Tuesday evening, the Santa Monica City Council heard from city staff as it begins the process of determining the future use of land at Santa Monica Airport. The Airport is due to conclude aviation-related activities on December 31, 2028, but a lengthy and technical decommissioning process must take place first, and only then could it finally be closed by a vote of the city council.

There is prodigious significance to how this large piece of land is used and preserved for future generations, especially when you consider the airport’s size mathematically. The total airport land is an impressive 227 acres or 10 Million square feet. That translates to more than 4 percent of S.M.’s total geographic size.

The planning process to determine future uses would happen in parallel with the decommissioning process.

But a bombshell is quickly coming to overshadow process news, in the form of a leaked correspondence from the Southern California Airspace Users Working Group (SCAUWG), a group of aviation professionals and their allies dead set on keeping Santa Monica Airport open.

The leaked correspondence included a set of talking points and directions to Aviation supporters from SCAUWG leadership advocating for an approach devoid of praising the airport’s merits. The memo states, “While the residents of Santa Monica have been overly critical of pilots and the aviation community, development is an absolutely NO-GO topic with the residents. The promising strategy to prevent the closure of Santa Monica Airport ironically is to adopt a non-aviation-centric approach.” As to what tactic should be taken, the memo goes on to say, “Specifically, framing and communicating the limited choices residents have with land use legislation and the unique ultra-low-density land use an airport provides to highlight the irreplaceable benefits to residents’ quality of life that can only be enjoyed if Santa Monica Airport remains operational.”

SCAUWG’s talking points in the memo include the following as a direct appeal for their supporters to make to city council members. Like a broken record, it reads [bold by Westside Voice]:

“Dear Councilmembers:

Keeping Santa Monica Airport as an operating airport is best for Santa Monica and its residents. The exercise of the Consent Decree is entirely at the discretion of the council. The Consent Decree should not be exercised.

  1. Keeping the airport operating as currently constructed is the only ultra-low-density land use that benefits the residents
  2. An airport land use is the ONLY Federally protected ultra-low-density land use available to the city and its residents than [their spelling error] cannot be abridged by any entity, public or private
  3. The city staff has admitted there isn’t enough money to develop and sustain a park, ensuring the parcels’ development is inevitable
  4. The city staff has stated that it has no appetite (and likely no money) to defend against developer lawsuits to eliminate any park
  5. The state has taken over every other land use by the city. Maintaining Santa Monica Airport is the ONLY land use protected by state laws. It is the ONLY ultra-low-density land use decision the state cannot challenge. All the protections against state land use legislation are lost if the airport closes
  6. This would be the third time this council has opened the door for overdevelopment. The prior two were the Gelson’s (Lincoln) and Builder’s Remedy Projects.”

And despite staff also highlighting the fact that Measure LC, passed by voters in 2014, limits land use on airport land to parks, public open spaces, and public facilities, and prevents further development on the land until voters can determine limits on other uses and how much may be developed. Clearly, Airport proponents anticipate battles over additional development, most likely affordable housing.

Leonora Camner, Executive Director of the pro-housing organization Abundant Housing L.A., believes, “The city should explore all options for the site, including those that involve a housing component.” She expanded, “For example, the city should explore a park paired with affordable housing, which would enhance the park portion and make it more inclusive.”

As to what she thinks of SCAUWG’s prospects for success with this Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) approach, she said “SCAUWG mischaracterizes and underestimates Santa Monica residents with this cynical view. Santa Monicans aren’t going to be fooled by tricks that use NIMBY talking points for ulterior motives.” She added, “Santa Monicans are people that generally care about community, inclusion, and the environment. More and more people are recognizing that housing is a major benefit for our values, our diversity, and our quality of life.”

Mayor Gleam Davis offered her own view of the airport proponents, telling me, “Santa Monica is just beginning the process of planning for the anticipated closing of the airport. Those who want to see the airport remain open should articulate their support for the airport with honest and well-founded arguments. Instead, it appears some airport supporters have elected to instead use fear and misinformation about development to try and persuade stakeholders that the airport should remain open.  I’m hopeful that our constituents will see through the ruse and focus on what I believe will be a robust and inclusive planning process.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, city staff ultimately presented several process slides that ultimately will result in the following timeline:

  • Winter/Spring 2023 – Request for Qualifications followed by invitations to consulting firms to compete for a Request for Proposals (RFP), culminating in interviews and the selection of a firm in June.
  • 2024 – The consultants hired will conduct background and visioning exercises with staff and the public
  • 2025 – Various concepts and alternatives will be developed for park uses
  • 2026 – A preferred alternative will rise to the top through the public process and be proposed

Stay tuned as Westside Voice continues to follow the airport re-visioning process and embedded drama.

Photo by hughmitton

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