Last night (April 30th) at the City Council meeting on the future of SMO we witnessed City government at its best as the Council unanimously passed a series of measures designed to staunch the financial losses at the airport. Council Chambers and every other public space in City Hall were overflowing with members of the public, but also with pilots and aviation advocates.
Most of the first two hours, of what was to be over four hours of public comment, consisted of aviation advocates who alternated between making threats of legal action against the city, fear mongering various dire consequences, and of course (like everyone who is faced with a fee increase) claiming the increases would put them out of business. The remaining time was overwhelmingly comprised of members of the surrounding communities who rebuffed these claims and urged the Council to support the staff report, pass the landing fees, and direct staff to seriously look into other mitigation approaches suggested by the Airport Commission and others.
For nearly 30 years the airport has been a giant petri dish filled with a rich nutrient of city subsidies and fee waivers. In that time we’ve grown more FBO flight schools than any other general aviation airport in the area, and jet traffic has increased by over 300% in the last two decades. Little wonder the weaning process was long and noisy, but last night the free ride finally came to an end.
The Council was having none of the aviation bluster and threats, and stated in no uncertain terms that they, like all others that use City services, must pay their own way in this time of budget crisis.
Accordingly, the Council passed the landing fee measure along with authorizing the necessary funding to administer it, as well as adding the additional cameras required to ensure that flight schools cannot circumvent the measure by executing touch&goes in the middle of the runway. Most importantly, landing fees now apply to all aircraft, even those based at SMO (which previously paid nothing). The Council also approved and funded the pilot program to incentivize noise mitigation technology such as mufflers.
You can find CASMAT’s calculated new landing fee schedule here.
In a related matter, while approving the staff’s visioning report, Council directed staff that their intent was not to renew the 1984 agreement after 2015, and to allow all aviation leases to expire at that time. Going forward, staff was directed to to look into any and all additional mitigation strategies, particularly those suggested by the Airport Commission, and to come back to the Council early next year with a full set of options and evaluations with which Council can choose between the possible SMO futures based on how effectively each meets safety, pollution, health, and noise mitigation goals. Staff was also rebuked for making the suggestion in their report that should the decision ultimately be made to close the airport, massive development in its place would likely follow. The public land that is the airport is a regional and irreplaceable asset, and such land would not be developed in the same way that privately owned land might be. See the graphics here for one possible future for SMO land should closure eventuate. All Council members present contributed amendments to the motion in order to clarify Council intent to staff in these matters.
Each and every vote was unanimous.
For years now the public has been asking the Council and staff to act on their behalf. Last night it happened, and it happened decisively, despite a highly organized effort by aviation advocates to stop it.
On behalf of the thousands of people that have taken CASMAT surveys and petitions in the past, we commend each and every Council member present last night (Terry O’Day was absent). Thank you for listening to the people. You have reaffirmed our trust in the democratic process, and we hope this will be the start of a new era of openness and true ‘visioning’ at the airport.
You can watch a video of the entire meeting here.