A conversation about the AOPA ballot initiative

The following exchange occurred in the comments section of the June 10 SMDP post on the filing of the AOPA-backed ballot initiative signatures. The content of the exchange is sufficiently enlightening that we decided to post it in full here on CASMAT to educate people about what and outrageous fraud is being perpetrated by outside interests in our city:

CASMAT:

It is indeed laughable to see the quotes from this petition’s AOPA-backed instigators.

Lauren McCollum talks about development and land use, but she herself is a major real estate developer – I guess AOPA couldn’t find anyone less ridiculous as a concerned-about-development resident front person.

Flora Yin talks about how “voters like her” are fed up with insider political games, and yet she is a lawyer from the firm Reed & Davidson hired by AOPA to orchestrate this deception. Flora’s legal specialization (like the firm’s) is ballot initiatives and how to get the public to go for them, deceptive or otherwise. Clearly Flora is good at her job.

With enough money, enough signature gathering mercenaries paid up to $20 per signature, and enough lies and deceptions, apparently you can fool enough voters and get anything on the ballot these days.

Bob M:

So what is your point? Do you mean to malign the measure by assassinating a few who support it? Why not let all of the voters in Santa Monica decide?

It appears you are rightfully fearful that the votes of all of the residents may water down the influence of the few you represent.

CASMAT:

Follow the money. This expensive initiative effort which blanketed the city with hundreds of signature gatherers, many of whom were here from other states to join the feeding frenzy, is about one thing, and that is keeping the gravy train of City subsidies going for the wealthy elite at SMO. Anyone who has bought groceries in this town over the last month knows full well what I’m talking about. We have all had to walk a gauntlet of gatherers in and out of stores for weeks now.

In 1984 as part of an agreement to settle disputes with the FAA, the City was forced to rent space to aviation businesses at below market rates. To this day that agreement remains in place and these businesses pay around 15 cents/square foot to rent space at the airport. The going rate is between $4 and $5 per square foot. So what they do is sub-lease to non-aviation tenants and reap a cool profit (in one case, Atlantic Aviation, over $4 million/year) as landlords – nothing to do with aviation. All enabled and enforced by the 1984 FAA agreement.

The result? The city misses out on a potential revenue of between $6 to $8 million a year from airport leases, and because they City is simultaneously constrained from raising fees otherwise, it must pump over a million each year just to keep the airport operating. Over $13 million owed to the general fund in the last decade. Who wouldn’t want such a gravy train to keep going? Especially when they can pay to deceive the people into making it happen despite the fact that it is against the people’s own interests.

On July 1, 2015 the 1984 FAA agreement expires, and the City has the right to raise the rents to market rates and make aviation businesses pay their way. Two days after the City Council meeting in which they instructed staff to look into this possibility, these people filed an initiative designed to make sure the City can never take their gravy train away. They pay Arno, a company with a vast and well documented history of claimed election fraud and voter deception to their name to do it for them.

That is what just happened. Nothing to do with ‘voter freedom’, nothing to do with development. All to do with fleecing the gullible electorate by taking their City taxes and redirecting them into aircraft owners pocket books, particularly jet owners. Meanwhile sports and arts programs at schools must be cut, along with other hard fiscal decisions.

What a wonderful world we live in!

Bob M:

Here is a link to the 1984 agreement.  Now anyone who cares to read will see that there is nothing in that agreement that forced the city to rent space to aviation business at below market rates. Rental rates are not specified by the 1984 agreement but by the leases with the city.

This has everything to do with allowing the majority of voters to decide and not a vocal minority.

CASMAT:

Section 14. “The City will provide access to sufficient space at reasonable rental rates to enable each FBO to conduct a viable business, including space for an office structure…” and then later “the City will lease sufficient space to them consistent with terms on a financial basis comparable to those used at other similar airports in the region for a sufficient term of years to enable them to amortize their costs and have an opportunity to make a profit

Well folks the rate back in the early 80s was around 15 cents per square foot. The City has been unable to raise them ever since. A ‘sufficient term’ has turned out to be until July 1, 2015. The City quite rightly directed staff to look into changing this after the term of the agreement expired. Surprise surprise, two days later the ballot initiative campaign started. This ballot initiative is designed to make sure ‘a sufficient term’ continues forever at the city taxpayers expense.

This has nothing to do with allowing voters to decide. It has to do with cynically manipulating and lying to voters in order to get them to keep the gravy train rolling.

Bob M:

I understand your concern. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the majority of people care more about high-density development and the flood of cars on the roads than they do about planes in the air.

