration was not told in advance of today's announced closure of the Santa Monica airport, as of 1/1/2029. Below is my reasoning and analysis.

Today at a rare Saturday special meeting, the City Council approved a settlement with the FAA restricting SMO's use until 2029, followed by its closing and turning over of the land to the City. The timing of the announced settlement, one week after the swearing in of a new Republican President, is hardly an accident. It is a parting shot by an Obama appointee at Trump and his allies. The settlement will not stand, and SMO will not close.

The Federal Aviation Administration is headed by Michael Huerta. President Barack Obama appointed him to head the FAA in 2013; he has a five year term.

The FAA is an agency within the Department of Transportation. Huerta is also the acting Secretary of the DOT, until the Senate approves the next Secretary of Transportation.

President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to run the DOT, Elaine Chao, testified before a Senate panel last week en route to what is expected to be an easy confirmation, says the Washington Post. She was deputy secretary of transportation under George H.W. Bush. Chao has not yet been sworn in yet, however.

To understand why this is Huerta's slap in the face to the Republicans, consider two facts: Chao is married to Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader. She has not yet been confirmed, but will be soon, at which time she will become Huerta's boss.

Santa Monica is perhaps the most liberal community in the US. It is filled with the type of people Trump despises; well educated, left wing one percenters. Hillary Clinton came here to conduct numerous fundraisers with Hollywood A-Listers. 88% of Santa Monica voters were With Her in November 2016.

Why would the Trump administration want to reward Santa Monica with the gift of 227 prime acres, formerly used as an unpopular municipal airport? The answer is: He doesn't.

Obama did approve the settlement himself; however President Donald Trump or Chao can override it and will probably do so next month.

The settlement was a gift to the ultra liberal community of Santa Monica, which by and large is in favor of closing the Santa Monica airport and turning it into a park, luxury condos, or fancy sushi bars. It was jammed through in the closing days of the Obama administration, along with a rush of pardons, executive orders and national parks. The City Council reluctantly accepted the offer because they know it's their last chance to get rid of the airport, and 12 years is better than never.

Stay tuned. There's more here than meets the eye, and it ain't over till it's over.

For more information, see

Article and comments:

The City of Santa Monica has negotiated the authority to close the Santa Monica Airport on December 31st, 2028.

At a special meeting on January 28th, the council announced a deal with the Federal Aviation Administration and the United States government that dissolves all pending legal disputes between the agencies and sets a date for closing the facility.

Under the terms of the agreement, the airport can close on December 31st, 2028, the runway will be immediately reduced to 3,500 feet and both sides agree to adhere to the terms without interfering with each others rights.

City Hall will regain control over the reclaimed runway land with six months according to City Manager Rick Cole. That land can be used as the city desires with an exception for an airport right of way that would prohibit uses for the former runway land that would interfere with airport traffic.

“This agreement ensures local control, as part of that as part of the future planning many things are on the table,” said Interim City Attorney Joseph Lawrence. 

Staff said shortening the runway will reduce current jet traffic by about 40 percent and the shorter runway will eliminate the possibility of charter flights into or out of the airport.

The agreement also allows the city to pursue its municipal takeover of airport services and allows for Santa Monica Airport to develop a pilot program for the sale of unleaded fuel.

City Hall had previously voted to pursue closure of the airport by 2018, however it’s efforts resulted in multiple legal disputes with the FAA and airport users. A prior court ruling had said the airport could close no later than 2023 and multiple complaints have been filed with the FAA over the city’s actions at the airport.  

The new deal dissolves all pending concerns and establishes a new framework for addressing future complaints.

While both sides agree to various provisions, Lawrence said future disputes could well arise. In those cases, the agreement puts those disputes in the jurisdiction of the district court, not the FAA.

Council voted to approve the settlement on a 4-3 vote. Kevin McKeown, Tony Vazquez and Sue Himmelrich voted against the settlement. Ted Winterer, Gleam Davis, Terry O’Day and Pam O’Connor voted to approve it.

The “No” votes all acknowledged the settlement has some benefits but consistently said the 12-year wait was too long.

“This consent decree means that planes, including some jets, will continue to fly for 12 more years.  The mandate Santa Monica voters sent the Council with Measure LC is deferred for 12 more years.  Airport Park is delayed for 12 more years.  I vote no for all those reasons,” said McKeown.

McKeown said the city missed an opportunity to press its advantage.

“With this settlement, we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  This, at a time when the FAA’s willingness to negotiate revealed that the FAA itself suspected they would lose their court battles with Santa Monica — even while they continue to hold our land hostage,” he said.

Vazquez said he felt the city had the upper hand in negotiations and could have pressed for an earlier closing date.

“The clincher was I feel that while there’s no guarantee in these decisions before a judge, I thought we had a strong enough case that worse case is we would close this thing by 2023,” he said. 

He also said a lot can change in 12 years.

“I’d hate to see a future council cut a deal with the FAA to continue to operate this airport any longer than 12 years,” he said.

Himmelrich said the agreement lacked certainty and was too generous in allowing continued jet operations.

“I further believe that having the burden of even a reduced number of jets over our neighborhoods and affecting our residents is something, and frankly West LA residents, is something that is unacceptable to me,” she said. 


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