CASMAT:

So they do, that is why these slippery characters decided to call their front organization “Santa Monicans for open and honest development decisions, sponsored and major funding by Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)”. Unfortunately the last bit isn’t so flashy, but at least it starts out looking about as apple-pie as you can get.

Of course their original plan was that the Residocracy petition would be on the ballot and then they could flood the City with ‘anti-development’ mailers with their little measure tucked in neatly under the no-brainer Residocracy one. It would probably have worked, but all that went horribly wrong when the Council listened to the people and cancelled the Hines agreement, thereby removing the need for the Residocracy petition to go on the ballot.

They then had to quickly adapt and loose some of the ‘anti-development’ rhetoric because they were clearly not going to get any cover for it since virtually every major neighborhood group and political organization (including SMRR and Residocracy) has come out explicitly against their deceptive attempt to piggy back on the development bandwagon.

So then suddenly the new chorus was ‘let the voters decide’. I see you are still leading with that, but as our arguments evolve you are now forced to backtrack to the earlier loosing argument for cover.

Now AOPA is stuck out in the open with barely enough signatures (due to the high reject rate for Arno), no development cover, and a whole load of rescinded signatures to be factored in. They had to file on Tuesday otherwise they would have missed the deadline for the November ballot. Given the massive irregularities, they are now exposed to the simultaneous risk of not getting through the County vetting process in time, while also not having sufficient valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot. It is right on a knife’s edge.

I note with amusement that the AOPA pilots board now contains messages from pilots like the following:

I’ll remain an AOPA member but I’m unhappy about the dues increase. Let’s see if they can really help keep Santa Monica airport open and continue to keep the CBP stops lowered after six months roll by.”

Why are the membership fees increasing? According to the AOPA website while explaining the reasons for the membership increases:

right now, we are using reserve funds to pay for legal representation in our efforts to preserve the historic Santa Monica Airport. It’s important to keep the reserve funded so we’re prepared to fight for you no matter what issues may arise. Our effectiveness depends on having the funds on hand regardless of when or where the freedom to fly is threatened.

CASMAT:

The community is rightfully fearful that having thus far invested over $100K in getting the signatures (say 15.5K at an average of $6/signature = $93K + other costs), AOPA will next invest millions during the election cycle to perpetuate the deception and lead voters into shooting themselves in the foot.

We are fearful that the City’s losses at the airport will continue to mount to the detriment of every other beneficial program the City has. All to line the pockets of wealthy jet owners.

We are fearful that the City will be permanently prevented from mitigating the pollution and health hazards at SMO. We are fearful that the explicit clause in the ballot measure preserving current fuel sales at the airport will allow leaded gas to continue to be deposited over the surrounding area during pattern flying to the tune of up to 1.5 tons a year. There are many schools below the pattern loop, and lead from airports has been shown to cause IQ drops nearby in children.

We are fearful that that the rash of accidents at the airport will continue at its current pace or higher. Of the 51 fatalities associated with SMO since 1982, 36 have occurred since the year 2000, that is 70%.

I could go on, but the bottom line is that the status quo at the airport must change. How much it changes is still up for debate. This initiative explicitly seeks to ensure that that amount of change is ZERO by tying the City’s hands. Only a fool, a madman, or somebody with a lot of money at stake and no conscience, would countenance such a situation.

The last of the three is the truth, and to avoid their true nature being discovered, these ruthless people seek to trick the electorate into doing the job for them so that they can claim their hands have no blood on them. Nobody is fooled.

David K:

Thank goodness. This just confirms what we have known for a long time, the majority of people in Santa Monica want the airport to exist. Thankfully the citizens were not fooled by special interest groups such as CASMAT.

CASMAT:

This just confirms that Arno Political Consultants, the firm AOPA hired to get the signatures, can deliver sufficient manpower willing to lie and deceive voters to get the job done. I would estimate that 30 to 40% of the signatures gathered were the direct result of lies and deception on the part of the gatherer. I know because I’ve been listening to them do it for the last 3 weeks, sometimes for hours on end.

If you want to know more about Arno’s history of voter and election fraud, see the following report by the “Ballot initiative Strategy Center”.

Arno is just the kind of unscrupulous operation AOPA needed to hoodwink the voters of Santa Monica.

David K:

This has nothing to do with Arno whoever they are. As a pilot and local resident I have personally volunteered my time and money for this great cause. Taxpayers in Santa Monica are tired of paying for fruitless lawsuits against the FAA provoked by special interest groups, such as the one you referred to, CASMAT. Most people want the airport to remain. The real question is why are you and the special interest groups so scared to let the voters decide?

CASMAT:

David, you are not a Santa Monica resident, you are a pilot, you co-own a LONG EZ tail number N526J and use SMO. I understand why you may have volunteered, but you are in a tiny minority, 99% of the signature gatherers were paid handsomely for their efforts, many came in from other states for the AOPA funded gold rush. Not one that I spoke to (and that was probably 50 or 60 of them over 3 weeks) had any idea where the airport was, what kind of aircraft flew out of it, or indeed what the ballot initiative was actually about.

This is not about litigation, the agreement ends in July 1, 2015 and the City has the undisputed right to raise the rents on that day. Indeed all the leases expire on that day, and the City could choose not to renew them. If the arrogance and intransigence continues, that is probably what the City will be forced to do because it cannot continue to hemorrhage money subsidizing aviation.

This ballot initiative is simply to keep the gravy train at SMO going by reneging on the 1984 agreement and slapping a freeze on the City’s actions, so that you the privileged few can continue your hobby, and continue not to pay your way while doing so.

David K:

I am a Santa Monica resident and home owner and more importantly registered voter. Your lack of knowledge about me and all airport issues is typical of the special interest groups who want to redevelop our airport. The agreement the city made with the federal government to keep the airport open was signed in 1946. The city agreed to keep the airport open forever. The ballot initiative is very clear. It is about preventing special interest groups to stop wasting precious taxpayer resources on a fruitless battle with the FAA to redevelop airport land.

CASMAT:

The federal government leased the airport land from the City during the war for the princely sum of $1. The land was originally bought by the City back in the early 1920’s with a parks bond, it has belonged to the City ever since. The perpetuity clause you mention that the federal government applied when they returned the land to the City would not stand in court because the federal government never owned the land and had no rights to it other than those granted by the City wartime lease.

This is quite different from most wartime airport leases where the government actually did own the land. In any case this perpetuity clause applies to only one of the three parcels that now make up the airport. One of the other parcels not covered includes 2,000 ft of runway which belongs free and clear to the City and with the expiry of the 1984 agreement removing the 5,000 ft runway requirement, the City has the right to take back for non aviation use.

The only wasting of taxpayer resources is the $13 million wasted in the last decade subsidizing airport operations to cover losses, and the loss of between $4 and $8 million per year in potential City income for the last 20 years or so. That adds up to the City loosing roughly $150 million dollars of revenue through the airport in the last two decades.

All these losses can and will stop in July 1, 2015 if the AOPA ballot initiative fails to pass.

David K:

I am so enraged by your complete lack of understanding of airport issues and petulant ignorant comments about me personally I have decided to donate $1000 more “Santa Monicans For Open And Honest Development Decisions” and volunteer even more of my time. Thanks for that!

CASMAT:

$1,000 in a fit of pique – you certainly sound like the kind of person city taxpayers should continue to subsidize.

8 thoughts on “A conversation about the AOPA ballot initiative

  1. Whitney Green

    I too am a Santa Monica resident. I want the airport closed. I want a park there. This ballot initiative is a dishonest sham, as I too ran into these paid signature gatherers who had no idea what they asking people to sign.

    I will do my best to inform everyone I know in Santa Monica what is up with this “Santa Monicans for open and honest development decisions, sponsored and major funding by Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)”

    It is pathetic.

    Whitney Green

  2. Peter Donald

    And, the two other main contributors @ about $3000 per, are Carolyn Ostic from Simi Valley , apparently an attorney and a Tyler Endsley, who owns of something called “Direct Democracy Unlimited” in Saint Joseph, MO, which is directly linked to a site called “Move To Amend” , some kind of libertarian advocacy group, I think. Their politics are all over the place but they don’t like big corporations throwing their weight around.

    Wonder why they’re so “interested?”

  3. Pingback: CASMAT- A conversation about the AOPA ballot initiative + Alabama jet crash on take off | Bad-Air.com

  4. Charles Cope

    I don’t understand how giving the people of Santa Monica, the power to chose the fate of the airport is a bad thing. Could there be agendas and interest in the council that would oppose this? That is a disturbing thought, if the council can act contrary to the voters of the city and the will of the people. Shame on the council to oppose this ballot process. Let the people speak for themselves. Regardless of how the item got to the ballot, in the end the people of Santa Monica can decide, not a small group of officials that each have their own agenda.

    1. John Post author

      As a pilot based in Colorado, why would you be so interested in what happens in Santa Monica?

      Oh yes thats right, you are president of Peak Aero which operates private jet charters, and on its site quotes “Santa Monica, CA to Park City, UT” as one of Peak Aero’s ‘best value’ services using nice new Embraer Phenom 100 and 300 jets.

      In other words you and your company are one of those privileged few that we city residents are subsidizing.

      Please don’t bother pretending you give a hoot about the people of Santa Monica or their right to decide. You care only that this deception succeeds and your profit margin remains intact.

  5. Daniel Cope

    A few comments on the above from a “regular” pilot.

    1. No relation to the “Cope” above.
    2. Leaded aviation fuels are being phased out. I guarantee you that more people would have died from stalled aircraft engines than have died from trace amounts of lead had it been phased out before a suitable aviation fuel replacement had been found.
    3. I have no objection to prohibiting FBOs from subleasing to non-aviation businesses if that has been an issue. And I don’t think anyone at the AOPA would mind such a restriction either. The rents need to be reasonable relative to other airports. We do not measure the per square foot cost of roads, railway and power line rights of way, etc.
    4. SMO is a critical part of the LA area infrastructure, just like all of the roads.
    5. The airport was (almost certainly) there before you were. Anyone upset by the noise has to have known they were living near an airport, and that traffic to-from airports is subject to fluctuation and increase with demand, just like road traffic through neighborhoods.
    6. The rash of accidents is no doubt related to increased traffic at the airport. As far as I know very few people on the ground have been killed from such accidents. You are far more likely to be killed in an automobile or as a pedestrian than from an airplane if you are on the ground.
    7. The city’s claim that it never sold the airport is irrelevant. If the Federal government had a lease, no matter the cost, and surrendered the leasehold in exchange for a promise to operate the airport in perpetuity, among others, that is a valid contract.

    1. John Post author

      1. But you do live on the East Coast, just like 90% of the people who weigh in to support continued airport operation.
      2. We’ve been hearing that for decades. We both know it will be at least another decade before that happens.
      3. I think they would, or they wouldn’t be suing everything that moves to maintain the status quo. We may not rent roads but we certainly do rent buildings. Airport facilities are buildings and should rent by the square foot like anything else. The fact that at SMO it takes 4,600 square foot of rented space to support each one of the 178 aviation related jobs (national average 250 square ft/job) is a direct result of the fact that the rents have been frozen since 1984 at around 15 cents/square foot by the 1984 agreement. That agreement runs out in July 2015 and nobody, not even the FAA disputes that fact. All the leases at the airport end at the same time.
      4. No, it isn’t it is irrelevant to the infrastructure, and is merely a convenience for the wealthy so save them 15 minutes driving time. FAA’s recent reclassification as a ‘reliever’ airport notwithstanding.
      5. This is the silliest argument of all – see my recent post here:http://smdp.com/cats/140932 . Since 1984, what we all knew when we moved in was that the airport was going to be shut down in 2015.
      6. Agreed. More traffic at SMO leads to more accidents. The data proves it.
      7. Actually under the law you are wrong as the FAA well knows. This is why they negotiated the 1984 agreement which states the City must run it as an airport until July 1, 2015. Time is running out for them and they know it. Falling back to an unenforceable perpetuity clause they have already tacitly agreed is invalid by negotiating for continued operation until 2015 is not going to do it.

      1. Daniel Cope

        1. So? I don’t want Santa Monica to bulldoze the Pacific Coast Highway or the Santa Monica Freeway either. Infrastructure is there to connect areas together. Diminishing the network of airports, or roads, diminishes its utility to everyone and impacts the stress on other parts of the network. This is a big part of why the FAA and AOPA are against the closure of SMO. The aircraft and their operations will have to move to other already crowded airports in the area. For this reason, the process allows the decisions to be made not just by the local residents.

        Of course, regarding the original subject of the post, the referendum will be decided by residents.

        2. Actually the FAA is ahead of its current scheduled deadline in 2023 or so. They’re currently estimating 2018.

        Besides, you fail to account for the increased automobile pollution that developing the site into housing would yield. I’ve not seen any analysis comparing the trade offs, but there’s some trade off there. And it could certainly come out with more pollution in a closure scenario.

        Furthermore, the jet traffic you most object to burns kerosene, which is nontoxic. Shifting the mix toward jets and turboprops has actually meant less pollution.

        3. They are trying to maintain the status quo because they fear a scenario where the City closes the airport indirectly by raising the rent to unaffordable levels leaving an unusable runway that is open in name only. I’m not certain what the national sq ft per job numbers you quote represent. If they represent a national average for all types of jobs, this is not reasonable. Different industries need more space per job. On the other hand, if they are underpaying for comparable aviation leases, them I’m fine with raising the rent to be comparable.

        4. There are plenty of non-wealthy users of the airport. Folks using the flight school are typically in debt. And many light GA aircraft are owned by clubs or partnerships. Many of my pilot friends are not particularly wealthy.

        Besides, users of infrastructure are on average wealthier than non-users. So this argument can be extended unreasonably. Car owners are wealthier than non-car owners. So roads and parking lots are just so the wealthy can get around. Users of airlines are wealthier than non-users, so LAX is just so the wealthy can fly to their vacation destinations and business deals.

        And as you mentioned SMO is a reliever airport. So closing it will force the operations to move to airports that don’t necessarily have capacity, delaying airline flights. Or worse, the users will be completely priced out of the market.

        5. This implies you bought your property planning to “wait it out,” which doesn’t seem very smart given that things change/you can’t predict the future. What if the State of California decides to intervene? The Legislature could presumably prohibit the city from closing the airport or take direct control. The Federal government could assert eminent domain and take it too.

        Then there’s the FAA claim that the city can’t close the site entirely, which we’ll get to in a minute. But even under the most optimistic assumption about the city’s rights, the most you could have assumed was that the city would gain the right to control the airport, but you could not have assumed that the city would necessarily decide to use that right and close the airport.

        As for the article you referenced, I don’t think the cat lady analogy is apt. I’m sure there is a city ordinance prohibiting the keeping of wild animals. So potential residents can be reasonably sure that their neighbors will not one day decide to keep lions in addition to their domestic house cats, and they will have recourse if their neighbors do. SMO has always been open to all air traffic. If potential property owners made assumptions that traffic would remain the same in quantity and kind, this was groundless and not reasonable. Just like the community if Santa Monica has grown, and the traffic on the streets has grown, so has the traffic at SMO.

        A better analogy can be found in the area of Texas I grew up in. A few neighborhoods over, a plot of land existed. It had been unused or lightly used as farmland since anyone could remember. But, it was zoned for commercial use. No one paid much attention though because it was kind of in the middle of no where. Then the Dallas Tollway was extended north a few miles away, and all of a sudden the property was in a prime area for a big box retail outlet. The property owners complained to the City Council saying it would bring all kinds of traffic to the neighborhood and the smog that goes with it. And crime too since the patrons of such stores are poor and on average scoundrels of various sorts. The City told them the land had been zoned commercial since forever and to take a hike.

        SMO grew just like Santa Monica did. The property owners near the airport are a product of the growth. The two go hand in hand. Why should the City accommodate the demands your growth leads to but not those of airport users?

        And, why can’t the airport users spin their own story about how their neighbors used to be empty fields and farms and then a bunch of whiny yuppies showed up and started complaining and harming their ability to enjoy the airport? The conflict arose because the city failed to zone the land around the airport properly for uses compatible with the airport.

        6. The claim is that the risk of aviation accidents presents an unreasonable risk to the surrounding residents. This cannot be supported by the data. As far as I know zero residents have been killed on the ground. Even if it were to happen some day, that would not change the story. Converting the site into almost any other use besides fencing it off and preventing access would present more danger. Roads would lead to car accidents. Even parks lead to deaths from jungle gym tumbles, drowning, and even crime.

        7. This is obviously your opinion. It may win in court, but the perpetuity clause claim is not on its face invalid. And just because the FAA negotiated for a guarantee until 2015 doesn’t mean it tacitly agreed to waive its other rights. Even if the FAA in 1984 thought the City had the right to close he airport in 2015, that doesn’t waive the FAA’s other rights. The 1984 agreement imposes affirmative obligations on the City. It doesn’t say that the FAA waives any other rights, even if FAA officials made statements about how the City could close the airport in 1984. Such statements would have been a non-binding legal opinion.

        More importantly, the argument put forward by the city about having only leased the site, not sold it, doesn’t convince me that the perpetuity clause is invalid. I haven’t read the underlying documents – and would be very interested in seeing them if you have them – but generically, there is no reason why you could not write a contract where one person agrees to terminate a lease and the other promises to use the property as an airport in perpetuity. In principle, the two properties don’t even have to be the same one. The Federal government could trade a Post Office, or a pencil, or anything of value, to the City in exchange for such a promise.

        The fact that the document was a form document doesn’t render it invalid either. Form contracts are used all the time and are perfectly legal.

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